In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Georgia and International Law

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Recurring Problems from South Ossetia
  • Recurring Problems from Abkhazia
  • Adjara
  • The Conflict and the Violations of International Law
  • The Impact of the Conflict in Geostrategy and Energy Fields
  • Georgia and the European Union Relationship

International Law Georgia and International Law
Antoni Blanc Altemir, Eimys Ortiz Hernández
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 November 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0100


The dissolution of the USSR at the end of December 1991 and the reunification of Germany were, without doubt, two of the most remarkable international events at the end of the 20th century. Analysis of the consequences of these events with respect to international law has proved challenging to international legal norms due to the fact that the kind of “micro cosmos” exemplified by these events served to highlight the principal sectors of international law. The consequences of the dismemberment of the USSR proved to be extensive and they were felt not only in Europe, but also in the rest of the world. The breakup of such a prominent strategic actor put an end to the restricted stability that characterized the bipolar nature of the Cold War. Thus, international society witnessed a period of instability in succeeding years marked by a renewed rise in issues such as the right of self-determination and the principle of uti possidetis. Therefore, events unfolding in the former Soviet Union, at times tedious and even tragic, led to the creation of a new international organization called the Commonwealth of Independent States, which tried to fill the “black hole” left by the breakup of the USSR as well as deal with the problems confronted by the successor states, notwithstanding its own deficiencies. Moreover, some disputes of a territorial, interethnic, or national character became very violent, such as those in Central Asia and the Caucasus, in particular in Georgia. Over the years Georgia has intensified its process of approximation to the European Union (EU). On the one hand, the EU-Georgia Association Agreement that entered into force on 1 July 2016 is remarkable for establishing a deep and comprehensive free trade area. On the other hand, the effective application of the Schengen—visa-free travel for short stays for Georgian citizens—has been of great importance. This article provides researchers with instruments to study the recurring problems in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as the Georgian-Russian conflict in 2008, and also treats the consequences of these crises in international law. Issues such as military operations, the cease-fire agreement, and the succeeding evolution of events are discussed. A section focuses specifically on important violations of international law that took place during the conflict, for which an international report was published. In addition, the consequences of the conflict are addressed with respect to NATO-Russia and EU-Russia relations while the effects of the conflict in the geostrategic and energy fields are also considered. Additionally, the rapprochement between Georgia and the European Union is analyzed.

General Overviews

The accession to power of Mikhail Gorbachev allowed the concepts of perestroika and glasnost to bloom and boosted the reemergence of nationalist movements among the diverse republics of the Soviet Union, in particular in Georgia. Apart from the Georgian nationalist movement that demanded secession from the USSR, secessionist movements also appeared in specific regions such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On 30 November 1990 a referendum was held regarding independence in which approximately 90 percent of the population participated. Taking into account all the referenda held in the republics, the vote in favor of independence in Georgia registered 98.93 percent, which represented the second-highest percentage after that in Armenia. In consequence, the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Georgia proclaimed independence and appointed Zviad Gamsajurdia the new president of the Republic. Following a period of instability, which led to the dismissal and expulsion of Gamsajurdia in January 1992, the return of Eduard Shevardnadze, former minister of foreign affairs during the Gorbachev era, prompted big hopes for a country immersed in an economic and political crisis. Shevardnadze, who was designated president of the Council of the State, would later be validated as president of the Parliament by universal suffrage, thus becoming the highest authority figure in the country until the presidential elections of 1995. Shevardnadze attempted to take advantage of the prestige he had acquired in foreign affairs to advance recognition of Georgia by the international community. His efforts proved fruitful as the country joined the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) as well as the United Nations. Nevertheless, the main focus of his work concerned the management of an increasingly grave internal crisis, including the incitement of uprisings supported by Gamsajurdia in western regions of Georgia and the rise of secessionist movements in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This section provides an introduction to this article; therefore, the citations provide a general overview of the events surrounding the dissolution of the USSR and the emergence of an independent Georgia. Weerts 1999 is cited regarding uti possidetis. Blanc Altemir 2003, Urjewicz 1995, and Forsyth 2013 analyze topics from diverse perspectives, including economic and social issues as well as taking into account international aspects. Additionally, Diasamidze 2008 summarizes the essence of the conflict in providing political and legal perspectives; however, Saparov 2015 takes a historical approach to point out the origin of the conflicts in the Caucasus. Finally, Intskirveli 1996 treats the Constitution of newly independent Georgia, and Hille 2005 explores the kind of state most suitable in Georgia. See also Alexidze 2012.

  • Alexidze, Levan. International Law and Georgia, from Antiquity to Present: Selected Papers Published in 1957–2012. Edited by Keteva Khutsishvili. Tbilisi, GA: Tbilisi State University, 2012.

    The author of this work is the foremost authority in the field of international law in Georgia. Therefore, this collection represents a very valuable tool to study the problems with which Georgia has been struggling since its independence in 1991.

  • Blanc Altemir, Antonio. Conflictos territoriales, interétnicos y nacionales en los estados surgidos de la antigua Unión Soviética. Valencia, Spain: Tirant lo Blanch, 2003.

    The author analyzes the consequences of the dissolution of the USSR, focusing mostly on territorial and interethnic conflicts. Therefore, it constitutes an excellent introductory reference to the topic. In Spanish.

  • Diasamidze, Tamaz. Regional Conflicts in Georgia: The Autonomous Oblast of South Ossetia, the Autonomous SSR of Abkhazia, 1989–2011: The Collection of Political-Legal Acts. 2d ed. Tbilisi, GA: Regionalism Research Centre, 2008.

    This handbook includes the 802 most important political-legal documents dealing with developments in the conflicts in Georgia (South Ossetia and Abkhazia). Therefore, it represents a voluminous source of information regarding the conflicts.

  • Forsyth, James. The Caucasus: A History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    Forsyth analyzes the area from prehistory to the present. It is a very good tool by which to acquire an understanding of the roots of the conflict.

  • Hille, Charlotte. “What Future Legal Status for Georgia?” Humanitäres Völkerrecht 18.1 (2005): 29–37.

    The first part of the article examines developments following the Rose Revolution, and the second analyzes what kind of state, whether unitary or federal, is the most suitable solution for Georgia.

  • Intskirveli, G. Z. “The Constitution of Independent Georgia.” Review of Central and East European Law 22.1 (1996): 1–8.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02743182

    This article constitutes an essential tool to acquire an understanding of the Constitution of Georgia immediately following independence.

  • Saparov, Arsène. From Conflict to Autonomy in the Caucasus: The Soviet Union and the Making of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh. London and New York: Routledge, 2015.

    Saparov takes a sociopolitical approach to elucidate the origin of the ethnic issues in the Caucasus. The work studies the ethnic development through the 19th and 20th centuries.

  • Urjewicz, Charles. “La Transcaucasie face aux fantômes de son passé: Le cas géorgien.” In Le Caucase post-soviétique: La transition dans le conflit. Edited by Mohammad-Reza Djalili, 35–47. Brussels: Bruylant, 1995.

    The author explains the evolution of domestic events in Georgia from an historical perspective. In French.

  • Weerts, Laurence. “Heurs et malheurs du principe de l’uti possidetis: Les cas du démembrement de l’URSS.” In Démembrements d’états et délimitations territoriales. Edited by Oliver Corten, 79–142. Brussels: Bruylant, 1999.

    This edited volume is the result of a joint effort between specialists in international law and sociology. This chapter provides a very detailed analysis of the principle of uti possidetis with regard to the USSR. In French.

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