Georgia Looks to Build Strategic Partnerships With European Union and China

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 34

(Source: Government of Georgia)

Executive Summary:

  • New Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze is playing a delicate balancing act of attempting to gain EU membership while reproaching the United States in public statements. 
  • Kobakhidze’s strategy toward the West resembles the Kremlin’s approach: divide the West into two camps, Europe and the United States, to carry out separate policies.
  • Georgia and China have shown signs of strengthening their relationship—including implementing visa-free travel—but their partnership is still primarily made up of verbal promises.

On February 26, new Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze announced China’s decision to grant visa-free travel to Georgian citizens (, February 26). Now, Georgian citizens can stay in China for up to 30 days without a visa. This announcement came after the Kobakhidze met with the Chinese ambassador, leading Georgians to view the development as a shift in foreign policy. It also aligns with the new premier’s previous actions to strengthen ties with China. After being elected, Kobakhidze first met with the Chinese and US ambassadors (, February 22, February 23). When China and Georgia signed an agreement on a strategic partnership last year, Georgia immediately abolished visas for Chinese tourists (EDM, August 10, 2023). Still, the strategic partnership between the two countries remains limited to a declared desire, while the fundamental tools for such a partnership are unclear. 

Under Kobakhidze, Georgia’s dualistic foreign policy will intensify. On the one hand, the Georgian government cannot reject the will of the population by refusing rapprochement with the European Union. On the other hand, the government will try to strengthen its contacts and even dependence on China. Kobakhidze has separated the political West into EU and US camps. For example, he showed his formal commitment to the European Union when he chose Brussels as his first official visit, where he recently held meetings with both EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders (, February 23).

Kobakhidze has expressed hope that the European Union will open negotiations on Georgian membership this year. The Georgian government places particular hope in Hungary, which has recently acted as Tbilisi’s main ally in the European Union and will preside over the European Council for six months starting in July. As Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó wrote on Facebook, “Georgia has long deserved EU membership. During the Hungarian Presidency next semester, we will do everything possible to ensure that Georgia advances to accession negotiations as quickly as possible” (, February 20). On February 20, in Brussels, a meeting of the EU-Georgia Association Council was held. Kobakhidze, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell, Hungarian EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi, and Szijjártó were present (, February 20). Observers considered this unusual because ambassadors, let alone foreign ministers, are rarely present at such meetings (, February 20). The message, however, is clear: the Hungarian authorities are highly interested in Georgia’s integration into the European Union.   

The Georgian government’s commitment to the European Union remains mostly verbal and does not signal Tbilisi’s readiness to implement the reforms that Brussels requires for membership. The head of the EU delegation to Georgia, Pawel Herczynski, reminded Tbilisi that, to begin the negotiation process, Georgia must fulfill several vital conditions, starting with reforming its judicial system. Herczynski additionally emphasized that Georgia needs to comply with the standard foreign and security policy of the European Union. He stated, “At the moment, the level of compliance is quite low, in contrast to other candidate countries, and we are working with the Georgian government to increase this level gradually” (, February 26).

On relations with the United States, Kobakhidze has expressed more indifferent views. On February 23, Kobakhidze admitted that the strategic partnership between the United States and Georgia had weakened for the first time. The Georgian authorities do not blame themselves but rather they claim Washington is at fault. Kobakhidze has reproached US leaders for ignoring Georgia, indicating that their strategic partnership should be bilateral, not unilateral (, February 23). The Georgian premier did not miss the opportunity to praise the country’s new strategic partner, China, which has shown great interest in Georgia. Meanwhile, Kobakhidze has not hidden his resentment that a wave of congratulatory letters from the United States did not follow his appointment as prime minister. Kobakhidze pointed out that “there have been no high-level visits between the countries for about six to seven years, and for the eighth year now, not a single president or prime minister of Georgia has received congratulations from the United States at the highest level. These greetings are the minimum communication expected” (, February 23).

Kobakhidze’s assertion coincided with a statement from Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who expressed satisfaction that Tbilisi has strong relations with Russia and Belarus and that the United States has already forgotten about Georgia (Ekho Kavkaza, February 26). Simultaneously, the director of Plans, Policy, Strategy, and Capabilities at US European Command (EUCOM), US General Daniel Lasica, discussed issues of practical support for Georgia with Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Chikovani in Tbilisi. The meeting highlighted EUCOM’s significant contribution in strengthening Georgia’s defense capabilities (, February 26). This indicates that Kobakhidze is mistaken: the United States will not abandon its strategic partnership with Georgia, even if relations with the current government are rocky. In August 2023, then-US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly C. Degnan emphasized, “We have been with Georgia for more than 30 years, and we are not going anywhere” (, August 17, 2023).

In recent years, the West—especially the United States and, to a lesser extent, the European Union—have been guided by two parallel principles regarding Georgia. On the one hand, the West has not ceased its support for the Georgian state and people. On the other hand, the West’s relations with the Georgian government have progressively cooled since the ruling Georgian Dream party has turned into an unreliable partner. Therefore, the Georgian government has decided to resort to the Kremlin’s method of dividing the West into two camps—the United States and Europe—making maneuvering its complex foreign policy easier. However, Kobakhidze is unlikely to be able to deceive the West with his supposedly cunning diplomacy. He will see this in October 2024, when Georgia’s Parliamentary elections are overseen by observers who primarily come from the very West he has rebuffed. This is what the Georgian government fears most of all, which could have serious implications for the future of the Georgian Dream’s rule.