Russia’s plan for a new naval base in the Black Sea threatens Georgia’s sovereignty and economic development

Russia’s plan to establish a permanent naval base in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia has raised concerns about its impact on Georgia’s sovereignty and economic development. The Georgian opposition MPs have called for a unified stance against Russia’s plan, fearing that it could drag Georgia into Russia’s war in Ukraine and undermine Tbilisi’s own plans for a port on the Black Sea.

The establishment of a permanent Russian naval base in Abkhazia is seen as a gross violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Despite authorities in Tbilisi downplaying the significance of the base and asserting that it is not an imminent threat, satellite imagery analysis suggests new dredging and construction work at the port. This raises concerns that the base could be used by Russia to attack Ukraine or become a target for Ukrainian forces, potentially dragging Georgia into the war.

The implications of Russia’s plan extend beyond security concerns. Georgia’s plans for a mega-infrastructure project, the Anaklia deep-sea port, on the Black Sea coast could be impeded. The port is crucial for boosting commerce along the Middle Corridor, the fastest route to deliver cargo between Asia and Europe. By avoiding Russia as a land conduit, the route could halve travel times and triple trade volumes by 2030. However, Russia has long opposed the Anaklia project, claiming it to be a US project and raising fears of US navy submarines docking there.

The cancellation of the contract to build the Anaklia deep-sea port in 2020, which had been awarded to a consortium backed by Western banks and investors, has raised suspicions of the Georgian government appeasing Moscow. Mamuka Khazaradze, the leader of the original Anaklia Development Consortium, accuses the government of serving Russian interests and points to the proximity of the Russian base being built up the Black Sea coast as evidence. The consortium has taken the Georgian government to international arbitration, while the government insists that the port plan will be revived.

The situation highlights Georgia’s complex relationship with Russia. While Georgia has a pro-EU population and has signed association and visa-free agreements with the EU, it does not have the NATO security umbrella or the EU’s economic solidarity. The Russian base in Ochamchire is seen as a means for Russia to threaten Georgia over its ambitions to join the EU, emphasizing Russia’s dominance in the region.

The impact of Russia’s new Black Sea naval base on Georgia’s sovereignty, security, and economic development cannot be overlooked. It poses risks of being dragged into the war in Ukraine, threatens Georgia’s own infrastructure project, and highlights the delicate balance Georgia must maintain in its relations with Russia. As European leaders decide on Georgia’s bid for EU candidate status at their upcoming summit, it remains to be seen how Russia’s actions will shape Georgia’s future.