Georgian Dream Considers a Confederation With Breakaway Territories

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 92

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Executive Summary:

  • Reports are spreading that Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili is secretly working with the Kremlin on a confederative structure for the separatist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
  • Despite the bold claims, some believe that the reintegration plans are merely a pre-election bluff by the Georgian Dream in trying to strengthen its position in the face of large-scale public protests.
  • Turning Georgia away from Europe while incorporating two pro-Russian entities into a confederation would be a geopolitical success for Russia and give Moscow significant influence over Tbilisi’s domestic and foreign policy.

Noteworthy reports have emerged amid the internal turmoil regarding the adoption of the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence, the Russian-style “foreign agents” law, that allege the ruling Georgian Dream is planning to set up a confederation in Georgia (see EDM, April 24, May 13, 22, June 11). According to rumors, government officials and the country’s unofficial leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili, are secretly working with the Kremlin to receive its blessing to re-integrate Georgia’s secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into a confederation in exchange for Tbilisi’s reversal of its pro-EU foreign policy (JAM-news, April 29). Moscow and Tbilisi’s alleged partnership over a potential federation demonstrates Georgia’s turn toward Russia and how Georgian Dream continues to look to the Kremlin for approval.

The meeting between First Deputy Speaker of the Georgian Parliament Gia Volski and Russian oligarch of Georgian origin David Khidasheli in early March was one of the first triggers for such rumors (JAM-news, March 8; see EDM, March 19). Volski is also the chairman of the temporary commission on issues of territorial integrity and de-occupation in parliament. Khidasheli has close ties with the Russian elite, especially Russian oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov, who is sanctioned by the West. Additionally, Khidasheli once worked as an adviser in the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs and became well-known a few years ago regarding the Azerbaijan-Georgia border issue for providing the Georgian Defense Ministry with maps of the region from 1936–38 from Russia (JAM-news, March 17).

Leaked information from an opposition group shed light on the central topic of conversation between Khidasheli and Volski—namely, the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Khidasheli reportedly proposed the idea of a united state with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, claiming to be in direct communication with the breakaway government of Abkhazia (JAM-news, March 8). He declared that “creating a confederation with Abkhazia would be a good idea,” with potential benefits including business relations and the restoration of railway links to the breakaway territory (Georgian News, March 7; JAM-news, March 8).

The meeting was followed by a series of public statement from Georgian officials, further fueling speculation regarding a possible confederation. On May 26, in his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze expressed his hope for Georgia to become a full-fledged member of the European family by 2030 as a country “united together with Abkhazians and Ossetians” (Anadolu Agency, May 26; see EDM, June 11). Member of Parliament Savalan Mirzayev, speaking about Western pressure against the “foreign agents” bill, said that he was ready to tolerate sanctions for Georgia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia and that it would be more interesting for him to visit Sukhumi than Manhattan (, May 24).

Despite the bold claims, some local experts remain skeptical about the reintegration plans, believing they are merely a pre-election bluff by Georgian Dream in trying to strengthen its position in the face of fierce domestic protests (Echo Kavkaza, March 7). The Kremlin has been focused on criticizing the Western stance on the contentious draft law, and an ambiguous comment from Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who often acts as Moscow’s mouthpiece, raised further questions (Echo Kavkaza, May 14). During a recent meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, Lukashenka hinted that “new projects” were being discussed in the South Caucasus, specifically in Azerbaijan (Turan, May 24). If the Belarusian leader was hinting at the speculation about a confederation in Georgia, it could herald the beginning of a new geopolitical era in the region.

Historically, creating a confederation while reintegrating breakaway territories into the parent state is not unprecedented. The 1995 Dayton Agreement ending fighting in the Balkans established a confederation by incorporating the secessionist Republika Srpska into Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1998, one Minsk Group proposal was to create a common state comprising Azerbaijan and Karabakh, which Baku rejected (Foreign Policy, July 23, 2021). And the 2003 Kozak memorandum, initiated by Russia, envisaged a confederative structure for Moldova that would including three equal subjects: Moldova proper, Transnistria, and Gagauzia (Wilson Center, January 15, 2021). This plan was rejected by Chisinau at the last moment.

The possibility that Russian authorities might switch from backing the separatist entities to pushing them into a united Georgia seems logical, so long as Tbilisi drops its European aspirations. Presumably, Moscow might follow a pattern similar to that in Karabakh. For the Kremlin, a unified Georgia that is at least neutral if not friendly would represent a bigger prize than the fragmented regions. Turning Georgia away from its European path would be a significant geopolitical success for Moscow as well (JAM-news, April 29). Additionally, incorporating two pro-Russian entities into a proposed confederation would give Russia significant influence over Tbilisi’s domestic and foreign policy.

This possible scenario is being closely monitored, with significant concern in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Armenia. Political circles in Armenia, which had planned to advance their recently designed pro-Western path in tandem with Georgia, realize that Tbilisi’s reversal may strike a massive blow to their ambitions. A secret deal between Moscow and Tbilisi also seems the worst nightmare in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which do not want to be bargaining chips in a larger geopolitical game. Policymakers and experts in Abkhazia, who lean toward total independence, are particularly cautious and have publicly discussed this issue, highlighting Tbilisi’s acceptance of the foreign agents law brings them closer to Moscow, which would support a confederation between Georgia and the separatist states (Echo Kavkaza, May 6). Furthermore, even if the much-discussed Georgian-Russian deal does not lead to a confederation, it could pave the way for a new transport corridor in the region. Russia may want to revive the railway connection through Abkhazia to facilitate its outreach to Armenia (Eurasianet, May 25, 2023).

Against this backdrop, the Georgian Parliament adopted the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence, overriding President Salome Zourabichvili’s earlier veto and creating more uncertainty ahead of the fall elections (see EDM, April 9, 24, May 1, 13, 16, 22, June 11). The outcome of these elections will determine Georgia’s future domestic and foreign policy and likely reshape the region’s geopolitical landscape. As such, many in the population have warned of growing Russian influence, not only within the breakaway territories but also in Tbilisi and throughout Georgia (see EDM, March 19, April 9).