Possible NATO Candidate and a Highly Sensitive Bridge between Europe and Asia


by Andrew Andersen





On October 3/2006, NATO Parliamentary Assembly released a statement supporting Georgia’s wish to join the Alliance. It is likely that the new post-Soviet nation squeezed between Europe and Asia will be further encouraged to integrate into Euro-Atlantic structures at the forthcoming November NATO summit in Riga (Latvia).

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the tendency too cooperate with NATO was clearly demonstrated by Georgia since the first months of its independence after the disintegration of the USSR in late 1991.

In 1992, less than a year after its birth as a nation, Georgia became a member of North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC). Within the following years the country joined Partnership for Peace (PFP) program (spring 1994), launched the officers' training program in  NATO School in Oberammergau (Germany) and NATO Defence College in Rome (Italy), worked out and submitted  the first Individual Partnership Program (IPP) and ratified the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the States Parties to the North Atlantic Treaty and the other states participating in the Partnership for Peace program (Spring 1997). Same year,Georgia became one of the founding members of the new-established Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC).

Since April, 1998, high-level NATO-Georgian meetings and consultations have been held on the issues of arms control, international security, peace-keeping operations, as well as Georgia's internal and foreign policy. In November, 2002, Georgia made a declaration on her aspiration to NATO membership and 4 weeks later her National Security Council of adopted the State Program on Georgia's Euro-Atlantic Integration.[i]
The country’s tendency towards closer cooperation with the Alliance intensified after the Rose Revolution of late 2003 and the rise to power of President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Shortly after the new President took office in Tbilisi, Georgian efforts towards Euro-Atlantic integration inensified: in December of 2003, an Individual Partnership Plani was drawn up to be personally presented by the new Georgian President on April 7, 2004 in Brussels ,to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

In August of the same year, after a series of consultations and adjustments, the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) of Georgia was officially submitted  to NATO and on October 29, 2004, the above plan was approved by the North Atlantic Council of NATO approved and the new nation-partner moved on to the second stage of Euro-Atlantic integration.

Since then Georgia has been facing gradual implementation of IPAP that includes but is not limited to political, security, defence scientific and environmental issues. Closely monitored by the North Atlantic assessment team, IPAP is still underway and as of today, has been assessed as being implemented with a certain degree of success

On September 21, 2006 in New York, the meeting of the NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs adopted a decision to start Intensified Dialogue with Georgia on full membership issues. The above decision marks a significant step towards the upgrade of partnership format to the level of membership candidacy providing the with an access to more intense political cooperation with the Alliance. One of the major aims of the Intensified Dialogue is to build up the basis for the future Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Georgia.[ii]

What makes Georgia, a relatively small nation of the South Caucasus covering an area of some 26,600 square miles with the population slightly over 4.5 million, an asset for the Alliance?  Among other factors, it is largely Georgia’s location making her a strategic land-bridge between Europe and Asia that can provide stable access to Central Asian oil and natural gas resources as well as an important beachhead that can be used in NATO antiterrorist operations in the Middle East. It may be also important to take into consideration traditional adherence of many Georgians to what they believe to be traditional Western values going back to the earlier history of the country and its spiritual background that include old and strong Christian tradition making Georgians together with the neighboring Armenians a distinct society surrounded by predominantly Muslim nations and peoples of the Middle East and Southern Russia. Additionally, one should probably mention the high educational level of Georgian society and relatively good infrastructure.
What makes Euro-Atlantic integration such an important goal for both the leadership and people of Georgia? The answer could be found in the historical experience of this nation including the dramatic events of the last 15 years.

Largely deleted from the political map of the world between the early 19th and late 20th century, Georgia is a country with a long and uneasy history going back to 6 C BC. [iii]

The “European Integration” of the first Georgian states started at least in the early 2nd century, B.C. with Roman protectorate. The decline of Rome resulted in more than a hundred years of Iranian domination of Georgia followed by the “re-integration” into the Byzantine realm in the early 7th century A.D.. After withstanding Arab invasions of 656-800 the first united Georgian monarchy rose to the status of major regional power in 1020 and kept playing an important role in East Mediterranean area for more than 400 years withstanding a series of invasions from Central Asia and supporting European expansion (Crusades and to some extent, Byzantine) in the Middle East. Feudal fragmentation of the late Middle Ages accompanied by devastating invasions of Muslim powers resulted in the decline of Georgia and gradual loss of sovereignty to Ottoman and Persian empires. Trapped in the strife of regional powers small and weakened Georgian kingdoms and principalities were finally absorbed by the Russian Empire in the early 19th century.[iv]

Almost two centuries of Russian domination from1801-1991 with the short period of independence in 1918-1921 interrupted by the Soviet invasion and incorporation of the First Republic into the USSR made Georgia almost unknown to the West. However, with her independence fully restored by the beginning of the 90s, this nation is now becoming an important player in the regional political games.

As centuries ago, interests of many powers both world and regional ones, are clashing nowadays around Georgia testing her ability to survive and build a prosperous democratic society.

In the beginning of 1991, it became clear that the USSR (at that moment still the USSR) was going to lose Georgia as well as neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan. Disintegration of the Soviet empire and establishment of new independent nations in the South Caucasus could be followed by their integration into international economic and political structures and possibly result in turning the area into one more sphere of Western influence. In order to prevent such transformation of the area, which Moscow viewed as its “political backyard”, the government of Gorbachev took steps in the 
direction of building up potentially destructive conflict situations in all three Transcaucasian countries. The final goal of Moscow politics was “lebanization” of the area that would lead to total or partial destruction and destabilization of the new states, making them less attractive for any new friends or allies. Later (after the collapse of the USSR) the Russian government of Boris Yeltsin was outraged by the new projects of building new pipeline systems that could connect oil fields of Central Asia and Azerbaijan to Western Europe through Georgian territory, by-passing Russian Federation.
One of the ways of turning Georgia into a “chaotic territory with a flag”(R. Peters) could be the kindling of some old inter-ethnic conflicts and turning them into civil wars of “Yugoslavian type”. Ethnic Ossetian autonomy in Shida-Kartli (also known as "South Ossetia") and traditionally multicultural Georgian province of Abkhazia was chosen by the Kremlin to become one of the zones of inter-ethnic violence and war. (See Map1) In order to go ahead with the new “destabilization project”, local authorities (still communist-dominated at that moment), got instructions from Moscow to start propaganda campaigns for the secession from Georgia and creation of “sovereign states”. The idea of independence from Georgia in Abkhazia was supported by a considerable part of the Apsua – descendants of a small North Caucasian tribe whose forefathers moved into Georgia in the 16th -17th centuries, as well as by some representatives of other non-Georgian minorities who feared possible development of “Georgian chauvinism”. Similar ideas were supported by some Ossetians in Shida-Kartli.At the same time the idea of dismemberment of Georgia was actively opposed by most Georgians residing both in- and outside Abkhazia and Shida-Kartli.

In order to escalate the conflicts, Russian special services (KGB and after collapse of the USSR - FSB), started forming and training Apsua and Ossetian paramilitary units, while Russian troops deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia provided them with the best weapons. In order to strengthen anti-Georgian forces in Georgian autonomies, Russian agents used Pan-Islamic feelings among part of North Caucasian Moslems (who by that time formed the “Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus”) and launched a propaganda campaign in North Caucasian subjects of Russian Federation, aimed at pushing North Caucasians towards helping their “Moslem brethren”(Apsua) and “Mountaineer brethren” (Ossetians) to free themselves from Christian Georgia. Since the summer of 1991, numerous volunteers started coming to Abkhazia from Chechnya, Kabardia, Adyghea and other areas of Southern Russia. Some volunteers were also recruited in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine in the Middle East. In Georgia's troubled autonomies (especially in Abkhazia) the volunteers were organized into new paramilitary units, armed, trained, paid in cash and promised land and houses in the future “free Abkhazia”.


In their turn, various separatist groups of North Caucasia (still nominally under Russian rule), supported by North Caucasian and Apsuan diasporas in the Middle East, were planning the creation of an Islamic federation in the North Caucasus. If they succeeded, the new state would be vitally interested in annexing Abkhazia because that would be an excellent chance for the landlocked North Caucasus to get access to the sea. As a result, in addition to weapons, volunteers and money coming from Russia and Russian Caucasus, Apsuan separatism was getting support in volunteers and cash from North Caucasian diasporas.


On July 23, 1992 the Council of Abkhazia (which in fact was never democratically elected) declared the province “a sovereign state”. Two days later The State Council of Georgia declared the Abkhaz declaration invalid. Two weeks later, 3,000 troops of the Georgian National Guard under the command of Tengiz Kitovani, were sent to Abkhazia to establish “the rule of law and order”. On August 14 1992, Apsua separatists and North Caucasian volunteers launched first attacks against Georgian National Guard. The skirmishes between Georgian and separatist troops went on until September, when most Abkhazian territory was put under Georgian control. However in October 1992, enforced by up to 4,000 Russian troops with heavy artillery and active support of Russian Black Sea Fleet and air forces, the separatists re-took half of Abkhazia. During their offensive, Russian troops used their best weapons including tanks, and aircrafts while the Georgian National Guard and militias were armed predominantly with small arms. In addition, the Georgian National Guard lacked professionalism and discipline. All these factors, plus three major attacks launched just after the signing of cease-fire agreements, resulted in Georgian defeat. It should be mentioned however that officially Russia never declared war on Georgia and never recognized participation of its troops in the conflict. Even when accused in bombing civil targets and columns of refugees, Russian defense minister Pavel Grachev claimed that Georgians put Russian signs on their airplanes and bombed their own people. In January 1993, the government of Georgia addressed the United nations and asked to deploy international peacekeepers in Abkhazia. Soon after that desperate plea for help was declined, Russian and separatist forces launched new offensive and practically surrounded Sukhumi, the capital city of Abkhazia. At the end of July 1992, UN delegated the peacekeeping mandate in Abkhazia to Russian troops, which launched the third and the last “strategic offensive” that ended up in capture of Sukhumi (Sept.27) and final expultion of all Georgian troops out of Abkhazia.

Offensives of Russian, Apsuan and North Caucasian troops in Abkhazia was accompanied by ethnic cleansing and mass murder of civilians (predominantly Georgians but also Armenians, Greeks and others). Men, women and children were executed in the streets, on the roads inside their own apartments, houses and back yards. Many people became objects of torture, children were slowly killed in front of their parents, parents – in front of their children. Women were raped, often with elements of sadism. Refugees recall people being burned to death, disemboweled and dismembered while still alive. Cases of ritual cannibalism were reported as well (in the past such cases never happened in the area). The province lost up to 250,000 or 80% of its pre-war inhabitants (up to 30,000 slaughtered on the spot, others flee to Georgia, Greece and Russia). Houses and land owned by Georgians and Greeks were taken over by the Apsuans, Russians, Chechens and other newcomers. None of war criminals involved in the above atrocities was ever brought to justice. (See Tables 1-3 for the decrease of population and drastic change in ethnic makeup of the province).
The conflict In South Ossetia/Shida Kartli started a couple years earlier than the war in Abkhazia and was less violent. It was also not accompanied with mass ethnic cleansings. However, as a result of it, an unrecognized "independent state' or to be more exact a Russian-occupied enclave has been created to south of strategically important Main Caucasus Range serving as natural protection of Georgian territory from the north.
It is hard to disagree that the undeclared wars in the Georgian regions of Shida-Kartli/South Ossetia (1990-91) and Abkhazia (1992-93) was to a greater or lesser degree ignored by Western politicians, analysts and media. The possible reasons for that can probably be traced back to the fact that until the end of the 90s, most Western governments and politicians believed that almost all actions of post-communist governments of Russian Federation in various areas of the former USSR should be given active or passive support in order to refrain from “rocking the boat”. It was believed that any anti-Russian criticism could help the restoration of communist totalitarianism in that country.




The situation started changing in the middle of the 90s and especially after the resignation of Russia’s Boris Yeltsin and his replacement with Vladimir Putin who demonstrates dangerous tendency of reanimation of Russian imperialism. As of today, Putin’s Russian Federation remains to be one of the major antagonists of Georgia. Despite some vocal support of the principle of territorial integrity, recent speeches and actions of Russian leadership clearly demonstrate their willingness to continue the policy aimed at destabilization of Georgia and prevention of US and Euro-Atlantic “expansion” in the South Caucasus. The process of withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia is still unfinished, Russian government keeps supporting the separatist enclaves in Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia Although with very limited or now success Russian secret services made several attempts to create new separatist enclaves in predominantly Azerbaijani-inhabited areas of Kvemo-Kartli and predominantly Armenian-speaking Javakheti as well as in Achara, Svanetia and Samegrelo. Providing political asylum to radical representatives of Georgian opposition the Kremlin even attempted to create a shadow government of Georgia in Moscow[v]. In order to neutralize US and Euro-Atlantic influence in the area, Russian leadership also seeks support in Iran and even China whose strategic interests also include Central Asian natural resources.[vi]

However, recent progress in the process of political, economic and military reform in Georgia seems to demonstrate the viability of this nation. Peaceful restoration of Georgian control over Ajaria (Achara) in May, 2004 and Upper Abkhazia (also known as Kodori) in July-August, 2006 also shows Georgia’s ability to resolve ethnic conflicts without using violence and provides some reasons for cautious optimism about the future of the region.

The end of the first decade of the new millennium marked with an impressive transformation of Georgia should clearly demonstrate whether this nation is able to serve as a stable and reliable bridge between Europe and Asia and guarantee security of this important intersection of communications and interests.

[i] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Georgia: <  > (October, 2006)

[ii] NATO Update: <  > (September, 2006)

[iii] Andrew Andersen: Atlas of Ethnic Conflicts, Border Clashes and Ideological Disputes: <  > (November, 2006)

[iv] Andrew Andersen: Brief History of Georgia:

<  > (November, 2006)

[v] CIS Institute Report: Transcaucasia 10 Years Ago and in the Next Decade:

[vi] Ibid.











According to 01.01.1979 census



Ethnic group







83 000



213 000



80 000



73 000



14 000



10 000





13 000




486 000


 According to 01.01.1992 census



Ethnic group







94 767



244 872



76 413



78 041





40 968






535 061








The below results of 1997 census demonstrate the shocking decrease of Abkhazia’s population from 535 061 in 1992, to 145 986 in 1997. That leaves Abkhazia with the total loss of 71% of its pre-war population in spite of the fact that rught after ethnic cleansing, Abkhazia accepted thousands of immigrants from Russia, Turkey and Arab countries.


More than of Abkhazia’s pre-war population was massacred or forced to flee to Georgia, Russia, Greece, Israel and other countries their property confiscated, re-sold or destroyed.


In many cases Georgians were slaughtered not only for their ethnic background but for Georgian last names or “Georgian appearance”


Ethnic group







53 993



43 442



18 110



17 747




12 694





145 986