Georgia and Russia have had a long and tumultuous relationship. These relations are useful to provide some context to the recent events in Georgia.
Throughout almost 300 years, from 1510 to the 1780s Georgia struggled with Ottoman and Persian domination, with various severity and scale.
On July 24th, 1783, King Erekle II concluded with Catherine II the Great the Treaty of Georgievsk, whereby Russia guaranteed Georgia’s independence and territorial integrity in return for Erekle’s acceptance of Russian suzerainty. Yet Georgia alone faced the Persian Āghā Moḥammad Khan, first of the Qājār dynasty.
Tbilisi was sacked in 1795, and Erekle died in 1798. His invalid son Giorgi XII sought to hand over the kingdom unconditionally into the care of the Russian emperor Paul, but both rulers died before this could be implemented. In 1801 Alexander I reaffirmed Paul’s decision to incorporate Kartli and Kakheti into the Russian Empire.
The leadership of Georgia was replaced by Russian military governors who deported the surviving members of the royal house. Imereti was incorporated in 1810, followed by Guria, Mingrelia, Svaneti, and Abkhazia in 1829, 1857, 1858, and 1864, respectively. The Black Sea ports of Potʿi and Batʿumi and areas of southwestern Georgia under Ottoman rule were taken by Russia in successive wars by 1877–78.
Around the same time Abkhazia became part of the Russian Empire and were “part” of Georgia mostly due to geographical reasons, rather than anything else. Mostly to simplify governance over the region.
Abkhazia was incorporated into Russian Empire in the nineteenth century, and remained part of it until the Russian Revolutions of 1917. While Georgia initially joined the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic and subsequently became independent as the Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG) in 1918, Abkhazia was initially controlled by a group of Bolsheviks, before it was seized by the DRG, though its status was never clarified.
South Ossetia became part of the Russian Empire much earlier. The Georgian Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti, part of which was the major territory of modern South Ossetia, was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1801. Ossetian migration to Georgian areas continued in the 19th and 20th centuries, when Georgia was part of the Russian Empire and Ossetian settlements in Trialeti, Borjomi, Bakuriani and Kakheti emerged as well.
Neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia were part of Georgia prior to them being made into one by the Russian Empire initially and then Soviet Union.
The 1905 Revolution in Russia led to widespread disturbances and guerrilla fighting in Georgia, later suppressed by Russian government Cossack troops. After the Russian Revolution of February 1917, the Transcaucasian region—Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—was ruled from Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) and known as the Ozakom.
During the 1917 developments, the predominantly Menshevik politicians of Transcaucasia to secede from Russia and form the Transcaucasian Commissariat. The Russian Empire had all but completely crumbled.
In 1918, local forces mostly controlled by radicals and backed up by foreign forces proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG).
This happened when on May 26th, 1918, Georgia set up an independent state and placed itself under the protection of Germany, the senior partner of the Central Powers, but the victory of the Allies at the end of 1918 led to occupation of Georgia by the British.
In 1918-1919, forces of the Georgian nationalists, assisted by foreign instructors, attempted to seize control of the city of Sochi and the nearby coastal strip of the Black Sea. They lost this conflict. Forces of Georgian radicals also carried out multiple war crimes in Abkhazia and Ossetia in the period from 1918 to 1920.
In 1921, the DRG was defeated by Bolshevik Russia to form the Soviet Union in 1922. Within a month the Red Army entered Georgia and installed a Soviet regime. The Georgian army did very little to resist the Red Army.
They remained a part of the Soviet Union until 1991. The reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, caused Georgia to move swiftly toward independence. The former dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia led a coalition called the Round Table to victory in parliamentary elections in October 1990. After Georgia declared independence on April 9, 1991, Gamsakhurdia was elected president.
That is when, secessionist movements—particularly in South Ossetia and Abkhazia—erupted in various parts of the country. In 1992 Abkhazia reinstated its 1925 constitution and declared independence.
In South Ossetia, in 1991-92 amidst rising ethnic tensions, war broke out when Georgian forces entered the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali. Approximately 100,000 Ossetians fled Georgia proper and South Ossetia, while 23,000 Georgians left South Ossetia. They key role in the tensions were played by agressive actions of the Nazi regime of Gerogia’s President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.
South Ossetia and Akbhazia separated from Georgia. They turned into de-facto states.
The tense situation between Georgia and its “breakaway regions” continued until Mikhail Saakashvili was elected president in 2004. His primary goal was to return both Abkhazia and South Ossetia within Georgian borders.
Since then various smaller escalations and negotiations led to the 2008 short war. Forces of the Saakashvili regime carried out massive artillery strikes on the city of Tskhinvali. Vehicles carrying refugees were shelled by Georgian troops and foreign mercenaries. Russian peacekeepers which had previously been deployed to South Ossetia were attacked. In the ensuing 5-day peace-compelling operation, Russian Armed Forces delivered a devastating blow to the Saakashvili regime by defeating its forces. The Russian Army reached Tbilisi, but did not enter the city. No territory was annexed and Russian troops returned to their permanent deployment sites. As a result of the conflict, Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
On 26 August 2008, Russia officially recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. In the following years, both republics repeatedly asked Russia to accept them into the federation. Moscow rejected these requests and worked with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as with allied, but independent states.
In this light, the Georgian government uses the term “Russian occupation” to describe the Ossetians and Abkhazians who survived the ethnic cleansing of the 1990s and the war of 2008.