Georgian-Russian Agreement of May 7th 1920 and the issue of Abkhazia - Part I
13/04/2010 12:27
Simon Kiladze

"Friends! A truce agreement between Russia and Georgia has been signed... In the end our just cause celebrated a victory and our efforts were concluded with success... An issue of borders was resolved according to terms that are advantageous for Georgia... If only their governing circles understand objective interests of their peoples then neither Russia and Georgia would have any disputed issues that would not be possible to solve through negotiations and agreements..." – these words were said by Minister of Foreign Minister of Georgia Evgeny Gegechkori almost 90 years ago at the May 11th 1920 assembly meeting of the Constituents Assembly of Georgia when he, on behalf of the Georgian government, acquainted Georgian parliamentarians with a special statement on signing of the peace agreement between Russia and Georgia that took place on May 7th.


The document that was signed ninety years ago in Moscow still retains its international and judicial importance. Moreover, taking into account today's political situation one of its aspects are acute even today and they can play a role of a certain precedent the Russian-Georgian relations.

After the five-day war between Russia and Georgia that took place in August 2008 Russian-language media and scientific and popular publications expressed an increased interest in the May 7th agreement. At the same time biased interpretation of theses of the document, their purposeful distortion and ultimately making purpsely wrong conclusions have intensified significantly. Russian experts and political scientists especially accentuate an article of the agreement which concerns a border dividing Russia and Georgia and which passes on the River Psou and are expressing their doubts with regards to Abkhazia being a part of Georgia in 1920. Unfortunately, this process has been happening up till this day and seems that there is nobody to give them a well-reasoned answer. It is clear that actions of Russian authors are directed at discrediting Georgian foreign policy and denying a historical truth that is stated in the articles of the above-mentioned international juridical document.

For a purpose to determine truth we will try to discuss and analyze statements of Russian experts and political scientists and convince readers that conclusions of our northern neighbours are more tendentious and opportunistic than resulted from objective and unbiased study.

Before we come to immediate analysis of some of the theses of the Russian-Georgian agreement and the Abkhazian issue that was resolved by this document it would be appropriate to remember and shortly discuss international political situation that preceded the signing of the agreement between Russia and Georgia.

So let's make use of "time machine" of history and look into the Caucasus region of 1918-1920. Let's see what was happening north of Georgia as well as what caused a desire in the confronting sides "to establish peace" and become closer.

Western course with taking into account a factor of Russia

Although Georgian government immediately after declaring establishment of democratic republic and restoration of independence and against the background of international situation, started to pursue pro-western course it also paid a great deal of attention to regulation of relations with its former metropolis - Russia at the same time. For this purpose, on June 11th 1918 a diplomatic mission was sent to Moscow which was headed by a member of the parliament (Constituent Assembly of Georgia) Gabriel Khundadze. It should be noted that at that time Russian authorities were in a very difficult position due to the conditions of the Brest Treaty that they signed with Germany and its allies. And if we take into account that Berlin was a dominant force both in Constantinople and the Caucasus then it becomes clear why the Kremlin was forced to agree to receive Georgian diplomats in Moscow and to start build certain contacts with them through Peoples' Commissar of Foreign Affairs Georgy Chicherin and Kamenev and Zinoviev as well.

At the first stage the Georgian diplomatic mission tried to test ground as to how possible it was for Russia to recognize independence of Georgia. But Russian authorities were hesitating and were dragging time and sometimes even showed certain aggression. For example, one of the Russian leaders Aleksey Rikov openly told Gabriel Khundadze that he is a supporter of destruction of Georgia and would use all its power for Georgian counter-revolutionary government of Georgia not to get juridical recognition by Russia.

If we take into account a status of the Georgian diplomatic mission as well as a character and level of negotiations of Gabriel Khundadze with representatives of the Russian authorities we can say that starting from the summer of 1918 Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (RSFSR) de-facto recognized independence of the Democratic republic of Georgia. That is confirmed by facts of opening of Georgian consulates in various Russian cities aimed at defending interests of Georgians there.

Russian "Cheka" against Georgian diplomatic mission: Special operation in Moscow

Defeat of Germany and its allies in the Worlds War I naturally resulted in broadening of the influence of the Triple Entente. Georgia found itself in the sphere of influence of Great Britain, France and Italy. Accordingly Tbilisi became a centre of activities of western diplomats. Triple Entente considered Georgia as a springboard for anti-Russian activities. That meant that Georgia and Russia happened to be on different poles. Additionally, the situation was also intensified by the fact that Triple Entente was supporting militarily and politically Anton Denikin's army. Such situation would, of course, have affected negatively on activities of the Georgian diplomatic mission.

And indeed, Russian authorities first made their attitudes stricter towards the Georgian diplomatic mission that was in Moscow, limited their movement, cancelled permits given earlier, and later representatives of Extraordinary Commission (Cheka) got involved. On June 30th 1919 Moscow Cheka carried out a special operation against Georgian diplomats, stormed into a building of the mission and arrested all diplomats. The same actions were carried out against personnel of the Georgian consulate in Petrograd.

The Kremlin issued an ultimatum to the Georgian government. The diplomats would have been released only if Tbilisi would have freed Bolsheviks who were arrested for anti-state activities. In the end, the situation was resolved through compromise and Georgian diplomats returned to Georgia at the end of July of 1919. Since then contacts between Russia and Georgia were seized for almost a year.

Successful visit of Grigol Uratadze to Moscow

In spring 1920 the Russian red Army achieved significant combat successes in the Civil war that was taking place in the North Caucasus and on the Black Sea coast. The borders of the Soviet Russia were immediately approaching territory of Georgia. Dagestan, Sochi, Kuban and districts of Terek were already controlled by the Kremlin. It became necessary to regulate relations with RSFSR. That is the time when a new stage of relations between Russia and Georgia started to take place. It should be noted that telegrams of the Peoples' Commissar of Foreign Affairs of Russia where Georgy Chicherin criticized Georgia for cooperation with the Russian White Army played an important role. In response Georgian Foreign Minister Evegeny Gegechkori denied these allegations and advised Moscow to refrain from hostile actions against Georgia especially regarding the Gagra district that, according to various sources, Russia considered its territory. The Georgian minister expressed is readiness to start negotiations with Russia in order to resolve this issue peacefully.

There is one interesting fact that Georgy Chicherin agreed to a demand of Gegechkori regarding Gagra without any resistance and discussion. The notes that were sent to Tbilisi stated that "Russia has no desire and intention to engage in war with Georgia and to enter Georgia as well". And indeed the issue of juridical belonging of Gagra to Russia remained open for Russia but Chicherin was still ready to receive data about borders of the Gagra district from the Georgian government in order to inform commanders of the Russian Red Army about it and to prevent violation of these borders.

The biggest result of this correspondence was that Russia agreed to Georgian suggestion to start negotiations and to sign relevant agreement.

So what caused "warm attitude" towards Georgia on the part of Bolsheviks who were dreaming of permanent revolution in the world? Just a few months ago they were not even willing to talk about an official, de-jure recognition of the Georgian independence. At that before May 1920 Moscow had not started any negotiations with its direct neighbours and neither did it sign bilateral agreement with them. So what forced the Kremlin to get in contacts with Tbilisi?

Such unprecedented step of Russia was caused by, on one hand, by situation that was created in Eastern Europe and on the other hand international juridical status of Georgia and Russia. The thing is that on April 17th 1920 the war started between Russia and Poland and therefore Russia was in dire need of security on its southern borders in order to be able to transfer its units of the Russian Red Army that were at that time stationed on the North Caucasus into the Poland front. In its turn, Tbilisi was also very interested in and willing to get juridical guarantees for territorial integrity and strengthening of the northern borders. Apart from this it is clear that full political and stately relations with Georgia was in tactical interests of Russia as a) Georgia was relatively stable and developed country in the region and b) Georgia could serve as a connecting bridge to Europe with Russia. And indeed if we look at the events of ninety years ago we will see that at that time Georgia was experiencing progress in international juridical situation and that was happening when Russia was in political and economical isolation. It would be enough to mention that by May 1920 Georgia as an independent state actively participated in European politics. Tbilisi was full of foreign missions while "window to Europe" was again closed for Russia and Moscow and Petrograd had been almost emptied of missions of foreign countries. Therefore it would have been at some extent useful for Russia to get in contacts with pro-western government of Georgia as well as possibility of direct contacts with foreign missions accredited in Tbilisi.

So taking into consideration this situation and these circumstances both states decided to regulate relations. At the end of April 1920 delegation of the Georgian Democratic Republic which, by orders of head of the Georgian government Noe Zhordania, was headed by member of the parliament (Constituent Assembly) Grigol Uratadze arrived in Moscow. As a result of a week-long meetings and consultations with representatives of the Peoples' commissariat for foreign affairs of Russia and other high-rank officials a draft peace (truce) agreement between Russia and Georgia was drawn up which was signed at 11.20 pm Moscow time on May 7th 1920.

(To be continued)

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