While on paper, the relations are converging, it is unsure whether Georgia is actively seeking shelter under the Allience`s nuclear umbrella in the midst of the War in Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, during his visit to Georgia in 2019, said on Georgia`s potential membership in NATO that Russia “will not start a war, but such conduct will undermine our relations with NATO and with countries who are eager to enter the alliance” (4).
During GLOBSEC 2023, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili claimed that the war in Ukraine was caused by NATO`s enlargement (5), repeating the Kremlin`s narrative. The Amendment of Article 78 of the Constitution in 2018 insists on taking all measures to ensure the full integration of Georgia into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. However, this government is very cautious with the timing.
The two self-declared autonomous republics occupying around 20% of Georgia`s territory, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are complicating the NATO-Georgian-Russian relationship nexus. Abchadzia is controlling around half of the shoreline to the Black Sea, while South Ossetia is clunking to the mountains separating Georgia from Russia. While Kyiv had days to prepare until Russian forces arrived at the gates of the capital city, active Russian soldiers are constantly stationed in South Ossetia and could reach Tbilisi in just a matter of 2-3 hours. Georgia´s main East-West highway near Didi Khurvaleti could be cut in a matter of minutes. Borderisation is an ongoing threat.
These frozen conflicts are the results of the war in 2008 after former President Saakashvili knocked on NATO`s door: in 2008, Saakashvili announced a referendum for joining the Alliance prior to the Bucharest Summit, hoping to gain the Membership Action Plan, but in 2008 Germany and France were not favouring the membership of Georgia. After the Summit, NATO released an infamous declaration that Georgia could join in the future, leaving Georgia in a so-called permanent waiting room. This did not boost the security guarantees for Georgia but infuriated Putin. A few months after the Bucharest summit, the so-called five-day war broke out with Russia, during which Georgia lost its territories, its navy and air force.
After the war, NATO was believed to become the only security guarantee for Georgia, or at least, that has been the narrative in place in Georgian public life. In the last year and a half, there has been a shift, which also contributed to not granting the EU candidate status. Georgian Dream, the ruling political party, on the surface is presenting commitment towards Euro-Atlantic integration but feeds the polarisation in the society with counterintuitive actions.
Based on data from the Ministry of Finance, imports into Georgia from the Russian Federation surged by 82%, or $1,035 million, between March 2022 and February 2023 when compared to the previous equivalent period (6). Based on the analysis of the Open Caucasus, Party Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze made 9 critical comments on Russia, 26 on Ukraine and nearly 60 on the West (7). Georgian Dream leadership often claims that the EU is trying to drag Georgia into the war against Russia. The ruling party is borrowing many controversial statements from Hungary`s Viktor Orban.
It is important to mention that the Georgian Dream is the project of Bidzina Ivanishvili, an infamous oligarch whose name was figured in both the Panama Papers and the Pandora Papers. Ivanishvili gained his wealth in Russia in the 1990s. In 2022, the European Parlament called for a resolution of sanctioning Ivanishvii. Although not a political figure per se, he is active behind the scenes.