Russians in Georgia are unlikely to initiate political action or to face repression from the Georgian state in the near future. They are not highly organized, nor do they have a strong, cohesive group identity. There is neither a history of rebellion by ethnic Russians, significant conflict between Russians and the other groups in Georgia, nor repression by the various de facto Georgian regional governments.
However, fortunes have shown to change quickly here over the past 15 years. Continuing violence in Chechnya has the potential to destabilize almost any government in the region. Russia has repeatedly accused Georgia of supporting the rebels by hosting paramilitary Islamic units in its territory just across the Georgian-Russian border. In turn, Tblisi has accused Russia of bombing Georgian villages located near the Chechen border. Both sides signed an agreement in 1999 to send Russian border troops to patrol the Georgian-Chechen border, which has the potential to aggravate Russian-Georgian relations.
A renewal of warfare in either of Georgia's breakaway republics may also endanger the welfare of ethnic Russians in Georgia, depending on how Moscow responds to the conflicts. Georgia has (justifiably) accused Russia of supporting the Abkhaz and South Ossetians in an effort to exercise leverage over Tblisi. Ethnic Russians in Georgia may find themselves victims of larger geopolitical contests that are being played out in the Caucasus.
The ultimate guarantor of the safety of the Russians in Georgia, as well as in all the other former Soviet states, is the Russian military presence just hours away. Moscow's concern for its kindred minorities abroad has been high, and as long as it remains so, the likelihood of large-scale, violent mistreatment by Georgia of its Russian minority is fairly remote.
Thousands of Russians suddenly found themselves as members of a minority group in Georgia when the Soviet Union collapsed. While many Russians from the newly independent states migrated to Russia in the 1990s, sizeable minorities still exist in most. The Russians in Georgia share many traits with their kindred elsewhere: they are clustered predominantly in urban areas (GROUPCON = 1); they are not highly organized around their ethnicity (COHSEX0 = 4); they have experienced neither communal conflict (COMCO98X = 0; INTERCON01-03 = 0) nor any significant political discrimination (POLDIS01-03 = 0), economic discrimination (ECDIS01-03 = 0) or systematic repression since Georgian independence.. The primary grievance of the Russian minority is cultural: many would like use their native language in dealings with the government (CULGR400-03 = 2).
The fortunes of the Russians in Georgia depend to a large extent upon the relationship of the various governments of Georgia to Moscow. Significant Russian minorities live in Georgia proper, where they are represented by various cultural organizations, but no explicit political parties (GOJPA01-03 = 1). In the rest of the country, in the break-away republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, their safety is dependent upon the goodwill of the local rulers and the thousands of Russian peacekeepers overseeing uneasy peace agreements.
Thus far, perhaps because all sides of the various Georgian conflicts are courting the favor of Moscow, Russian minorities in Georgia have not been subject to significant political, economic or cultural discrimination.
Council of Europe (2001) "Honoring of obligations and commitments by Georgia", Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee), Doc. 9191, 13 September 2001.
Freedom House, Nations in Transit, 2003
International Crisis Group, various reports on Georgia (2003-2005).
Lexis-Nexis, various articles (2001-2003)
Matveeva, Anna (2003), "Minorities in the South Caucasus" Working Group on Minorities, Commission on Human Rights (12-16 May 2003).
Mateeva, Anna (2002) "The South Caucasus: Nationalism, Conflict and Minorities" Minority Rights Group International Report.
Nodia, Ghia (2001) "Georgia's Membership in the Council of Europe: Achievements and Failures", Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development; compiled for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
United States State Department, Human Rights Reports: Georgia (2001-2003).
United States State Department, International Religious Freedom Report: Georgia (2001-2003).