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.
Increasing US economic and political influence in the country has long been a source of concern for neighbouring Russia, as have Georgia's aspirations to join NATO and the EU.
Tense relations with Russia have been further exacerbated by Moscow's support for the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, leading to a brief war in August 2008.
President: Salome Zourabichvili
Salome Zourabichvili first came to prominence in 2004, when President Mikheil Saakashvili appointed her foreign minister. She had previously served as ambassador to France, where she was born the daughter of Georgian emigres and worked in the French diplomatic service, before obtaining Georgian citizenship.
But she soon turned against the president, accusing him of being a "dictator", although she remained independent of the Georgian Dream party that defeated Mr Saakashvili in the 2012 elections.
Georgian Dream has since reduced the presidency to a ceremonial post, and all future presidents are expected to be chosen by an electoral college, not the public.
Ms Zourabichvili stood for the post as an independent in 2018, with the backing of Georgian Dream, beating pro-Saakashvili opposition challenger Grigol Vashadze in the run-off. She is due to serve a six-year term.
Prime Minister: Irakli Garibashvili
Defence Minister Irakli Garibashvili formed a government in February 2021, following the resignation of Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia over plans to arrest opposition leader Nika Melia.
The opposition has refused to recognise the results of the October parliamentary elections, and Mr Gakharia feared an arrest would escalate tensions.
Mr Garibashvili is unlikely to be able to reconcile the two sides. He is close to the controversial founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, and adopted a confrontational attitude to the opposition during an earlier term as prime minister in 2013-15.
Television is the most popular medium although online media are gaining ground as news sources.
The constitution provides for freedom of speech, and journalists often criticise officials. Freedom House says the media are "robust and competitive, but frequently partisan".
Some key dates in Georgia's modern history:
1801-04 - Most of present-day Georgia becomes part of the Russian Empire.
1879 - History's best-known Georgian, future Soviet leader Iosif Dzhugashvili (Joseph Stalin), is born in the town of Gori.
1918 - Independent Georgian state declared in wake of Russian Revolution.
1921 - Red Army invades, Georgia absorbed into emerging Soviet Union.
1956 - Protests against Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's de-Stalinisation policy turn violent and prompt calls for secession from the USSR; they are brutally crushed by Soviet forces.
1989 - Demands for more autonomy in the South Ossetia region lead to violent clashes between Georgians and Ossetians. Soviet - later Russian - peacekeepers are deployed.
1991 - Georgian parliament declares secession from the Soviet Union after independence is overwhelmingly supported in a referendum.
1993 - Separatists drive Georgian troops driven out of almost all of Abkhazia, which becomes an internationally unrecognised breakaway state under Russian tutelage.
2008 - Georgia is drawn into a war in breakaway South Ossetia, which sees Russian forces intervene and evict Georgia's forces from its remaining areas of control in the region, as well as Abkhazia.