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The Bait of Neutrality in Georgian Politics

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, March 28, 2022
In recent days, Georgian media and politicians have been talking about the possibility of Georgia's neutrality. However, both the government and the opposition strongly opposed the idea and blamed the opponent for talking about it.

After the ‘political blunder’ of neutrality and the separation of all major political forces from it, the issue should be stopped, as a rule, however, the opposition is convinced that the talk of neutrality was not accidental and that this is Russia's demand for Western-oriented countries.

The idea of Georgia declaring neutrality is not new, and this demand is constantly being made by openly Russia-oriented political groups operating in Georgia. The arguments for a "declaration of neutrality" have not changed over the years: we are still not accepted into NATO, and we "irritate Russia" by demanding that it join NATO.

Therefore, to make a statement that we want neutrality, in this way Moscow can look at us with kind eyes and also contribute to the restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity. Such an argument is intended for a very naive reader. There is the experience of Moldova, which has declared neutrality, but the Transnistrian conflict has nothing to do with resolving it.

Georgia's bitter experience with neutrality The Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-1921) also declared neutrality, and in 1920. A peace treaty was signed with Soviet Russia on May 7, but Russia did not stop it, and in February 1921, it invaded Georgia and, after a month-long war, occupied Georgia and then annexed it to the Soviet Union.

As for today's Georgia, it held a plebiscite in the spring of 2008, where two-thirds of the population supported Georgia's membership in NATO, and Georgia's foreign policy aspirations are enshrined in the Constitution. If someone in Georgia promises to renounce NATO, they will have to hold a new plebiscite and make changes to the constitution, the resources of which are not available to open or secret pro-Russian forces.

After the Russian attack on Ukraine and the rhetorical statements of the Georgian government, the opposition expected that the government would at some point talk about neutrality:

“Will we destroy Russia as a country?”, “Do you want a war?”, “At least they will not accept us in NATO,” “They could not help Ukraine.”

At the March 17 trial, Mikheil Saakashvili said that there was a plan to provoke the occupied territories, that the opposition would be blamed, that the Russian government would demand immediate neutrality, and that the Georgian government would be ready to declare neutrality, and that the opposition would be blamed. At the same time, according to Saakashvili, declaring neutrality for Georgia means the overthrow of statehood.

When some government-oriented media outlets spoke of neutrality on the grounds that “neutrality was even talked about in Ukraine” and “what can we do if Russia asks us to declare neutrality”, “have we not tried to accept neutrality in NATO?” This provoked the outrage of the pro-Western opposition.

“There is another proof of neutrality in expert circles that the Georgian Dream is checking the situation, studying the situation,” Khatuna Samnidze said. “The Georgian government has already received a message from Russia regarding neutrality,” said Salome Samadashvili.

Manu of such statements have been made by representatives of various parties - that talking about neutrality is a continuation of Russian rhetoric, that neutrality will leave Georgia alone in the face of Russian aggression, that the Georgian people cannot be forced to get used to neutrality.

Contrary to such accusations of the opposition, the reaction of the government was unexpected, which distanced itself from the statements about neutrality and, on the contrary, blamed the opposition for raising this issue.

According to government officials, such as Parliament Speaker Papuashvili, “the issue of neutrality is not on the agenda at all.” The same was repeated by other members of the Georgian Dream parliamentary wing.

Such statements did not satisfy the pro-Western opposition and called on the authorities to show clearer support for Ukraine.

Public debate on the issue of neutrality has shown that the rejection of NATO is followed by protests from a large part of the political spectrum, while the pro-neutrality political force is already openly showing its pro-Russian sentiment and a new wave of protests is brewing in the country. The policy of intimidating the public with a possible Russian attack cannot change this.

There is nothing new in the fact that Russia demanded that Ukraine and Georgia renounce NATO. Before the start of the war in Ukraine, Moscow demanded in writing from NATO confirmation that these two countries would not join NATO.

Moscow's ultimatum to Georgia to renounce NATO is quite expected, but the current situation, when the war in Ukraine lasts for a month and Moscow is unable to win, is not really ‘favorable’ for Georgia to issue an open ultimatum.