Much has (more often than not) already been written about the long-standing and quite diverse and multilateral relations that Georgia has entertained with the peoples of the North Caucasus. Yet assessments of both the region’s past history and present circumstances vary greatly, which is why I believe that analysing the Georgian perspective and seeking to define a Georgian strategy will always be worthwhile.
Now, four decades after the fall of the Soviet Union and the restoration of Georgia’s independence, the question of Tbilisi’s relations with the North Caucasus is becoming sufficiently important to encourage the Georgian government (and society) to form a more or less stable approach to the region based upon possible and likely developments. To put it simply, given its central geographical location in the Caucasus, Georgia must define and enact its own policy towards the people living along the country’s northern borders; this policy must, however, be given sufficient flexibility to ensure that it can always be adapted to the region’s unpredictability, including by future Georgian governments.
That said, and before we begin to discuss what approaches could be realistic and beneficial for both Georgia and the diverse peoples of the North Caucasus, we must briefly remind ourselves what preconditions and historical experiences have characterized relations between the two.
Besides, as in all complex relationships, it is obvious that certain factors will come to the surface which either unite or divide us, and although any future strategy will rest upon unifying factors, ignoring certain problems could potentially prevent future policies from being carried out.
2. The historical context
The Georgians and the majority of the North Caucasian peoples are autochthonous to the Caucasus: as far as we know, they did not arrive from anywhere else and have no other motherland. Besides long-standing historic links, this also means that they share the same dominant genetic haplogroup (G2a) and all speak languages belonging to the Ibero-Caucasian family—which consists of the Kartvelian, Abkhaz-Adyghe and Nakh-Daghestanian languages.
1.Distribution of haplogroup G
2. Distribution of Ibero-Caucasian languages
In terms of the region’s history, we will concentrate on more recent periods.
Ancient history: It is nothing new and indeed quite natural to state that Georgia’s relations with the North Caucasus have varied in intensity during her long history, and that the country succeeded in exercising various degrees of influence over the region. This influence was mostly cultural, linguistic and economic, but also had a military facet: Georgia was constantly involved in wars, and her ties with her Caucasian neighbours were equally strengthened by her search for both new soldiers and settlers. On her northern borders, at any rate, traditional ties between Georgians and their North Caucasian neighbours on the other side of the Caucasian range—between Rachvelians and Balkars; Svans and Karachais; Kakhetians and Daghestanis; Mengrelians and Abkhaz and Circassians—were much more constant, and were barely affected by the spread of Islam across most of the North Caucasus.
The nineteenth century: A more shadowy episode of Georgia’s relations with the North Caucasus took place in the nineteenth century, when Lesghian invasions targeted Georgians (a period known in Georgia as Lekianoba) and in doing so played into the Russian empire’s hand during its long conquest of the Caucasus (1817-1864). Russia’s campaign devastated a great many Caucasian peoples, and some nations such as the Ubykh were even completely wiped out. The painful traces of this conquest, and notably the exile of the so-called Muhajirs (North Caucasians who were forced to flee to Ottoman Anatolia), continue to be felt to this day.
From the North Caucasian perspective, many Georgians unfortunately took part in the Russian conquest of the Caucasus; some indeed distinguished themselves, and one of them even contributed to the final capture of the Imam Shamil, which broke the back of North Caucasian resistance to the Russian invasion. Interestingly, however, already by the end of the nineteenth century, the perceived ferocity and burden of Russian policy in Georgia brought about reappraisals of Georgia’s approach to the wider Caucasus region.
"1918-1920": Modern Georgian society tends to ignore that during the early twentieth century, in parallel with Georgia’s short-lived independence, the people of North Caucasus also gained a certain (albeit quite limited) degree of independence. Georgia’s role in the establishment of the Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus (MRNC, 1917-1921) was so essential that its independence was finally declared on the 11th of May 1918 in the Georgian town of Batumi, and its foreign minister was mostly managing affairs from Tbilisi. For future discussion, it would be useful to mention that Georgia served as a window through which the North Caucasians communicated with the outer world—and it was precisely such communication which enabled the MRNC’s independence to be recognized by many states, including the Ottoman Empire, Germany, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, etc.
3. Notional territory of the MRNC
It will come as no surprise that the MRNC did not survive the Soviet occupation of the Caucasus, but before that something noteworthy took place: both Georgia and Azerbaijan realized that they would be next after the MRNC, and gave as much help as they could to aid resistance in the North Caucasus.
An extract from the memoirs of Noe Zhordania, who led Georgia’s independent government from 1918 to 1921, can perfectly illustrate the issue at hand: ‘We paid special attention to the [MRNC], and there was not a single case when we refused their request for help. In February they asked for more military ammunition, and the government decided to give them everything they needed from the military arsenal. We never provided such help to anybody else. We were ourselves in need and were gathering cartridges from one village to another, and were paying two manats for every single one of them, that is how desperate we were for ammunition, and at the same time we were helping the mountaineers so generously. Why? It is obvious why, that was dictated by the necessity of ensuring the safety of our northern borders. A strong and independent [MRNC] was our strength directed against Moscow. We were desperately interested in its existence, and that conditioned our actions.’
During their short years of independence, it is clear that the republics of the both the northern and southern Caucasus were acting with their common interests in mind: on one hand, the south ensured an open window of communication for the north and supplied it with as many arms as possible, whereas, on the other hand, the north sought to bar Soviet Russia’s attempts to occupy the southern Caucasus.
The Soviet period: After the Soviet occupation of the Caucasus, in the 1920s, the Georgians and the North Caucasians were united in uprisings which were as severely suppressed in the north as in the south. However, the destiny of most of the North Caucasians was to take a much more fateful turn under Stalin’s rule, when hundreds of thousands of Chechens and Ingush (almost all of them) were deported to Central Asia. Most did not survive. As part of the punishment that was imposed upon them, the autonomy of Chechnya and Ingushetia was abrogated; their territories were redistributed to North Ossetia, Daghestan and Georgia; and Ossetians, Lesghians and Georgians were resettled in the villages of those who were deported. It is, however, a well-known fact that, once the ‘punished peoples’ began to be officially rehabilitated in 1957, those Georgians who had settled in the North Caucasus implicitly returned their homes to Chechen and Ingush returnees, the autonomy of whose land was also restored. This minor historical detail contributed to the establishment of a generally positive approach to Georgians, partially compensating for their condemnation as Stalin’s ethnic kin.
4. The deportation of the Chechens and Ingush
5. Map of the Caucasus in 1944-1957
The 1990s: Regardless of any possible justification for this involvement, the various conflicts which marked the 1990s and the involvement of North Caucasians mark a difficult episode of relations between them and Georgia, and this decade has until now defined (and to certain extent still defines) Georgia’s policy vis-à-vis the North Caucasus. Despite the fact that Russia’s defining role in those conflicts which took place on Georgian territory is widely known and recognized, Georgians simply cannot rid themselves of the memories of the involvement of North Caucasians and of the actions they committed. That said, most Georgians also realize that the motivation behind the involvement of North Caucasians in some of these conflicts was to further weaken Caucasian unity, and that their involvement did perhaps not illustrate the North Caucasian people’s real policies towards Georgians.
Despite this, however, there are other assumptions which really have the right to exist. It is quite clear, for example, that the Abkhaz are much closer to the North Caucasians, and if the latter were told that the Georgians attacked the Abkhaz, it is quite natural that they would wish to support the Abkhaz and behave aggressively towards Georgians.
At the same time, in the early 1990s, some Caucasian peoples expected that the collapse of the Soviet Union would lead to the collapse of the Russian Federation as well. In such a case, the North Caucasus could have thought about the prospect of independence and establishing a separate state similar to that which was declared in 1918. Within such a state, the Abkhaz would also have been considered as a member or a partner thanks to whose coastline the North Caucasus could communicate with the rest of the world. Some North Caucasian peoples might therefore have their own interest in separating Abkhazia from Georgia. Be that as it may, we finally ended up with the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus (c. 1989-2000)—a militarized political organization that was managed by the Russian special services and at their disposal, to be used whenever expedient.
It is ironic that most of what we have described until now in terms of events that took place in the 1990s took place during the term in office of the President of Georgia who had called for a united Caucasus.
This decade vividly showed that one Caucasian nation defeating another with Russian help would in the end benefit neither the loser nor the winner.
6. The Economist, 28th of October 1999
The second half of the 1990s was a different phase, during which the Georgian government at the time established certain ties with Chechnya during its second war with Russia, and was discreetly even trying to help. As the Economist wrote: ‘Georgia, itself constantly fearful of Russian interference in its own affairs, does what it can, discreetly, to help its much smaller neighbour [Chechnya].’
During this period, in 1997, Aslan Maskhadov—then President of the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria—was welcomed with full presidential honours in Tbilisi. During his visit to Georgia, Maskhadov (who by chance had graduated from Tbilisi’s school of artillery) said exactly what the Georgians wanted to hear the most at that time (and in future as well): ‘I was talking to the Abkhaz leaders in 1996 after that war. We were talking really openly and I was honest. I told them that I did not understand why they were fighting. How could they separate from Georgia and join Russia, what kind of freedom or statehood is that? Georgian: that’s kindred, custom, tradition, Caucasus.’ I think we should mark this episode of our near past and remember it when we will be discussing Georgia’s future strategy below.
2004-2008: We see this episode of Georgia’s most recent history as distinct, but it will not take long to describe, for between 2004 and 2008 Georgia’s policy was to have no policy towards the Northern Caucasus. Having no policy can indeed be a policy, and we believe that there were various reasons for this choice. During this period (and mostly until 2006), Georgia still hoped that the problems of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, whose keys were in Moscow’s hands, could be solved through negotiation, and perhaps even thanks to certain (essential) Georgian concessions. We therefore believe that the Georgian government assumed that, until relevant resources were available, having any active policy vis-à-vis the North Caucasus would simply be counterproductive, would annoy Russia and thereby hinder possible negotiations. Over the next few years, however, we see Georgia’s policy towards the North Caucasus change dramatically, mostly due to the realization that problems cannot be solved with Russian help.
2008-2012: After the war with Russia in August 2008, Georgia had nothing to lose—and even if it did, it would certainly not be its relationship with Moscow, which had already reached rock bottom. Georgia’s North Caucasus policy changed radically as a result; this change affected the entire spectrum of relations, and started to become prominent in 2010. Going over the past few decades, we will cover the main events and actions which took place (or did not take place) within the framework of an ‘active policy’.
We would mark out following as such essential issues: one-sided/unilateral cancellation of visa rejme for the population of North Caucasus; recognition of Circassian genocide; spreading coverage of TV company Pik around the region; Adopting a state concept of relationships with people of Northern Caucasus.
First of all, we need to ask what Georgia’s aim was when the country decided to carry out an active Caucasian policy, and evaluate how achievable this aim was. The question, we believe, is legitimate, but there can be no clear answer—as the experts and researchers who were part of the government group that created and carried out this policy have confirmed. In our opinion, the case was that, on one hand, Georgia felt the need for an active North Caucasus policy, and that on the other hand, the country had been released from any kind of moral or political objection to pursuing such an active policy following its realization that nothing positive could be expected from Russia. At the same time, Georgia had since 2004 been emphasizing its regional role as an economic, transport and logistical hub; as a beacon of democracy in the region; and as a centre of culture, science and medicine in the Caucasus. Georgia was trying to make a statement as a multinational, multicultural state that was ready (within the limits of its capacity to do so) to defend the interests of different Caucasian peoples and to discuss the problems they faced on the world stage. Georgia’s stated ambition to pursue a wide regional policy towards the North Caucasus was primarily based upon the fact that the country shares a border with six North Caucasian republics. This policy was expected to have different results and its goals were to be achieved in varying degrees; some of these goals were:
Gaining the benevolence of North Caucasians: From any state’s point of view, there is no need to explain the benefits of enjoying a positive image among neighbours, and this is indeed a goal that every country strives to achieve. But this issue is important against the background we described above, as over the past few decades North Caucasians have been actively involved (or used) in wars against Georgia, including in 2008.
Creating a security barrier: In general, every state also tries to create or maintain a buffer zone between itself and its direct competitors, especially if they are militarily powerful. Georgia indeed serves as a buffer for Turkey against any potential Russian threat. Georgia’s wish to have such a zone is thus perfectly natural, as it would create a barrier of sorts against further Russian aggression—but it should be pointed out that this goal is of course completely unrealistic, since Russia more or less effectively controls the North Caucasus and has troops deployed in Georgia’s occupied regions.
Causing Russian discomfort: The fact that Georgia can exercise even small-scale informational, humanitarian or other forms of influence over the North Caucasus is clearly a source of discomfort for Russia, and Moscow needs no other tangible reason than this to wish to put a stop to Georgia’s activities. However, to be more precise, Georgia might have aimed to present itself as an alternative to Russia in different ways: as an objective source of news and information instead of Russian propaganda; as a safer place in which to invest; as a place of study and education; as a home for new civil society groups that would initiate or support causes that run contrary to the interests of Russian federation; and so on.
Managing dialogue with the Abkhaz and the Ossetians with the help of North Caucasians: This, we believe, was one of the leading factors (or certainly should have been if it was not), but this issue will be discussed in greater detail below. Let us here limit ourselves to saying that the Adyghe people and the inhabitants of North Ossetia, close as they are to the Abkhaz and to the inhabitants of the Tskhinvali region (respectively), could naturally serve as the best ambassadors for communicating with Georgians living in these regions.
Improving Georgia’s image: We have already mentioned Georgia’s ambition to set itself up as a regional hub and the various claims it has made (and continues to make) regarding its role and function in the region, and these goals and efforts may have provided some of the reasons for the decision to pursue an active policy towards the North Caucasus.
Economic factors: Georgia had also counted on increasing tourism and investment from the North Caucasus, since trade or travel in or through Georgia is very convenient for the population of the North Caucasus, most of whom live only a few hours’ drive from the border (and in some cases only a few hours from Tbilisi). Georgia could also have positioned itself as a kind of haven for the financial capital of those who fear they will lose everything in Russia or who might fall foul of Russia’s local or federal government.
We believe that the combination of these measurable or unmeasurable aims and tasks pushed Georgia when, despite Russia’s potential irritation, it decided to become more active towards North Caucasus—particularly since, as we mentioned earlier, irritating Russia could in the circumstances not make things worse.
In terms of carrying out these undeclared aims and tasks, the first step was opening the border and cancelling the visa regime. What was so unusual from Georgia’s point of view in cancelling the visa regime? The most noteworthy was a visa waiver for the inhabitants on a list of beneficiary countries: the right of free movement through Georgia was not given to all the citizens of Russia, but only to those registered in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Daghestan, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Adygea and Karachay-Cherkessia. Let us for a moment set aside the important economic and human factors of this issue, and look at it from a purely political point of view instead: with this decision, Georgia operated a distinction between Russia and the North Caucasus, which must have been a painful development for Russia considering the wounds that it must deal with in the region.
The second step was recognizing the Circassian genocide. It is difficult to measure how the attitudes of Circassians or other Caucasian peoples towards Georgia may have improved as a result of Tbilisi’s official recognition of the Circassian genocide, but it is very likely that recognizing it had a positive effect. Georgia, which Russian propaganda presented as the oppressor of the Abkhaz, recognized the tragedy of a fellow Caucasian people and called for historic justice. It is also highly likely that this decision was calculated to cause a certain moral discomfort for Russia, which at the time was planning to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in the very area where the Circassians used to live and where their genocide took place.
A third step was Georgian broadcasting in the North Caucasus. It was obvious to all that the purpose of Georgia’s Russian-language channel was to broadcast attitudes favourable to Georgia at the expense of Russia. It is very difficult to measure the results of this decision, but easy to calculate the funding that was allocated for this channel, which amounted to tens of millions of lari. Despite certain positive effects, however, some experts believe that the very objectivity and impartiality of the information provided was to some extent counterproductive.
We will evaluate Georgia’s active policy, which was mostly enacted between 2010 and 2012, further below in the section dedicated to recommendations. At this stage, we will simply note that, despite the fact that Georgia’s aspirations were in general perfectly understandable and in many cases laudable, and although they were often aimed at achieving specific goals, Tbilisi’s efforts lacked consistency, measurability and a long-term vision.
For the purpose of this article, we believe that it is important to link Georgia’s current policy towards the North Caucasus with a future policy, which in our opinion needs to be adopted. In order to do so, we will also consider everything that happened in 2012 and beyond—not the nearest past but a given situation, regardless of the government under which an action was carried out (or not), since this article concerns Georgia and not one of its governments’ policies in the North Caucasus.
3. Current conditions
In order to discuss the current status of Georgia’s North Caucasian policy, it is important to remember two documents which, despite the fact that they are not sufficiently used today in Georgian politics (the reasons for which we will discuss below), have never been revoked and formally maintain their guiding function. These two documents are Georgia’s State Concept of Relations with the People of the North Caucasus, and Georgia’s National Security Concept.
In general, seeking to write down and define, with the help of parliament, such an important issue as Georgia’s policy vis-à-vis the North Caucasus is a positive development in itself and ensures a certain degree of political stability.
As for the content of these documents, we will first review Georgia’s State Concept of Relations with the People of the North Caucasus, whose preamble corresponds to the history given in the this paper. More precisely, the document recognizes the close economic, social, political and cultural ties that exist between the peoples of Georgia and the North Caucasus, as well as the fact that cultural kinship, a similarity in traditions and a long-standing presence in the Caucasus are the basis for these close relations. According to the preamble, Georgia is an inseparable part of the Caucasus and a country to which all ongoing processes in the region are important. The document also declares that Georgia is interested in the stability, security and economic development of the North Caucasus, and states that it (the document) is in the interests of both North Caucasians as well as Georgians.
The Concept of Relations with the People of the North Caucasus suggests eight areas whose development will bring Georgians and the peoples of the North Caucasus closer together and solve common problems. These are, briefly:
Personal ties: Alongside other relatively standard statements (concerning tourism, contacts between young people, etc.), this paragraph contains an important passage: ‘Georgia respects people of different religions and values. Given that the most widespread religion in the North Caucasus is Islam, Georgia is glad to give people from the region the possibility to go on pilgrimage through Georgian territory.’ Considering the importance of the social and political role that Islam plays in the North Caucasus, inserting this issue into the Concept, even in the context of tourism, has great meaning and confers a totally different tone upon this paragraph.
Human rights: Georgia states its concerns regarding human rights in the North Caucasus, and declares that Georgia shares values common to all Caucasian peoples and is ready to help them defend these values, including before international organizations, in order to protect the victims of ethnic and political discrimination. One of Georgia’s main functions is considered to be supporting communication between the North Caucasus and the wider world, and the Concept also states that Georgia will support the development of civil society in the North Caucasus.
Education and science: Here the emphasis is laid on access to education in Georgia and on supporting involvement in educational programmes abroad. As for science, Georgia declares that it will carry out different measures to maintain the languages and identity of the Caucasian peoples.
Economy and trade: Georgia declares that it welcomes investment from the North Caucasus and underlines that it could serve a logistic function and be used as a platform for Caucasian businesses to position themselves abroad.
Supporting the restoration of historic justice: Georgia states its readiness to support the investigation and analysis of crimes committed against Caucasian people at various times in history as well as efforts to raise international awareness of them. The Concept refers to the example of the recognition of the Circassian genocide in 2011.
Relationships with diasporas: Georgia declares itself ready to support communication and dialogue with those people of the North Caucasus who for various reasons have had to leave the region. Here, we believe, the indirect emphasis is on relations with North Caucasians who have been deported to Turkey and Syria during the Muhajir period.
Healthcare: Georgia states that it can serve as a medical hub in the region and that the country is ready to provide medical services to people from the North Caucasus and support efforts to improve professional qualifications among medical staff in the region.
In this Concept, Georgia has defined the main areas in which it sees the need for and the possibility of co-operation. Some points of this Concept are mere declarations, but all in all the document could be seen as a collection of efficient, quite specific and achievable statements. If we disregard some particular emphases (e.g. supporting the development of civil society or restoring historic justice, which are unequivocally unpleasant for Russia), one would be hard-pressed to conclude that anybody could find the Concept unacceptable, let alone annoying or irritating: on the contrary, it mostly underlines cultural, humanitarian and economic aspects which are difficult to argue with.
As for the second document, the National Security Concept, it includes the following essential references to the North Caucasus and the region’s role in terms of Georgia’s security:
‘Conflicts in the Caucasus have a negative impact on Georgia’s security… Russia is trying to turn the peoples of the North Caucasus and of the Russian Federation against Georgia.’
‘Creating a co-operative environment and establishing peace in the North Caucasus region has significant meaning for Georgia… Georgia realizes the need to deepen and develop relations with the peoples of the North Caucasus. This will help improve their awareness of Georgia’s aims and political path, as well as establish an atmosphere of trust, peace and stability in the Caucasus. The languages of the peoples of the North Caucasus and their cultural and historical achievements are part of our world heritage and maintaining and developing them is important to Georgia.’
‘The Caucasus is a home that every person and community living in the region must share.’
Although the messages of the National Security Concept may not be very far-reaching, they are very vivid and correspond perfectly to the concept and reality of Georgia’s relations with the North Caucasian peoples. It is hard to imagine that any state would base its security concept upon the aim of irritating another state; on the contrary, every effort would be made to try to avoid such irritation. We therefore believe that the above-mentioned concepts form, all in all, a more or less consistent approach based upon the right emphases.
We will also quickly mention here that Georgia’s defence and national military strategies during 2017-2020 limit themselves to mentioning the threat of conflicts entering Georgia from the North Caucasus. The brevity of these statements could be explained by the nature of these documents, or perhaps by the fact that this issue is already widely discussed in the National Defence Concept.
If we move away from these documents and go back to the politics beyond them, we must obviously consider that the context has changed since 2012. We will not, however, seek to evaluate whether the changed context is better or worse, but will only describe it in terms of facts and the current circumstances.
Since 2012, Georgia—despite neither having changed its foreign policy vectors nor having had any progress in terms of restoring its territorial integrity following the change of government and a softer rhetoric towards Russia—has decided that it has enough resources to manage dialogue with the Russian Federation in different formats and to expect Russian responses.
But as a result of this softened rhetoric, Georgia has in reality gone back to the ‘policy of no North Caucasus policy’ of 2004-2008. Given the current circumstances, it is difficult to evaluate the pros and cons of Georgian politics; instead, we will try to define a number of theories and principles upon which Georgia’s strategy of relations with the North Caucasus should be based. The following is a list of recommendations, including things that Georgia should preferably not do.
4. Recommendations for future reference
Over the past 30 years, several noteworthy facts have been prominent when observing Georgia’s politics towards the North Caucasus.
Firstly, the most obvious and easily observable circumstance is that Georgia has had an active policy towards either Russia or the North Caucasus; at this stage, the government cannot define an approach to both which would not be mutually exclusive. The first and overall recommendation for a future policy would therefore be that the North Caucasus strategy should not be linked to the state of Georgia’s relations with Russia. In the same context, a happy medium must be found between a ‘policy of no policy’ and a more provocatively active one. Such an approach must be viable and results-oriented.
Secondly, and a principle whose importance has been proved over centuries, is that it is forbidden to trade the interests of the people of the North Caucasus. In other words, Georgia should not normalize relations with Russia or solve specific tactical problems at the expense of the interests of the North Caucasian peoples. There are two main reasons for this, both based upon historical experience: first of all, such actions would damage trust towards Georgia as was the case especially in the nineteenth century, and we know that restoring such trust takes centuries; and secondly, the past also tells us that no Caucasian people has achieved any success or somehow benefited in the long run with the help of an outside power (e.g. Russia) or by compromising the interests of a neighbouring nation. On the contrary, as a rule, after the nation with ‘victimized interests’ comes the turn of the nation who sacrificed its neighbour’s interests. This is why Georgia must in practice ensure that the rights of the citizens of the North Caucasus living or working in Georgia are protected, ensure the inviolability of their property, and refrain from officially or unofficially extraditing anyone who is obviously being pursued for political reasons, even when Georgian or international law would allow their extradition.
Thirdly, Georgia needs a long-term and therefore stable policy towards the North Caucasus. In short:
First of all, Georgia needs to define what it needs, what results it wishes to achieve and what tasks it must accomplish. These should be realistic and achievable, and the results must in the best of cases be measurable. In our opinion, the policy that was carried out in 2010-2012 was faulty as Georgia neither knew precisely what it wanted nor how to achieve those results it could define, and what was most striking was the notion that that the country was striving towards aims with no resources, or at the very least in a manner far too premature.
Why is this matter so important? Not only because there is a risk that resources, including financial ones, might be wasted for no result—some say that even just going through the motions is better than doing nothing at all, even if it achieves nil—but because a different problem can arise. Georgia’s activities and manoeuvres at the time were followed by some inhabitants of the North Caucasus, who came to believe and take part in various actions and strategies, perhaps even risking their own safety in doing so, but at some point the Georgian government (the name of the ruling party or leader is irrelevant) changed their approach to this issue based upon different assumptions. Doing so undermines trust and the prospect of carrying out Georgia’s future actions.
Besides, in the third theory we imply another important sub-principle: Georgian policy should avoid sharp, aggressive vectors whose character makes them difficult to adapt. In other words, no declared strategy should be so sharp and aggressive as to prevent Georgia from being able to modify it according to current needs or a change of the government, forcing the country to either change the strategy completely or to just leave it on paper and not carry it out in reality. The concept must be a stable product which can be mixed or seasoned according to different circumstances or political preferences, but the product must remain the product. Only stable and durable approaches can ensure trust in a concept and its real implementation.
A separate fourth issue is the principle that our country’s policy towards the North Caucasus cannot cause destabilization. Despite the fact that, at specific moments of history, problems in the North Caucasus were associated with a weakening of Russia (which as a rule gave Georgia some breathing space), fluctuations in the North Caucasus with no specific result also made the Georgian people suffer and their North Caucasian partners incur losses. Accordingly, attempts to bring about or encourage destabilization are not something that Georgia should directly or indirectly support.
Considering all the principles, in our opinion Georgia needs to carry out real policies with regard to the North Caucasus since it is a natural condition of Georgia and a continuous need. We also believe that the main aspects of the Concept of Relations with the People of the North Caucasus that should be shared are those that carry elements of culture, trade and a humanitarian attitude.
We also believe that security should not be the only defining issue of Georgia’s policy towards the North Caucasus; moreover, we consider it unacceptable to envisage the North Caucasus as a buffer zone in this context. It would in any case have been naïve to assume that such an approach by Georgia would have remained unnoticed, or that any nation would voluntarily co-operate with attempts to use them as a shield.
Instead, the general aim should be to bring Georgians and the peoples of the North Caucasus as close together as possible and to co-operate in cultural (including educational and scientific), humanitarian (medicine) and commercial (transport, tourism, investment, business, international trade platform) spheres. Special attention would be paid in this regard to commercial relations and to the rights of the participants of such relations, including the inviolability of property and investment protection.
We think that Georgia needs to actively position herself as a window for communication with the wider world, including over matters concerning international trade. In some cases, Georgia might even serve as a platform for dialogue between the peoples of the Caucasus—particularly since the North Caucasus harbours many unsolved problems and suffers from many grievous wounds, even between different peoples living in the region.
On the Georgian side, one of Tbilisi’s expectations and aims could be North Caucasian mediation and ‘people’s diplomacy’ in the dialogue with the Abkhaz and the Ossetians, notably in order to begin a process whereby trust would be rebuilt and reintegration achieved.
In order to carry out these actions and achieve these aims, we would argue that Georgia’s North Caucasus strategy should necessarily include the following elements:
First of all, use every means of communication at our disposal, including the internet, to keep the peoples of the North Caucasus constantly informed of Georgia’s policies and progress in different spheres.
Secondly, constantly monitor and analyse events unfolding in the Caucasus, and modify Georgia’s action plans and messages whenever necessary.
Thirdly, within the framework of cultural, scientific and educational exchanges, to build up supporters in every part of the North Caucasus and at different levels of society who enjoy some influence over their own community and will agree with and contribute to Georgian initiatives and actions in the region.
We believe that following such a long-term, pragmatic and stable policy would allow Georgia to earn the trust and goodwill of her neighbours, would help to establish useful links and would enable specific measurable results to be achieved. Besides, we believe that the approach we have outlined would ensure that Georgia’s choices would no longer be limited to the usual dilemmas: Russia or the North Caucasus; having no policy or an aggressive policy; Georgia’s interests or the interests of neighbouring nations; etc. Avoiding these dilemmas would be a sign of political maturity as the country begins its fourth decade of independence.
By: Sandro Samadbegishvili
March 17, 2020