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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 69,700 sq km (N.B. 20% of Georgia’s territory is not under Georgian Government control.)
Population: 4.4 million
Capital City: Tbilisi (population: 1.1 million)
People: 71% Georgian (including subgroups of Svanetians, Mingrelians, Ajars), 7.7% Armenian, 6.5% Russian, 6% Azeri, 3% Ossete, 1.8% Abkhaz
Languages: Georgian 71% (official), Russian 9%, Armenian 7%, Azeri 6%, other 7% note: Abkhaz (official in Abkhazia)
Religion(s): Orthodox 84%, Muslim 9%, Armenian Apostolic 4%,
Currency: Lari (GEL)
Major political parties: United National Movement (currently in power), New Rights, Republican Party, Free Democrats, Labour Party, Conservative Party, Christian Democratic Movement, People’s Party, Democratic Movement-United Georgia, Republican Party, National Forum.
Government: Georgia is a republic with executive, legislative and judicial branches. Unicameral Parliament consisting of 150 members (75 elected by party list and 75 by single-member districts). The President appoints the cabinet, subject to approval by the legislature. There is universal suffrage for all those aged 18 and over.
President: Mikheil Saakashvili (since 25 January 2004)
Prime Minister: Nika Gilauri
Foreign Minister: Grigol Vashadze
Membership of international groupings/organisations: ACCT (observer), ADB, BSEC, CE, EAPC, EBRD, FAO, GCTU, GUAM, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO (correspondent), ITSO, ITU, MIGA, OAS (observer), OIF (observer), OPCW, OSCE, PFP, SECI (observer), UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO.

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$10.7bn (2009)
GDP per head: $4,260 (2010 estimate)
Real GDP Growth: 6.1% (2010 estimate)
Inflation: 1.7% (2010)
Exchange Rate: 1 US$ = 1.76 Gel and 1 UK£= 2.69 Gel (Feb 2011)
Major Industries: Agriculture (wine and water), financial services, scrap metal , electrical appliances, textiles, chemicals, mining and construction.
Major Trading Partners: Turkey, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Germany, Russia (but see below), UK, US, China, UAE and Bulgaria.
Unemployment rate: 174% (2010 est)
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgia embarked on major structural reform designed to establish a free market economy. However, as with other post-Soviet states, Georgia faced a severe economic collapse, aggravated by the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Agricultural and industrial output diminished to the extent that by 1996 the Georgian economy had shrunk to about a third of its size in 1989.

Despite some signs of growth in the late 1990s, Georgia was badly hit by the Russian financial crisis of 1998. Public disaffection with this and the rampant corruption and mismanagement of former President Shevardnadze’s regime led to the Rose Revolution of 2003. President Saakashvili’s new government promised a programme of privatisation, stabilisation, reduced regulation and an anti-corruption drive. Tackling corruption and improved collection and administration of taxes have been major achievements.

The conflict with Russia in August 2008 caused an inflow of IDPs as well as substantial damage to infrastructure, increasing demands on public expenditure. GDP growth slowed in 2008 to 2% and as foreign direct investment declined, the economy contracted by almost 5% in 2009.

Georgia imports nearly all its gas and oil supplies but has a strong hydropower capacity. It has overcome chronic energy shortages by renovating hydropower plants and relying less on natural gas imports from Russia. Georgia plans to capitalise on its strategic location and develop its role as a transit point for oil, gas and other goods. The development of projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the EU initiative for regional transport integration (Transport Corridor Europe Central Asia – TRACECA), and commercial development of Georgia’s Black Sea ports are all important elements of this strategy.

Georgia ranks 12th in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ survey (2010).

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HISTORY

Georgia's recorded history spans over 4,000 years. Its language is unrelated to any outside the immediate region and is one of the oldest in the world with its own distinctive alphabet. The capital Tbilisi is more than 1500 years old.

Georgia was well known to both the ancient Romans and Greeks and featured in the Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts, who travelled there in search of the Golden Fleece. Much of Georgia's early history was linked to the struggle between Rome and Parthia (Persia), and later the Ottoman and Mongolian empires. The Georgians converted to Christianity in 337 AD, the second nation in the world to do so. Georgian Orthodoxy has been a state religion in parts of Georgia since the 4th Century and remains so to this day.

Georgia's long line of kings and queens helped shape modern Georgia. King David the Builder and his daughter Queen Tamar the Great are amongst the most famous. In 1122 AD King David made Tbilisi Georgia’s capital and the reign of Queen Tamar was known as the golden era – the peak of Georgia’s cultural and military strength.

On 8 January 1801, Tsar Paul I of Russia signed a decree on the incorporation of Georgia within the Russian Empire. During the civil war that followed the Russian Revolution of October 1917, several outlying Russian territories declared independence, including Georgia on 26 May 1918. It was recognised by Soviet Russia (Treaty of Moscow,1920) and the major Western powers in 1921. In February 1921 the Red Army invaded Georgia and after a short war occupied the country, forcing the Georgian government to flee. Guerrilla resistance between 1921-1924 was followed by a large-scale though unsuccessful uprising in August 1924. In 1936, Georgia became the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.

During WWII, Georgia contributed almost 700,000 troops to the Red Army, half of whom were killed. Stalin's successful appeal for patriotic unity eclipsed Georgian nationalism during the war and diffused it in the years following.

On 9 March 1956, hundreds of Georgian students were killed when they demonstrated against Khrushchev. Towards the end of the late 1980s there were increasingly violent clashes between the Communist authorities, the resurgent Georgian nationalists, and nationalist movements in Georgia's minority-populated regions (notably South Ossetia). On 9 April 1989, Soviet interior troops were used to break up a peaceful demonstration outside the Parliament building in Tbilisi. Twenty Georgians were killed and hundreds wounded. The event radicalised Georgian politics, prompting many - even some Georgian communists - to conclude that independence was preferable to continued Soviet rule.

Post-communist Georgia, 1990–2003

On 28 October 1990, opposition pressure resulted in open, multiparty and democratic parliamentary elections. These were won by a coalition headed Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who became the head of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia. On 31 March 1991, Gamsakhurdia organised a referendum on independence, approved by 98.9% of the votes. Formal independence from the Soviet Union was declared on 9 April 1991.

Gamsakhurdia was elected president on 26 May 1991 with 86% of the vote. He was subsequently criticised for what was perceived to be an erratic and authoritarian style of government. The situation came to a head on 22 December 1991, when armed opposition groups launched a violent military coup d’état, and Gamsakhurdia had to flee Georgia. The new government invited Eduard Shevardnadze, formerly Soviet Foreign Minister under Gobachev, to become the head of a State Council - in effect, president - in March 1992.

Shevardnadze’s rule was marked by clientelism and widespread corruption. However, he also brought together a group of reformers, led by Zurab Zhvania, who became speaker of parliament, and which also included Mikheil Saakashvili. The second half of the 1990s saw some progress in pushing forward reforms. This contradiction contributed to Shevardnadze’s eventual downfall. A rift between the reform-oriented wing of the political establishment and the more conservative elements became more evident after Shevardnadze’s re-election in 2000, leading to several high-profile defections from his Citizens’ Union of Georgia.

BBC News Country Timeline: Georgia (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/1102575.stm)

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Georgia’s Relations with Russia

Tensions between Russia and Georgia date back to post-independence conflicts in the early 1990s. Relations remained strained throughout the 90s and the early 2000s, with Georgia accusing Russia of supporting separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia meanwhile accused Georgia of harbouring Chechen separatists and supporting other terrorists operating in the North Caucasus.

The 2008 War

Tensions rose significantly in April 2008 when Russia issued a decree to establish closer relations with the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and increased troop deployments in Abkhazia. There was a series of increasingly violent incidents within South Ossetia, which at the time was a patchwork of villages controlled by both the Georgian and de facto authorities. On 7 August 2008, Georgia made an attempt to end the violence by force and bring the separatist region of South Ossetia back under Georgian rule. Russia reacted with massive force and fighting raged between 8-12 August, leaving hundreds dead and over 150,000 people displaced. During the fighting, Russia encroached deep into Georgian territory beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia, threatening Tbilisi itself.

Russia has since failed to comply fully with agreements made in the aftermath of the conflict, including withdrawal to pre-conflict positions. These events are recorded and analysed in detail in the Tagliavini Report. (http://www.ceiig.ch/Report.html)

On 12 August 2008, President Saakashvili announced that Georgia would leave the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The CIS was created in 1991 and included twelve former Soviet republics (excluding the three Baltic Republics). Georgia's membership of the CIS formally ended on 18 August 2009.

In 2010, small steps were taken by the Russian and Georgian governments to begin the process of normalising their relations, including the reopening of a land border and permitting some direct charter flights. But, despite these moves, relations remain poor.

Although it is unclear when Russia might be ready to accede to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), discussions are well advanced. The major outstanding political issue is Georgia. Following the August 2008 conflict, Georgia has demanded customs oversight of the entire Georgia/Russia border, including the borders between Russia and the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Talks between the two sides have started, but progress has been slow. A meeting in Berne in March 2011 was the first official meeting between the two parties since the 2008 conflict.

NATO

Georgia’s foreign policy aims are to integrate into Euro-Atlantic structures. Georgia joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) in March 1994 and presented its Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) at the Istanbul Summit in 2004. Georgia was granted Intensified Dialogue (ID) at the NATO Foreign Ministerial meeting in New York in September 2006.

At the Bucharest NATO Summit in April 2008, Georgia was not given a Membership Action Plan (MAP), but Member States declared their continuing support for Georgia’s aspirations for NATO membership. NATO Heads of State and Government reaffirmed this decision at the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit in April 2009 and at the NATO Summit in Lisbon in November 2010.

NATO Foreign Ministers agreed in December 2008 to provide further assistance to Georgia in implementing the reforms that are essential as they progress towards NATO membership. This includes making full use of the NATO-Georgia Commission, and reinforcing the NATO information and liaison offices in Tbilisi. NATO heads further agreed that Georgia should benefit from an Annual National Programme (ANP) to help it meet the criteria.

Georgia has responded well to the challenges of the PfP, and has demonstrated willingness to be an exporter of stability by making a firm and a significant contribution of troops towards NATO led operations in Afghanistan, following its earlier deployment in Iraq. Georgia is a significant contributor to ISAF in Afghanistan where it has 950 troops, including in Helmand.

Foreign Ministers reaffirmed the key principles of NATO’s policy towards Georgia when the NATO-Georgia Commission met in Berlin in April 2011.

EU

Georgia signed a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) with the EU in July 1999. In 2006, Georgia signed up to a five-year European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) Action Plan, which aims to fulfil the conditions set out in the PCA and contribute to closer political and economic co-operation between Georgia and the EU.

After the conflict in August 2008, the EC started work on a comprehensive assistance package for Georgia, worth almost 500m Euros over the period 2008-2010.

The August 2008 conflict underlined the need for deeper and more intensive EU involvement in the South Caucasus region. This was one factor in the establishment of the Eastern Partnership (EaP), which covers Georgia and five other former Soviet Union republics. Under the EaP, Georgia will gain access to EU markets and other aspects of the European acquis in line with its own progress on necessary democratic and economic reforms.

In May 2010, the EU agreed a negotiating mandate for an Association Agreement with Georgia, an important part of the developing EU relationship with Georgia envisaged under the Eastern Partnership. Securing visa facilitation, readmission and an aviation agreement marked significant progress in 2010. Georgia is also pushing for negotiations to open on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA).

EUMM

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) was established in 2008 to help stabilise the situation in post-war Georgia and to monitor the compliance with the Six Point Plan of 12 August and the implementation of the Sarkozy-Medvedev agreement of 8 September. The EUMM’s presence has been critical to preventing renewed conflict.

With the demise of the UNOMIG and OSCE missions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia respectively, the 300 strong EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) is the only remaining international observer mission in Georgia, although it does not have access to the separatist territories.

In September 2008, the EU established a Special Representative (EUSR) for the Crisis in Georgia to ensure coordination and consistency of external EU actions in the region. The EUSR plays a key role in the Geneva Talks (which he co-chairs with the UN and OSCE), the only forum that brings Georgians, Russians, Abkhaz and South Ossetians together, and which treats Russia as a party to the conflict.

US

Georgia enjoys a close relationship with the US. High-profile visitors to Georgia in recent years have included (then) President George Bush, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and Senator John McCain.

Georgia’s relations with the UK

The UK recognised Georgia on 23 March 1992. Diplomatic relations were established a month later. In 1995, the UK and Georgia opened Embassies in Tbilisi and London respectively.

Bilateral relations are excellent and the UK works closely with Georgia in support of its reform programme as it grows closer to Europe, and on conflict resolution.

Visits by current members of the government

President Saakashvili made his first official visit to the UK in July 2004 when he met HM The Queen, the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Defence Minister and Development Secretary. He returned in April 2007 as an official guest of government, and again in February 2010 when he met the then Foreign Secretary.

Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze and Prime Minister Nika Gilauri have visited the UK on several occasions in 2009 and 2010.

Visits by UK Ministers

In the wake of hostilities with Russia, then Foreign Secretary (David Miliband) visited Georgia in August 2008 to express UK support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and to encourage all parties to seek long term peace and stability. The then Leader of the Opposition (now Prime Minister), David Cameron, also visited in August 2008, followed by the then shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague in October 2008.

The House of Commons Defence Committee visited in March 2009 as part of their “Russia: a new confrontation” inquiry.

UK Development and Humanitarian Aid

DFID’s bilateral development programme finished in December 2008, in recognition of Georgia’s Middle Income Country status and improved poverty indicators. UK development support for Georgia will continue through membership of the multilaterals and International Financial Institutions (particularly the EU, EBRD, EIB, and World Bank).

Following the conflict between Georgia and Russia in August 2008 DFID provided £2 million to humanitarian agencies providing protection and assistance activities to conflict affected civilians. Of this, £1 million was channelled through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for its work in Georgia, South Ossetia and the Russian Federation. A further £550,000 was allocated to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Georgia. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) received £250,000 and the Hazardous Areas Life-Support Organisation (HALO) received £200,000 for demining work.

In October 2008 DFID agreed a further £2 million to UNHCR for emergency winterisation and shelter support to IDPs in Georgia. A DFID monitoring mission in February 2009 confirmed that the humanitarian situation had stabilised, that DFID’s support had made a significant impact, and that the remaining IDPs in Georgia were living in more acceptable humanitarian conditions.

The UK continues to support conflict prevention activities through a Conflict Pool, which is jointly managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development.

Cultural relations with the UK

The British Council in Georgia works on a wide range of programmes, focussing on inter-cultural understanding and positive social change; the UK’s creative and knowledge economy; and climate change. This is achieved by drawing on the UK’s expertise in the arts, education, science, governance and English.

The legal basis for the Council’s activity is set out in the Cultural Agreement signed in May 1993.

Georgia is eligible for the Foreign Office-sponsored Chevening Scholarships, which are administered by the British Council, to enable promising young Georgians to pursue post-graduate studies in the UK.

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GEOGRAPHY

Georgia is located in South-western Asia, bordering the Black Sea, between Turkey and Russia, geographic co-ordinates 42 00 N, 43 30 E. It has a total land mass of 69,700 sq km and shares borders with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey. The climate is warm and pleasant; Mediterranean-like on Black Sea coast. The terrain is largely mountainous with Great Caucasus Mountains in the north and Lesser Caucasus Mountains in the south; Kolkhet'is Dablobi (Kolkhida Lowland) opens to the Black Sea in the west; Mtkvari River Basin in the east; good soils in river valley flood plains, foothills of Kolkhida Lowland. Georgia has a variety of natural resources which include forests, hydropower, manganese deposits, iron ore, copper, minor coal and oil deposits; coastal climate and soils allow tea and citrus to grow

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade and Investment with the UK

HSBC and BP are the largest investors in Georgia with UK links. There are a small number of entrepreneurs from the UK involved in a wide variety of markets (cigarettes, car dealerships, printing, banking) and a number of British expatriates working for international companies.

The $4 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, a project led by BP, officially opened in July 2006 and transports crude oil 1,760 km (1,093 miles) from the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field in the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. It is the second longest oil pipeline in the world.

The British Embassy’s Commercial Section works to support the further development of trade links between the UK and Georgia. Opportunities exist in a number of areas, including infrastructure, consultancy and education.

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POLITICS

A powerful coalition of reformists headed by Mikheil Saakashvili, Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Zhvania came together to oppose Shevardnadze's government in the November 2003 parliamentary elections. The elections were widely regarded as rigged and the opposition organised massive demonstrations in the streets of Tbilisi. After two tense weeks, Shevardnadze resigned on 23 November 2003, and was replaced as president on an interim basis by Burjanadze. These events became known as the Rose Revolution.

In January 2004, Mikheil Saakashvili won a further round of Presidential Elections with 96% of the votes cast.

Saakashvili was re-elected in January 2008, in snap presidential elections brought forward by several months following large-scale protests in November 2007, which led the government to call a state of emergency. The government received an absolute majority in parliament at elections in May 2008 following last-minute changes to the election code. A number of opposition politicians subsequently chose not to take up their seats in Parliament.

The August 2008 war with Russia provided temporary political unity, but demonstrations and calls for Saakashvili’s resignation started to resurface towards the end of 2008. The non-parliamentary opposition organised demonstrations that lasted from April- June 2009, demanding Saakashvili’s resignation and the holding of early elections. They accused Saakashvili of fraud in the 2008 elections, blamed him for taking Georgia into an unnecessary war, and eroding democracy. The protests largely passed off peacefully, despite accusations of police heavy-handedness and of protestors and journalists being attacked.

Critics have accused Saakashvili of persecuting political opponents, controlling the media and not doing enough to tackle poverty. But disagreements on tactics and the failure to put forward any consistent policies have weakened the opposition, and protests have failed to threaten the government. Meanwhile, Saakashvili has continued to try and hold a dialogue on electoral and constitutional reform with moderate elements in the opposition.

Local elections and the first direct election for the Mayor of Tbilisi took place in Georgia on 30 May 2010. The ruling United National Movement (UNM) did well nationwide, ahead of the Christian Democratic Movement and the Alliance for Georgia (Free Democrats, New Rights and Republicans). The incumbent Mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava (UNM), won comfortably.

The elections - seen as a crucial test of Georgia’s democratic credentials – were monitored by the OSCE/ODHIR. Their final report said that the elections ‘marked evident progress, but significant shortcomings remain to be addressed’.

The next parliamentary and presidential elections are due to take place in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Internal Disputes

Adjara

Adjara (pop 375,000) is located in the south west of Georgia, bordering Turkey and the Black Sea.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Adjara became part of a newly independent but politically divided Republic of Georgia. It avoided being dragged into the chaos and civil war that afflicted the rest of the country between 1991-93, largely due to the authoritarian rule of its local leader Aslan Abashidze.

Although Abashidze successfully maintained order and made Adjara one of the country’s most prosperous regions, he was accused of involvement in organised crime – notably large scale smuggling to fund his government and enrich himself – as well as human rights violations.

On the back of a pledge to crack down on corruption and separatism, a build-up of pressure exerted by Tbilisi and behind the scenes diplomacy from Russia forced Abashidze to flee to Moscow in 2004. A new law was subsequently introduced to redefine the terms of Adjara’s autonomy. There is an autonomous Government, which is headed by Levan Varshalomidze. The local legislative body, the Supreme Council (parliament) of Adjara consists of 30 members and is elected for four years.

Abkhazia

Under Soviet rule, Abkhazia had special status as an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) within the Georgian SSR. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, Abkhaz nationalism grew, with ethnic Abkhaz fearing a loss of autonomy if they became a part of an independent Georgia.

In February 1992, the provisional Georgian Military Council reinstated Georgia’s 1921 Constitution, interpreted by the Abkhaz as an abolition of their autonomous status. In July 1992, Abkhazia effectively declared independence from Georgia. This was recognised by no other country. In August 1992, Georgia dispatched troops to Abkhazia and retook control of the region. This provoked a separatist movement, with links to Chechen and Russian militias, to fight Georgian ‘occupation’. By the end of 1992, rebels held most of Abkhazia except the capital Sukhumi. A brief truce failed to hold and rebel forces retook Sukhumi in September 1993. Most ethnic Georgians fled.

The Moscow Agreement of 1994 brought a formal end to the fighting and the establishment of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), responsible for monitoring and verifying the observance of successive ceasefires. Sporadic acts of violence took place between 1994-2008. The worst flare up of fighting prior to 2008 occurred in May 1998 when around 100 people were killed in Gali, a predominantly ethnic Georgian region in southern Abkhazia. In August 2008, the Russians and Abkhaz took the opportunity to expel Georgians from the Kodori Gorge in the north eastern part of Abkhazia, and consolidate their hold through a big injection of forces.

Since the August 2008 war, Russia has sought to develop its economic and military links with the de facto Abkhazian authorities. In the absence of international monitors (UNOMIG’s presence ended in June 2009 after Russia vetoed its extension in the Security Council) the de facto authorities have agreed to the development of existing Russian military infrastructure and bases within Abkhazia, and the deployment of Russian security personnel along the ‘border’. Russian oil company Rosneft has signed a deal to explore for oil and gas off the Abkhaz coast. Direct Russian budgetary support will account for more than half of the Abkhaz budget in 2010. Abkhazia is also expected to play an important role in Russia’s staging of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, just up the coast from the border and Abkhazia has been promised contracts and jobs working on Olympic projects as part of recent economic deals.

Although Abkhazia is de facto independent it remains de jure part of Georgia. Only Russia and three other countries recognise the ‘independence’ of Abkhazia. The vast majority of the international community continues to support Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Abkhazia has a ‘multi-party presidential system’. The ‘president’ is head of state and head of government. ‘The People’s Assembly’ has 35 members, elected for a five year term in single seat constituencies. In December 2009, Abkhazia held its fourth ‘Presidential’ election since the post of President of the Republic of Abkhazia was created in 1994. The election was won by incumbent ‘president’ Sergei Bagapsh in the first round with 61% of the votes, thus gaining a second term in office.

In January 2010, the Georgian government unveiled a State Strategy on the Occupied Territories, intended to encourage economic cooperation, freedom of movement, the restoration of transport links and re-establishment of humanitarian links.

South Ossetia

South Ossetia had a special status under Soviet rule as the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast within the Georgian SSR. Before 1989 there had been little inter-ethnic strife, but nationalism rose as the Soviet Union started to break-up. South Ossetian nationalists demanded the status of autonomous republic, and declared the South Ossetian Democratic Republic in 1990, fully sovereign within the USSR. The nationalist Georgian government rejected this and violent conflict broke out in 1991, resulting in over 100,000 displaced people and over 1000 dead.

In 1992, Georgia accepted a ceasefire – and the presence of OSCE monitors. Despite successive Georgian governments maintaining pressure on the Tskhinvali regime to reintegrate with Georgia and Russia’s determination to support the de facto South Ossetian government, the situation remained more or less stable, apart from an outbreak of fighting in summer 2004, until the more serious events of August 2008.

Since the war, the population of South Ossetia has been reduced to an estimated 35,000. Many ethnic Ossetians fled to North Ossetia (part of the Russian Federation), and around 14,000 ethnic Georgians left for other parts of Georgia. Some Ossetians have since returned to their homes, but the ethnic Georgians have not.

On 13 May 2009, Greece (chairing the OSCE in 2009) announced a suspension of the renewal of the mandate for the OSCE Mission in Georgia after months of blocking by Russia. The mission was formally wound-up on 30 June.

A ‘parliamentary election’ took place in South Ossetia in May 2009. Parties loyal to the incumbent ‘president’ Eduard Kokoity gained the highest number of votes. Two opposition parties were not allowed to participate because of concerns that they were not loyal to Kokoity.

The elections were illegal under Georgian law and the EU, US and NATO all issued statements to the same effect and rejecting the results.

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Last Updated: May 2011

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