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During the 18th century, Russia, the Ottoman Empire and Persia vied for control over the strategically important Caucasus region. Eventually Russia won this battle by gradually annexing individual principalities of the former Kingdom of Georgia, as well as lands of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Exhausted by constant invasions and Islamization from the south, in 1783 eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti (Kartlinia-Kahetia) signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russian Empire, which it viewed as a replacement for its long-lost Orthodox ally Byzantine Empire. Despite Russia's commitment to defend Eastern Georgia, it rendered no assistance when the Persians invaded in 1785, and again in 1795. It was only belatedly that Catherine the Great of Russia put in place punitive measures against Persia but it was cut short by her death and the enthronement of Paul against the Empress' wishes.
On December 22, 1800, Tsar Paul I of Russia, at the alleged request of the Georgian King George XII, signed the proclamation on the incorporation of Georgia within the Russian Empire, which was finalized by a decree on January 8, 1801, and confirmed by Tsar Alexander I on September 12, 1801. The Georgian ambassador in Russia reacted with a note of protest that was presented to the Russian vice-chancellor Prince Kurakin but despite this, on May 1801 Russian General Carl Heinrich Knorring officially enforced the Russian control of the kingdom, dethroned the Georgian heir to the throne David Batonishvili and instituted a government headed by General Ivan Petrovich Lasarev.
The Georgian nobility did not accept the decree until April 1802 when General Knorring surrounded the nobility in Tbilisi's Sioni Cathedral and forced them to take an oath on the Imperial Crown of Russia. Those who disagreed were temporarily arrested.
In 1918 the Democratic Republic of Georgia was established. The republic was short-lived, as in 1921 Georgia was invaded and occupied by the Bolsheviks, eventually being incorporated into the Soviet Union, in 1922.
On August 29, 2008, in the aftermath of the 2008 South Ossetia war, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze announced that Georgia had broken diplomatic relations with Russia. He also said that Russian diplomats must leave Georgia, and that no Georgian diplomat would remain in Russia, while only consular relations would be maintained. Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said that Russia regretted this step.
Post-independence relations (1992-2003)
The tensions between Georgia and Russia, which had been heightened even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, climaxed during the secessionist conflict in Abkhazia in 1992-93. Support for the Abkhaz from various groups within Russia such as the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, Cossacks, and regular military units, and support for South Ossetia by their ethnic brethren who lived in Russia's federal subject of North Ossetia proved critical in the de facto secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia.
In the aftermath of the military setback in Abkhazia in 1993, the Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze had to accede to the Kremlin's pressure. In exchange for Russian support against forces loyal to the ousted Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, he agreed to join the Commonwealth of Independent States and legitimize the Russian military bases in Georgia: Vaziani Military Base, Gudauta, Akhalkalaki and Batumi.
At the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Istanbul Summit of November 1999, agreement was reached that the bases would all be evacuated by Russia before July 1, 2001.
Vaziani was handed over on June 29, 2001. Akhalkalaki was not handed over until June 27, 2007, and Batumi on November 13, 2007. Being in Abkhazia, the base at Gudauta has never been under the control of Georgia.
Russia dominates the collective peacekeeping missions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia but is criticized by Georgia, and, more recently, by several Western diplomats, for failing to maintain neutrality in the conflict zones.
Russia accused Georgia of helping Chechen separatists, and some supplies and reinforcements indeed reached the rebels via Georgian territory. The separatists also took refuge in the Pankisi Gorge in eastern Georgia. After Russia had threatened to launch cross-border attacks against them in 2002, the Georgian government took steps to establish order there with help from the USA.
Relations after the Rose Revolution (2003-present)
Russia has lost its role as a mediator in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, according to Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili. Speaking in a 2006 interview with a Russian newspaper, Bezhuashvili said that Georgia would try to create channels for "direct dialogue" alongside existing negotiating formats. Bezhuashvili also said that UN monitoring of the Kodori Gorge, which was suspended three years earlier, could resume within "two or three weeks" once security has been established. The following is the text of the interview published by Vremya Novostey on 4 August:
Russian-Georgian relations are going through a crisis. The Georgian operation in Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge led Moscow to accuse Georgia of violating earlier agreements. Tbilisi responded by accusing Moscow of supporting separatists. The day before yesterday, in the evening, the first casualties occurred among the Russian peacekeepers since the situation intensified: Maksim Basenko and Vladimir Vasilchuk were shot dead in the Gudauta District. Their deaths are most likely connected with the criminal world, since the peacekeepers were escorting a large sum of money for the payment of wages. The Abkhaz authorities are conducting an investigation. But Georgia perceives what happened as confirmation of the complex nature of the situation in the unrecognized republic.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry accuses Russian peacemakers of inactivity in the conflict zone of Abkhazia. "Russian peacekeepers continue to act in defiance of their mandated obligations, turning a blind eye to gross violation of law and human rights taking place in their very presence", according to the Georgian Foreign Ministry.
According to the 2005-06 agreements, the withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia was completed by January 1, 2008.
Russian ban of Georgian wines
Georgian-Russian relations deteriorated seriously during the September–October 2006 Georgia-Russia spying row, when Georgia detained four Russian officers on spying charges. Russia responded by imposing economic sanctions on Georgia and withdrawing its embassy from Tbilisi.
Deportation of Georgians
During the spying row, the Russian authorities started to deport Georgian citizens from Russia on charges of visa violations. The government of Georgia as well as influential human rights organizations such as Freedom House and Human Rights Watch accused the Russian authorities of "tolerating and encouraging the mistreatments of immigrants from Georgia and other Caucasus countries." and of "a deliberate campaign to detain and expel thousands of Georgians living in Russia." On 27 March 2007, Georgia filed an interstate lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights over the cases of violations of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the course of the deportation of Georgian citizens from Russia in the autumn of 2006. Russia described this as a "new unfriendly step taken against Russia".
Alleged air space violations
Helicopter attack incident
In March, a village in the Georgian controlled area of Abkhazia was attacked by three Russian helicopters, according to Georgia. Russia denied the allegations.
Tsitelubani missile incident
On August 7, 2007, a missile landed in the Georgian-controlled village of Tsitelubani, some 65 km north of Tbilisi. Georgian officials said that two Russian fighter jets violated its airspace and fired a missile, which fell on the edge of the village but did not explode. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said the incident was part of a pattern of Russian aggression against its neighbors and urged European states to condemn Moscow. Georgia claimed to have radar evidence proving that the invading aircraft flew in from Russia and said that the strike had aimed, unsuccessfully, at destroying radar equipment recently installed near the South Ossetian conflict zone.
South Ossetian separatist leader Eduard Kokoity described the incident as "a provocation staged by the Georgian side, aimed at discrediting Russia", claiming that another bomb fell in South Ossetia. In his words, "a Georgian military plane crossed into South Ossetia on Monday, performed manoeuvres above Ossetian villages and dropped two bombs."
Russia also denied the Georgian claim. and said that Georgian jets may have fired the missile on their own territory as a way of provoking tensions in the region and derailing a session of the Joint Control Commission on Georgian-South Ossetian Conflict Resolution. Georgia immediately denounced the claim as absurd. South Ossetian officials as well as two Georgian opposition politicians also suggested that the Georgian authorities might have been behind the incident.
Plane downing incident
September 2007 controversy over the Russian ambassador's statement
On September 24, 2007, the Russian ambassador to Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, became embroiled in a controversy over his statement at a televised informal meeting with Georgian intellectuals organized by the Tbilisi-based Russian-Georgian Friendship Union in which he referred to the Georgian people as a "dying-out nation", and announced to the Georgians that they will soon become extinct in the face of globalization while Russia is "a large country, a huge country. It can digest this. You, the Georgians, will fail to digest this."
The statements sparked public outrage in Georgia, and Kovalenko was summoned by Georgia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for explanations while the opposition factions in the Parliament of Georgia demanded the withdrawal of Kovalenko from Georgia. Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson, Nino Burjanadze, responded to the ambassador’s prediction: "Maybe, certain forces in Russia really want to see the extinction of Georgian nation, but this will not happen... I would advise Mr. Kovalenko to think about Russia and its demographic problems and we will ourselves take care of Georgian problems, including the demographic ones."
Georgian demonstrations — alleged Russian involvement
In a televised address on the day of clashes between protesters and police in Tbilisi on November 7, 2007, Saakashvili said his country faced "a very serious threat of unrest". "High ranking officials in Russian special services are behind this," he said, adding that he had evidence. He said several Russian diplomats would be expelled from Georgia for engaging in "espionage". Earlier he had recalled Georgia's ambassador to Moscow, Irakly Chubinishvili, for "consultations".
"Moscow regards the latest idiocy by Georgian authorities as political irresponsible provocation. An appropriate response will be made, and Russia will remain true to its commitments regarding assisting in the settlement of the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts and the protection of Russian nationals living there," the Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.
April 2008 Georgian drone downing incident
On April 20, 2008 a Georgian unmanned unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV) was shot down over the Abkhazian conflict zone.
However, Georgia's defence ministry released video the next day showing what appears to be a Russian MiG-29 shooting down the unarmed Georgian drone. According to Georgia the jet came from Gudauta and then returned to Russia. Moscow denied Georgia’s accusation and stressed that none of its planes were in the region at the time. Furthermore, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement accusing Georgia of violating the 1994 Moscow agreement and United Nations resolutions on Abkhazia by deploying without authorisation a UAV (which also can be used to direct fire) in the Security Zone and the Restricted Weapons Zone.
On April 24, a closed-door U.N. Security Council emergency session, convened at Georgia’s request, failed to resolve the dispute, but the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and Germany issued a joint statement expressing their concern over Russia’s recent moves in Abkhazia and calling Moscow to reverse or not to implement its decision to legalize the ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russian ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, called the demand by the Western states "a tall order" and stressed that Russia had no intention of reversing its plans.
Although Moscow denies that a MiG-class fighter was involved in the incident, the Russian envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has suggested that a MiG-29 belonging to a NATO member might have downed the Georgian spy plane. In response, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reportedly remarked that he would "eat his tie if it turned out that a NATO MiG-29 had magically appeared in Abkhazia and shot down a Georgian drone."
On May 26, 2008, the U.N. mission released the conclusion of its independent investigation into the incident. It confirmed that the Georgian video footage and radar data were authentic and the jet which destroyed the drone was indeed Russian. The concluding report said that the jet flew towards the Russian territory after the incident, but it was unclear where the attacker took off, naming the Gudauta base as a possible locality. The mission also noted that "a reconnaissance mission by a military aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, constituted 'military action' and therefore contravened the ceasefire accord". Georgia hailed the report, but Russia dismissed it.
Military buildup in Abkhazia
The UAV incident triggered a new rise in tensions between the two countries. Russia accused Georgia of trying to exploit the NATO support to solve the Abkhazia problem by force and of sending its troops into the Georgia-controlled upper Kodori Valley in northeast Abkhazia. However, the U.N. monitors in Abkhazia stated earlier in April they did not observe any military buildup on either side of the demilitarization line. On April 29, Russia announced it would increase its military presence in the region and threatened to retaliate militarily against Georgia’s efforts. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, it increased the number of its peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 2,542 peacekeepers, which is 458 short of the 3,000 limit set by agreement. The Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Georgia would treat any additional troops in Abkhazia as aggressors, while President Saakashvili, in his televised address, pledged to pursue only a peaceful line in the conflict areas and called upon the Abkhaz and Ossetians to unite with Georgia in defying attempts by "outrageous and irresponsible external force to trigger bloodshed". The European Union also urged caution, saying that to increase troop numbers would be "unwise" given current tensions, while the United States called on Russia "to reconsider some provocative steps" it had taken in respect of Georgia’s breakaway region Abkhazia. Georgia also suspended the talks regarding Russia's admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and threatened to veto the process. Georgian officials claim Russia is changing facts on the ground in order to make it impossible for NATO foreign ministers to give Georgia a Membership Action Plan when they meet in December 2008. In the meantime, the Russian Cossacks and North Caucasian mountaineers declared their readiness to fight Georgia again in the case of a renewed confrontation in Abkhazia as they did early in the 1990s. On May 6, 2008, the Georgian state minister for reintegration Temur Iakobashvili said Georgia was on the verge of war with Russia. Georgia requested the U.N. mission to inquire into the number and deployment of the Russian peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that the chief U.N. observer "agreed that actions by the Russian side do not contradict basic agreements on the conduct of the peacekeeping operation", but the mission later responded to this statement, declaring that it "has no authority to pronounce on the conformity between the CIS peacekeeping operation in the Zone of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict and CIS rules."
Early in May 2008, both Russian and Abkhaz sides claimed that three more Georgian reconnaissance drones were shot over Abkhazia, and declared that Georgia was preparing to mount an offensive into the region in the near future. The Abkhaz foreign minister Sergei Shamba asked Russia to place Abkhazia under Russia's military control in exchange for security guarantees. Georgia denied these allegations, stating that it was "a provocation aimed at propagandistic support of Russia’s military intervention."
2008 South Ossetia war
On August 8, 2008, after Georgian troops tried to retake the breakaway province and launched an offensive involving heavy bombardment of Tskhinvali, Russian forces entered South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After four days of intense fighting, Georgian forces were expelled from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A Russian thrust towards Gori was repelled, but Russian paratroopers raided Georgian bases from Abkhazia. The Russian Air Force bombed military and logistical targets inside Georgia, and the Russian Navy entered Abkhazian waters and defeated Georgian Naval Forces in a brief skirmish. Both sides agreed to a ceasefire on August 12, but the next day Russia violated that ceasefire, sending regular and paramilitary forces into Georgia proper. The Georgian Army retreated to defend Tbilisi, and the Russians took the main highway and the cities of Poti and Gori without a fight, removing or destroying any military equipment left behind, and set up "buffer zones" around the Abkhazian and South Ossetian borders, gradually withdrawing.
Georgia's military strength was damaged, but quickly recovered, having reached a strength greater than pre-war levels in 2010. Russia stationed additional forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and built new military bases there.
Russian recognition of the breakaway regions and the severance of diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia
On 25 August 2008, the Federal Assembly of Russia unanimously voted to urge President Medvedev to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. On the following day, Medvedev agreed, signing a decree officially recognizing the two entities. Georgia has rejected this move outright as an annexation of its territory; Western nations such as the United States and Germany have also opposed such a decision. In response to Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian government announced that the country cut all diplomatic relations with Russia. Russia had already closed its embassy right after the beginning of the war in South Ossetia in August 2008 before diplomatic relations between the two countries ended.
- Zakareishvili, Paata: "The North Caucasus: Bone of Contention or a Basis for Russian–Georgian Cooperation?" in the Caucasus Analytical Digest No. 27
- Gvosdev, Nikolas K.: Imperial policies and perspectives towards Georgia: 1760-1819, Macmillan, Basingstoke 2000, ISBN 0-312-22990-9, p. 85
- Avalov (1906), p. 186
- Gvosdev (2000), p. 86
- Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints, St Vladimirs Seminary Pr; N.e.of 2r.e. edition (March 1997) by David Marshall Lang, p. 249
- Lang (1997), p. 251
- Lang (1997), p. 247
- Lang (1997), p. 252
- Georgia breaks relations with Russia
- * OSCE Istanbul Document 1999
- BBC, Q&A: Russian-Georgian ties, 2 October 2006
- "Russia has lost its role as a mediator in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict"
- Georgian Foreign Ministry accuses Russian peacemakers in inactivity in the conflict zone of Abkhazia
- FREEDOM IN THE WORLD 2007:FREEDOM STAGNATION AMID PUSHBACK AGAINST DEMOCRACY, The Freedom House. Retrieved on January 22, 2007.
- Russia Targets Georgians for Expulsion. The Human Rights Watch. October 1, 2007.
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- Комментарий Департамента информации и печати МИД России в связи с вопросами СМИ относительно инцидента с грузинским беспилотным самолетом 20 апреля 2008 года (Commentary of the Department of the Information and Press of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in connection with the incident involving the Georgian UAV on April 20, 2008), 22.04.2008 (Russian)
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