Foreign policy and domestic constraints: what political regimes can and cannot do in Georgia
Politics trumps economics
From Russia’s perspective, the attempt to use economic incentives as soft power instruments failed to lure Georgia into Russia’s political orbit. For the past few years, Kremlin rhetoric focused on restoring economic and interpersonal ties between the two countries arguably as a precursor of further breakthrough at a political level. As a result of the rapprochement, Russia became the main export market for Georgian products by a wide margin, especially wines and agriculture products. Numbers of Russian tourists also skyrocketed during the past few years. In 2018, 1.4 million Russians visited Georgia. Tourism, like agriculture, is a very important segment of Georgia’s economy (making up 7.6% of Georgia’s GDP in 2018). Moreover, Georgia still heavily depends on remittances from Russia, which is the second-largest source after the EU. Considering the recent history of Russia-Georgia relations, including a full-scale economic embargo imposed by Russia, Georgian citizens are well aware of the high economic and social costs of a possible Russian retaliation. Nevertheless, it did not stop the anti-Russian demonstrations. The events have again shown that whereas the ordinary Georgians enjoy economic benefits from the increasing number of Russian tourists and trade relations with its northern neighbor, restoring political ties is still out of the question. That is, until Moscow respects Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and its right to choose its foreign policy orientation.