Recent tensions over material support, relations with Russia, and of course former President Mikheil Saakashvili have brought Georgian and Ukrainian politicians to the brink of calling their relationship off. Despite decades of friendship and support, the war of words between the Ukrainian government and Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, stands to tear the Black Sea brotherhood apart.
Ukraine has long been seen as one of Georgia’s closest allies regionally. Ukrainians have taken part in almost all of Georgia’s wars of preservation, directly or indirectly, since the nation’s independence.
Likewise, Georgian units, formally or informally, have fought side by side with Ukraine against Russia’s repeated transgressions. The pair even stood together during their application for European Union membership.
However, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the tone in Tbilisi has changed. Parliament, led by Georgian Dream, has begun singing a different tune. The song now is not one of unity, shared sacrifice in battle, or kinship, but rather one of animosity and blame. While the two have had near-routine spats prior to the past week, Kyiv’s actions over the past few days and Tbilisi’s response have cemented the souring of relations.
“Right now, Russia is killing Ukrainian citizen Mykhailo Saakashvili at the hands of the Georgian authorities,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted on July 3rd, using the Ukrainian version of the former President’s name. In the same announcement and in a following video address, he continued, ordering the Georgian Ambassador out of Ukraine within 48 hours. This dismissal was “to express our strong protest and to ask him to leave Ukraine within 48 hours to hold consultations with his capital,” Zelensky affirmed.
The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied with indignance. In addition to calling the announcement destructive towards their diplomatic relationship, they added that it “constitutes a direct interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.” Giorgi Zakarashvili, the Georgian Ambassador to Ukraine, reportedly called Ukraine’s concerns for Saakashvili “misguided” and that “Georgia has been providing maximum humanitarian and political support to Ukraine, including in all international arenas, in the United Nations, OSCE, Council of Europe, in all important international organizations”
While his order for removal is not a formal expulsion, it is considered on par to such an act and as Ukraine has already withdrawn its ambassador from Georgia, Tbilisi has no equal recourse. It’s unlikely that the ruling party will take concrete steps to amend relations and will almost certainly not hand Saakashvili to an outside entity. Regardless of any legal hurdles it may take, giving up the ailing former president relinquishes the largest political gambling chip in recent history.
With the likelihood of reviving the friendship not currently on the table, this begs the question – what happens if Georgian-Ukrainian relations hit rock bottom? The answer paints a bleak outlook for Georgia’s diplomatic relations with other Western nations as well as the nation’s European Union aspirations.
EU integration has been a tense topic for the Georgian authorities. Despite their past attempts and having to go back to the proverbial drawing board, ruling party members have routinely demanded that they be given a place in the alliance regardless of their fulfilment of EU requirements. The list includes 12 key points of improvement that are to be completed by the end of 2023. However, the resulting temper tantrum has put off European officials and caused them to further distance themselves from Georgia.
Europe is not only watching how the Georgian government will handle the languishing former President, but also how Tbilisi will handle its relations with Kyiv. If Tbilisi continues to lash out at every opportunity, Brussels is not going to be so inclined to welcome such an entity into the European fold. A deterioration of relations would see Georgia slide even more rapidly towards the Kremlin’s grasp.
Talk of reclaiming the occupied territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia would cease outright, and a potential for normalization of relations with the de facto governments would slowly begin. Additionally, the estimated over 1,000 Georgians currently serving in Ukrainian military units would likely see their citizenship evaporate almost overnight and much of their property in Georgia either seized or frozen. Their families, who some have already said are being intimidated by the authorities, would be further pressured to give up their relatives.
Succinctly put in a Geopolitical Intelligence Services (GIS) report from March 2023, “the alternative of a stalemate in Ukraine would see the pro-Russian networks in Georgia remaining on top, winning the next election and proceeding to normalize relations with Russia.” Contrary to what the ruling party may want to believe, Ukraine is very much a component of the nation’s own success and development. Indeed, Georgia is intricately tethered to not only the fate of Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s predations, but also to the health of its relationship with Kyiv.