On the Georgian Strategy Towards the Occupied Regions


The Russia-occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions remain a major problem for Tbilisi. Diplomatic attention to economic resources of the state is diverted towards these two territories. Though there is at times much pessimism among the Georgian population as to how the two regions can ever be re-engaged, there are several long-term trends (conditioning the future of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region) which could provide Tbilisi with powerful tools to increase its influence in the two territories:

Economic under-development

World powers and even regional players will be increasingly hesitant to provide any economic incentives to the two regions. The Tskhinvali region’s fate is especially difficult, as the region mostly borders Georgia proper and has no access to any other state except for Russia. Abkhazia, meanwhile, is in a relatively better position as it enjoys sea access and its tiny diaspora in Turkey can provide limited economic support. Still, any serious economic lifeline is unlikely to be provided to Abkhazia. The US factor will remain a major hindrance, as the country would sanction any state which provides direct economic support to Georgia’s territories.

Steep population decline

There is a steep population decline in the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions. The decline will further complicate already low chances of the two regions developing economically. The population there is mostly goes to Russia and supports its families back in the two regions through remittances. The decline also means that there are little, if any, chances for the regions be a part of the developing road and railway infrastructure transcrossing the rest of Georgia. The declining population is also a sign of significant problems (with no real hope for development) seen in worsening education and healthcare conditions.

The geographic factor

Whatever the number of Russia’s military installations in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, the two are geographic continuations of the rest of Georgia. Moreover, the two are divided from the north by the Caucasus range, which in the long-run signifies that Tskhinvali’s and Sokhumi’s attention will be always directed towards the south.

Historical arguments

Though many nowadays argue that history is of very little essence in this conflict, the struggle for historic truth is nevertheless a significant battleground to be won. The very fact that both regions were always populated mostly by Georgians and were the place where the creation of the unified Georgian monarchy took place in the 10th century, points to Abkhazia and Tskhinvali being an integral part of the South Caucasus and Georgia in particular.

All of this will complicate the two regions’ hopes for building secure entities. But this also means that in the long run, Russia will remain the only state which can provide Sokhumi and Tskhinvali with meaningful support. What is troublesome in this scenario is the lack of diversification of foreign contacts. Ossetians and especially the Abkhazians clearly see what this is fraught with: loss of national languages and virtual Russification (which has already taken place among the political and cultural elites), and exodus of the population to Russia.

Still, this is not the whole story. Though heavily dependent on Russia, the latter has been changing its attitude towards separatists entities throughout the former Soviet space. There is a rising fatigue with financing the Abkhazian and Ossetian political elites, which have become increasingly predatory over the past two decades or so. Russians will be more hesitant to spend indiscriminetly on the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, as there has been little progress made on the local level with Russian money, which is mostly spent in corruption schemes.

These long-term developments open a wide range of opportunities for Tbilisi in the 2020s to increase its economic footprint in the occupied regions.

By Emil Avdaliani

Abkhazia. Photo by Mike Goldwater

20 February 2020 18:33