Author: Giuliano Bifolchi
Georgian authorities denied that Tbilisi would hold a referendum to open a “second front” against the Russian Federation, destabilising the South Caucasus and threatening the Georgian economy, which is heavily dependent on the Russian market.
The chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, said that his statement about a possible referendum on opening a “second front” against Russia was sarcasm with a bit of irony since the population of the country is unambiguously against the war. Since Kyiv has ofter asked Tbilisi to open a “second front” against the Russian Federation, the Georgian authorities believe that a referendum might only prove that the Georgian citizens support the current ruling team and the Government’s decision to boycott the sanction against Russia and avoid any military conflicts at its borders (Vestnik Kavkaza).
Politics: In foreign policy, Georgia has two main goals: restoring its territorial integrity lost due to the 2008 Russian-Georgian War, which marked the independence of the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia, and achieving the Euro-Atlantic integration. Since independence and after the 2003 Rose Revolution, neither the United National Movement (UNM) Government (2003-2013) nor the Georgian Dream Government (2012-present) have been capable of transforming the country into a democratic state and reaching the EU democratic standards. Only after the beginning of the Ukraine conflict the European Union offered membership “perspective,” but not candidacy since the country had not yet reached the EU democratic standards. By contrast, since the relations with the West cooled down in the last few years, Tbilisi relied more on Russian imports and exports.
Economy: Georgia is heavily economically dependent on Russia. In January-June 2022, Georgia received about 1.2 billion dollars in income from Russia through remittances, tourism, and commodity exports. This data is 2.5 times bigger than the Russian-Georgian income registered in the same period in 2021. This means that the Ukraine conflict did not negatively influence Moscow-Tbilisi’s economic and trade relations, although the West imposed sanctions against Moscow.
Society: Georgian citizens have demonstrated their full support to Ukraine and demanded the Georgian Government impose sanctions against the Russian Federation. The 2008 Russian-Georgian War and the Kremlin’s support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia have exacerbated Russian-Georgian relations even though the Russian market is fundamental for the Georgian economy.
Strength: Opening a “second front” against Russia when the Kremlin is involved in the Ukraine conflict might represent an opportunity for Georgia. Considering also recent military escalation at the Armenian-Azerbaijani borders, a Georgian military operation aimed at conquering the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia might produce positive outcomes if the military confrontation will not last long.
Weakness: Although reconquering the lost territory due to the 2008 Russian-Georgian War has always been a primary goal in Tbilisi’s foreign policy, and the Georgian population has mostly supported this idea, it is difficult to believe that the Georgian army might easily and quickly overcome local Russian, Abkhaz and Ossetian security forces without huge human life losses. Tbilisi might face a long conflict or a complete defeat, as happened in August 2008. Furthermore, the Georgian Government should consider its economic dependence on the Russian Federation, which might financially counter military operations with sanctions, disruption of natural gas and energy supplies, and banning of Georgian products in the Russian market (around 147 million customers).
Opportunities: Instead of opening a “second front”, an idea that the Georgian Government would not take into consideration, Tbilisi might use the current situation in the post-Soviet space characterised by the Ukraine conflict, the Western sanctions against Russia, the Armenia-Azerbaijan confrontation, to promote its membership inside the European Union or NATO and reduce its economic dependence to Russia. Due to its strategic position as a logistic and transportation hub in the South Caucasus and the Black Sea, Georgia might request the European countries a major involvement in the national market through foreign direct investments (FDIs) in infrastructural projects and joint-venture. At the same time, because Tbilisi has not imposed sanctions against Moscow, Georgia might try to negotiate better conditions with Russia.
Threats: Promoting the rhetoric of a “second front” against the Russian Federation might alarm the Kremlin and push Sukhum and Tsinkhval to strengthen their military, economic and political cooperation with Moscow. A possible Georgian military attack against Abkhazia and South Ossetia might isolate Georgia, as happened in 2008 when neither the United States nor the European Union military supported Tbilisi against Moscow.
Apart from the classical political rhetoric that Georgian authorities have spread during the years regarding a military action to retake control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it is highly difficult that Tbilisi will open a “second front” against the Russian Federation. Indeed, the political, economic, and financial consequences that Georgia might face in case of a new conflict with Russia might hugely destabilise the Caucasian republic and the Georgian society.