Georgia profile - Overview
- 22 January 2016
- From the section Europe
Situated at the strategically important crossroads where Europe meets Asia, Georgia has a unique and ancient cultural heritage, and is famed for its traditions of hospitality and cuisine.
Over the centuries, Georgia was the object of rivalry between Persia, Turkey and Russia, before being eventually annexed by Russia in the 19th century.
Since emerging from the collapsing Soviet Union as an independent state in 1991, Georgia has again become the arena of conflicting interests, this time between the US and a reviving Russia. Tense relations with Russia have been further exacerbated by Moscow's support for the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Georgia's brief interlude of independence after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia ended when it was invaded by the Soviet Red Army in 1921 and incorporated into the Soviet Union a year later.
The US has a major strategic interest in the country, having invested heavily in an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Turkey. The Georgian armed forces have been receiving US training and support.
Increasing US economic and political influence in the country has long been a source of concern for the Kremlin, as have Georgia's aspirations to join NATO and the EU.
Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi are never far from the surface and in August 2008 flared up into an armed conflict triggered by clashes between Georgian troops and South Ossetian separatist forces.
Following the collapse of communism in the USSR in 1991, Georgians voted overwhelmingly for the restoration of independence and elected nationalist leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia as president. However, Gamsakhurdia was soon overthrown by opposition militias which in 1992 installed former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze as the country's new leader.
During his 11 years in office, the Georgian people felt increasingly at the mercy of poverty, corruption and crime. He was ousted in November 2003 following mass demonstrations over the conduct of parliamentary elections.
Once a relatively affluent part of the USSR, with independence Georgia lost the cheap energy to which it had access in the Soviet period. As relations between Georgia and Russia deteriorated, Moscow did not flinch from tightening the economic screws, and the rupturing of trading ties caused the Georgian economy to nose-dive.
Georgia was initially heavily dependent on Russia for its energy supply. Like other Soviet states, it was badly affected when the price of gas supplied by the Russian gas giant Gazprom rose sharply in 2006. Since then, it has succeeded in diversifying the sources of its energy supplies, and now receives most of its gas from Azerbaijan.
Since independence, the people of Georgia have endured periods of civil war and unrest as well as violence related to the independence aspirations of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Both regions had close ties with Russia, whose troops had operated there since the early 1990s. In 2008 Moscow formally recognised the two territories as independent states, following an armed conflict between Georgia and Russia that grew out of clashes between Georgia and Russian-backed rebels in South Ossetia.
Russia has effectively controlled the two breakaway regions since then, and both are heavily dependent on Russian aid.
Moves by Russia to formalise its ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in late 2014 and early 2015 triggered fears in Georgia that Moscow was seeking to annex the two statelets.