Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2004

Stability, Security, and Sovereignty in the Republic of Georgia

David L. Phillips

January 2004

Council on Foreign Relations


The Republic of Georgia suffers from pervasive problems. Popular frustrations boiled over after the November 2, 2003, parliamentary elections, which international observers determined were fraudulent. Facing mass protests and civil disobedience, President Eduard Shevardnadze resigned. The so-called revolution of roses culminated in a peaceful transfer of power when Mikhail Saakashvili assumed the presidency after receiving 96 percent of the vote in a special ballot on January 4, 2004.

The change of power alone will not resolve Georgia's systemic problems. The country is riddled with corruption. Its economy is stagnant, unemployment is widespread, and there are acute energy shortages, especially during the cold winter months. The central government does not control its borders and has relinquished significant territory to separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are supported by Russia. Georgia is entering an unstable period, as Mr. Saakashvili and other new leaders take steps to dismantle the corrupt power structure and try to promote national coherence among the country's ethnic and regional groups.

Sponsored by the Center for Preventive Action (CPA) of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), this Rapid Response Conflict Prevention Assessment provides practical, tangible recommendations for Georgia's new government and the international community. It suggests steps during the first 100 days of President Saakashvili's administration to mitigate crisis and build momentum for reform. Georgia will not, of course, be able to tackle all of its problems at once. Progress will occur slowly and unevenly. The international community, led by the United States (U.S.), must do its part to support Georgia's transition. Despite its valuable location as a link between Europe and Asia, Georgia is far from fulfilling its potential as a prosperous, stable, and democratic country.

Georgians are quick to blame Russia for their ills. Although Russia's meddling has worsened an already unstable situation, Georgia's new government should stop the finger-pointing and acknowledge Georgia's legacy of ineffective and corrupt governance. Russia has legitimate interests, which would be served by ensuring stability in Georgia and preventing insecurity in the South Caucasus from destabilizing Chechnya and other regions in the North Caucasus. However, Russia must desist from trying to weaken Georgia in the false hope that manipulating events will serve its interests.

The international community should rally behind Georgia by providing emergency assistance in the near term. Thereafter, it should offer support only after Georgia's new leaders demonstrate they are serious about cracking down on corruption. President Saakashvili is in a position to use his popular mandate to effect reform. Georgia's future will be determined by the new government's willingness and ability to improve governance.