The Biden administration has made it a priority to recommit to American transatlantic partnerships, but this should not be exclusive to EU and NATO partners. The need to revitalize transatlantic relationships combined with the desire to take a stronger stance against Russia gives the Biden administration an opportunity to rejuvenate U.S. ties with Georgia. Under the previous administration, the U.S. was not very involved with the South Caucasus area, so it is up to the Biden administration to bring Washington’s influence back to the region, especially given Tbilisi’s ongoing political crisis. Washington has an opportunity to strengthen its relations with Tbilisi, which could aid in the greater push to counter Russian aggressiveness and ongoing actions by the Kremlin to exert pressure on Tbilisi.
U.S. policy in Georgia cannot change the environment that Georgia operates in—one where Russia still plays an outsized role of influence in the state. However, even with limited resources and challenging conditions in the region, the U.S. can still improve its ties with Georgia through the issues of trade, democracy, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Points of Possible Engagement:
- Bilateral Free Trade Agreement: The U.S. and Georgia have discussed the possibility of a free-trade agreement since 2012, and should work to move these discussions forward under the Biden administration. A free trade agreement would strengthen U.S.-Georgia ties and be a tangible demonstration of U.S. support for Georgia. It would also benefit U.S. companies due to Georgia’s central location in Eurasia, which could serve as an entry point to a regional market for U.S. companies looking to expand their exports. Yet no trade agreements should be seriously discussed until Tbilisi has resolved its current political crisis.
- Democracy Promotion: The ongoing crisis in Georgia erupted over the results of October’s parliamentary elections, which opposition parties have denounced as rigged. Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia refused to follow through on an order to jail Nika Melia, Chairman of the main opposition party United National Movement (ENM) and subsequently resigned citing the threat of political polarization. Opposition parties are now calling for snap elections. The current crisis represents Georgia’s long democratic struggle, and is a step back for the partly-free country. The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi has issued a statement urging peaceful negotiation, and the U.S. Senate recently held a hearing on the current crisis. Some options being weighed in the Senate are withholding or reducing military and foreign aid to Georgia if it cannot resolve its crisis democratically and peacefully, but no concrete decisions have been made yet. The U.S. should continue to work with and support the EU-mediated Georgia crisis talks. Going forward, the U.S. should increase USAID assistance for judicial reform and extend the Promoting the Rule of Law program. Democracy promotion in Georgia should focus on grassroots mobilization, countering disinformation, and freedom of the press.
- Frozen Conflicts: After the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgia lost control of its autonomous regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. During the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict, tensions flared and fighting reignited. After the fighting ended, Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent territories. These two regions are now rife with humanitarian and social issues, problems that could raise the risk of protracted instability and further violence. U.S. efforts on these frozen conflicts are needed to help counter Russia influence in the area. At this point in time, the U.S.’ main goal should be to prevent the resumption of frozen conflicts in Georgia. The U.S. should also continue its policy of non-recognition of these territories’ independence, along with discouraging recognition by other countries. The U.S. should also open up an avenue towards working with both Tbilisi and Moscow to improve conditions for the peoples living in these regions.
As the U.S. looks to revitalize its transatlantic relationships and counter Russian influence in Eurasia, the Biden administration should look towards available avenues of strengthening ties with Georgia. The U.S. should work towards a bilateral free trade agreement, increasing democracy promotion, and stabilizing frozen conflicts, all of which are imperative to bolstering U.S-Georgia relations.