Airlift Base in Georgia

German Bundeswehr uses Georgia as hub for withdrawal from Afghanistan. The country cooperates with EU and NATO, but, increasingly, also with Russia.

BERLIN/TBILISI | | georgien

BERLIN/TBILISI (Own report) - Since recently Germany has a temporary airlift base at its disposal in Georgia. According to the German Air Force, the base in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, serves as hub for the Bundeswehr's withdrawal from Afghanistan. The fact that the country has not only deepened its ties with the EU through an association agreement, but is also intensifying relations with NATO explains why, of all places, Germany uses a base in Georgia. Georgia, for example, has participated in the "Defender Europe 2021" maneuvers. This is in contrast to the domestic political development in that Caucasus country, which has enhanced its relations with Russia since its change of government in 2012 - under the protests of nationalist or pro-Western oriented milieus. The Green Party-affiliated Heinrich-Böll Foundation already speaks of Georgia's "creeping Russification." According to the Foundation's representative in the South Caucasus, the EU's policy in the region needs a stronger foreign and military policy component - including eventual "peace missions."

The Long History of German Influence

A Georgian state first emerged in the 20th century under German occupation - for a short period towards the end of World War I.[1] Following the Soviet Union's collapse, Germany was the first country to recognize Georgia's independence in 1992 and opened an embassy in Tbilisi in the same year.[2] Already in 1990 - still within the Soviet Union - Georgia adopted the flag of the Georgian state created under German occupation in 1918. Germany soon attempted to obtain a political, economic and military foothold in this strategically important country in the South Caucasus. Beginning in 1994, the German Bundeswehr participated in the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), providing the largest national troop contingent.[3] The Georgian government, at the time under the former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, pursued, however, a multi-vector foreign policy, also maintaining relatively good relations with Moscow.

Overthrow and Deregulation

This changed radically after the 2003 putsch ("Rose Revolution"), in the wake of which Germany directly supported the preparations for new elections in Georgia.[4] The nationalist neoliberal hardliner Mikheil Saakashvili won the elections, formed close ties to the USA and the EU and imposed a series of liberal economic reforms. This led to a "significant deregulation" of Georgia's labor market and "low wage levels," as the Germany Trade & Invest (gtai) noted.[5] Through Saakashvili's reforms, the Georgian state became more dependent on foreign donors, mainly from the EU and the USA,[6] and thus subject to concrete political influence: Since the 2003 putsch, "the USA and the EU always held great influence over political decisions in Georgia," according to Stefan Meister, Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation Office in Tbilisi.[7]

Improving Relations with Moscow

After Saakashvili was ousted, the party Georgian Dream (GD) of millionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili headed the government. He pushed for political and economic rapprochement with Russia. Ivanishvili, Georgian Prime Minister from 2012 to 2013, appointed a special envoy to restore diplomatic relations with Moscow, sought to reestablish trade relations and cooperated with Russia to secure the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.[8] In the course of Georgia's political rapprochement with Russia, the Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov addressed the annual meeting of the Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) in Russian in the Georgian Parliament in the summer 2019. In protest, members of the nationalist opposition rioted in Tbilisi and 240 people were injured and 300 arrested.[9] This incident led to an ongoing domestic political crisis.

Persisting Influence of the EU and USA

In the aftermath of the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2020, nearly all of Georgia's opposition parties blocked parliamentary activities. They accused the GD government of manipulation. Through the mediation of EU diplomats, the political crisis could be alleviated.[10] The fact that EU diplomats could mediate in such a crisis, is an indication of the extent of the EU ambassadors' influence in Tbilisi. In 2019, the considerable influence exercised by various EU and US organizations led to increased public criticism. In November 2019, Ivanishvili criticized such US organizations as the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) as biased, for their propagation of misleading polls to the detriment of the Georgian Dream.[11] Even the nationalist United National Movement Party (UNM), still under the control of exiled ex-Prime Minister Saakashvili, have criticized the influence wielded by diplomats from the EU and the USA.[12]

"Creeping Russification"

In the course of the domestic political crisis, Bidzina Ivanishvili officially withdrew from politics at the beginning of this year and resigned also from his position as GD party chair, which he had held since 2018. Nevertheless, to this day he is "suspected ... of still having enormous informal power over Georgia's state institutions."[13] At the same time, in spite of Georgia's association with the EU in 2016, experts attest that there is a loss of EU influence in that Caucasus republic. Stefan Meister (of the Heinrich Böll Foundation) even sees a "creeping Russification," which is expressed in a "weakening of formal institutions in favor of informal ones, and more corrupt practices." Thus the Georgian Dream is moving the country "away from the values and principles of the EU."[14]

Working relations with Abkhazia

While some would even characterize the West's domestic influence in Georgia as insignificant, representatives of the EU in the South Caucasus are making a headlong rush. At the beginning of 2020, Aslan Bzhania was elected President of Abkhazia, which seceded from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but whose independence still is recognized by only a few countries, including Russia. Bzhania is a member of the political trend oriented toward seeking greater autonomy from Russia.[15] The EU's representative for the South Caucasus visited Abkhazia In October 2020 and declared, his objective is to establish "working relations" with Abkhazia for the EU.[16] In November 2020, as well as in March, April and June of 2021, he returned each time to the Abkhazian capital Sokhumi, for talks with high-ranking members of the Abkhazian government.[17]

Greens: More Military!

According to the regional bureau chief of the Green-affiliated Heinrich Böll Foundation, increased foreign and military policy activities in the region could be one possible means for the West to confront Georgia's unfavorable - in the eyes of the EU and the USA - domestic development. In March, Stefan Meister drew the conclusion that, following Turkey as well as Russia's strengthening of influence in the South Caucasus, in the wake of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in the fall of 2020, EU policy in the region needs "a stronger security policy component," including providing so-called peace missions: "Georgia needs a compass that parts of the EU can outwardly provide."[18]

Military Cooperation

If more robust military policy activities are brought to Georgia, the Federal Republic of Germany can fall back on its 25-year history. Beginning 1996, Germany donated, free of charge, decommissioned excess Bundeswehr stock, such as coast guard boats, field telephones and radios.[19] After the Caucasus War in 2008, the Bundeswehr additionally provided advisors to that South Caucasus country. The advisors' mission lasted until 2012.[20] In the same year, a Bundeswehr advisor mission explored the feasibility of using Georgian airfields for withdrawal of German ISAF troops.[21] Up until last year, German Bundeswehr soldiers were training Georgian soldiers for the mission in Afghanistan. Georgian and German soldiers then served together in that Central Asian country.[22] Additionally, under the auspices of the "General Staff/Admiral Staff Training Course International" the Bundeswehr has been training high-ranking Georgian officers at the German Armed Forces Staff College in Hamburg.[23] As was announced by the German Air Force at the beginning of the month, it recently began operating a - temporary - airlift base in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. It serves the withdrawal of the Bundeswehr troops from Afghanistan.

 

[1] Winfried Baumgart: Das Kaspi-Unternehmen - Größenwahn Ludendorffs oder Routineplanung des deutschen Generalstabs?, in: Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, Jg. 18 (1970), S. 231–278.

[2] Georgien: Beziehungen zu Deutschland. auswaertiges-amt.de 05.03.2021.

[3] Georgien - UNOMIG und OSZE-Mission. bundeswehr.de (ohne Datum).

[4] See also Keine Großmachtspiele!

[5] Uwe Strohbach: Liberales Regelwerk und niedrige Lohnkosten prägen Arbeitsmarkt. gtai.de 10.06.2020.

[6] Lincoln A. Mitchell: Compromising democracy: state building in Saakashvili's Georgia, in: Central Asian Survey, Jg. 28 (2009), Nr. 2, S. 171–183 (hier: S. 181).

[7] Stefan Meister: Georgien: Gefangen in der Eskalationsspirale. boell.de 03.03.2021.

[8] Regis Gente: Bidzina Ivanishvili, a man who plays according to Russian rules?, in: Caucasus Survey, Jg. 1 (2013), Nr. 1, S. 117–126 (hier: S. 124/125).

[9] Shota Kincha: Die Georgische Demokratie ist von lebenserhaltenden Maßnahmen abhängig. boell.de 19.02.2021.

[10] Jan Dresel: Demonstrationen und Proteste. hss.de 03.08.2019.

[11] Götz-Martin Rosin, Peter-Andreas Bochmann: Innenpolitische Krise in Georgien beendet? freiheit.org 11.06.2021.

[12] Stefan Meister: Georgien: Gefangen in der Eskalationsspirale. boell.de 03.03.2021.

[13] Franziska Smolnik, Mikheil Sarjveladze, Giorgi Tadumadze: Patt in Georgien. SWP-Aktuell Nr. 27. Berlin, 25.03.2021.

[14] Stefan Meister: Georgien: Gefangen in der Eskalationsspirale. boell.de 03.03.2021.

[15] David X. Noack: Abchasien will Veränderung. junge Welt 26.03.2020.

[16] Toivo Klaar: "The purpose of the visit of the European Union delegation is to start working relationship with the leadership of Abkhazia". apsnypress.info 15.10.2020.

[17] Aslan Bzhania: I expect that the upcoming meeting in Geneva will be effective. apsnypress.info 29.11.2020. Irakli Tuzhba: Recent events in Nagorno-Karabakh demonstrate that our region remains explosive enough. apsnypress.info 05.03.2021. Vice President Badra Gunba received EU special representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar. apsnypress.info 12.04.2021. The 53rd round of Geneva discussion on safety and stability in Caucasus will be held on june 29-30. apsnypress.info 16.06.2021.

[18] Stefan Meister: Georgien: Gefangen in der Eskalationsspirale. boell.de 03.03.2021.

[19] Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Kleine Anfrage des Abgeordneten Hakki Keskin und der Fraktion Die Linke. Drucksache 16/11157: Beteiligung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland und der NATO an der militärischen Aufrüstung Georgiens, 01.12.2008.

[20], [21] Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Kleine Anfrage des Abgeordneten Alexander S. Neu und der Fraktion Die Linke. Drucksache 18/1410: Auslandsaufenthalte der Bundeswehr ohne Mandat des Deutschen Bundestages, 12.05.2014.

[22] Martin Waltemathe: Fit für den Einsatz - vom Kaukasus nach Augustdorf. bundeswehr.de 27.07.2020.

[23] Sophie Düsing: Patenschaft: Wenn Fremde zu Freunden werden. bundeswehr.de 12.12.2019.

[24] Thomas Wiegold: Abzug aus Afghanistan: Mit dem A400M nach Tiflis, per Charter nach Hause. augengeradeaus.net 10.06.2021.