In recent years, changes in Georgia-Russia relations continue to shape regional dynamics.
Particularly, developments in the post-2008 Georgia-Russia war period have evolved the nature of interactions between the parties. Simultaneously, security and cooperation issues in regions such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia play a critical role in the future of the area. In this article, we will closely examine the changes in Georgia-Russia relations and the security and cooperation dynamics in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia's two partially recognized regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, are central to political and security debates in the region. Developments in these areas hold significant importance for Georgia-Russia relations and regional balance. In recent years, security and cooperation dynamics in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have become a crucial factor shaping strategies of regional actors. In this article, we will focus on the security and cooperation issues in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, addressing the political and security dynamics of the region.
Approximately 15 years ago, Georgia initiated a military operation against South Ossetia. This event marked the culmination of Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts and compelled Russia to intervene to halt the bloodshed. With the aim of further securing the safety of the citizens of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russian leadership decided to recognize the independence of Transcaucasian republics, altering the status quo in the region. In recent years, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have restored their cities' infrastructure and managed to rejuvenate livelihoods of thousands of citizens through security guarantees and substantial financial support from Russia. Notably, this allowed them to maintain their independence from Georgia.
Overall, billions of rubles were allocated for the restoration and development of South Ossetia. Since 2008, significant infrastructure projects such as the Dzuarikau-Tskhinval gas pipeline (providing energy security by reducing reliance on supplies from Georgia), the Tskhinval-Znaur and Tskhinval-Leningor highways, the Edis-Tskhinval main water canal, the Vanat-Tskhinval reservoir, and a high-voltage backup power line were constructed or renovated with Russian funding.
Nevertheless, while issues concerning energy, transportation, and water supply have been partially resolved, economic growth and the republics' capacity for production remain pertinent issues. The lack of an alternative to the Russian market has increased production costs, rendering large-scale production unprofitable in these small, isolated republics. Furthermore, the unresolved Georgian-South Ossetian conflict restricts the continuation of transit trade, which could have bolstered state revenues and provided employment for a portion of the population.
On the other hand, Abkhazia, which decided not to share a political alignment with Tbilisi 31 years ago, has managed to become an independent state. Strategic priorities for Sukhumi include maintaining and intensifying economic and other ties with Russia, including security matters. In 2020, a program was signed between Russia and Abkhazia to create a unified social and economic area based on the harmonization of their legislations. It was announced in 2022 that Moscow would provide Abkhazia with a total of 5.1 billion rubles in financial aid in 2023. Additionally, Abkhazia maintains unofficial relations with Turkey, where a significant portion of the Abkhaz population resides.
Russia remains a primary guarantor of security for these two partially recognized countries. Currently, the 7th Russian military base is located in Abkhazia, and the 4th Guards military base is stationed in South Ossetia. The total number of Russian military personnel in Abkhazia and South Ossetia exceeds 4,000.
Georgia's unilateral decision in 2008 to sever diplomatic relations with Russia can be seen as a historical turning point. This decision reflects the evolving dynamics of mutual interests and strategic goals between Georgia and Russia. Throughout this process, changes in the nature of relations between the parties have broken past patterns and directed the reevaluation of potential future cooperation.
The evolution of Georgia's relations with Moscow began long before the decision in 2008. While the United National Movement party, under the leadership of Mikheil Saakashvili, was in power, Georgia maintained a stern approach and avoided dialogue with Moscow. However, the political landscape changed over time, and with the ascent of the Georgian Dream party to power in 2012, a new approach was adopted. This political shift reflected Georgia's desire to reestablish contact with Russia. Subsequently, this new leadership revitalized commercial relations with Russia, resulting in the return of Georgian products to the Russian market in 2013.
Another area where contacts between Georgia and Russia have increased is tourism. The rise in the number of Russian tourists signifies warming relations between the two countries. The approximately 1.1 million Russian tourists visiting Georgia in 2022 illustrates the increased interaction and highlighted mutual interests. This trend could also be interpreted as Georgia pursuing a more independent policy against Western directives.
However, ensuring the security of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remains a significant concern. Particularly noteworthy is Georgia's emphasis on this issue during a period of increased activity by NATO members. Additionally, there has been a discernible change in Georgia's domestic policy. The nature and direction of cooperation between the parties hold significant importance for the future and regional stability of these two republics.
In conclusion, changes in Georgia-Russia relations and security and cooperation dynamics in Abkhazia and South Ossetia reflect a complex and pivotal period in the region's political and security landscape. Georgia's decision in 2008 to unilaterally sever diplomatic relations with Russia marked a unique turning point in interactions between the parties. Following this decision, an interaction system based on mutual interests was established, and dynamics in the relations significantly shifted.
The sovereignty issues of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been at the center of regional security matters. Abkhazia's ability to remain an independent state after armed conflicts with Georgia has been crucial. Russian strategies of cooperation with Abkhazia and its close relations with Russia have had a significant impact on regional balance. In contrast, South Ossetia's pursuit of independence and its conflict with Georgia have shaped security dynamics in the region.
In the future, the security and cooperation issues in Abkhazia and South Ossetia hold considerable importance for regional stability and balance. Developments in these regions are closely watched by regional actors and the international community. Abkhazia's Russia-based cooperation strategies and South Ossetia's quest for independence will play a defining role in shaping regional dynamics. This presents itself as a critical component in maintaining regional stability and equilibrium."