Monday, January 06, 2020

Georgia’s Foreign Policy Trilemma: Balance, Bandwagon, or Hedge? Part 1

Georgia is a small, partly free democracy in a tough neighbourhood, and NATO membership remains an unfulfilled promise. While Russia is widely perceived as the main threat to Georgia’s security, the appropriate strategic or political response to the threat is not obvious. What options does Georgia have when faced with a powerful rival on its border, and what public support is there for these options?

Research on the foreign policy options of small states have generally focused on elite attitudes and structural determinants, butwith some exceptions – less so on the relationship between public opinion and foreign policy. This gap matters as public preferences for a country’s foreign policy (should) be important to decision-makers in a democracy. While foreign policy generally ranks lower than domestic concerns in the publics’ priorities, high stake questions of national security do cut through, and a foreign policy that lacks public support will be harder to sustain. This leads to the question, do threat perceptions predict foreign policy preferences?

Foreign policy analysts often talk about geopolitical choices in terms of balancing and bandwagoning: a state can either form alliances with other countries to balance against the threat of a stronger state, or bandwagon with the country that threatens them in the hope that the threat is mitigated by aligning themselves with the more powerful country.

Georgia’s options can seem like a stark choice between Russia and the West: should Georgia balance against Russia and deter the threat by developing closer alliances with Europe and the US, or bandwagon with Russia and forge closer relations with their northern neighbour? Each option has its advocates and detractors. Balancing can be seen as either a rational response to guarantee survival or as unnecessarily antagonistic. Bandwagoning can be seen as either the pragmatic management of geopolitical realities or appeasement and capitulation.

A third option is for Georgia to hedge its bets and strike a path between balancing and bandwagoning between Russia and the West. This risk management strategy may be well-suited for small states caught between Great Powers, including Russia’s neighbours who want to escape the influence of the region’s dominant power and protect themselves from East-West tensions, while working within the constraints of geography. Armenia’s attempts at a ‘multi-vectored’ foreign policy reflect this logic as well as the difficulties of implementation.

In the March 2016 CRRC-Georgia/NDI survey, respondents were asked to choose between four exclusive options: “In your opinion, Georgia's foreign policy should be Pro-Western; Pro-Western, however we should maintain good relations with Russia; Pro-Russian, however we should maintain good relations with the EU and NATO; or Pro-Russian?”. Georgians clearly favour a pro-Western foreign policy but there is a large constituency that does not want to accept a binary choice between the West and Russia. More than two thirds want what amounts to a hedging option, that is, a foreign policy that leans towards one side but without sacrificing good relations with the other side.


In theory, perceived threats to security should be an important determinant of foreign policy preferences in general, and of preferences over balancing, bandwagoning and hedging in particular. As the chart below suggests, Russia is by far the single most commonly identified threat to Georgia.

To test whether threat perceptions are related to these foreign policy preferences, a multinomial regression analysis is used with the above question about foreign preference as the dependent variable, and the threat perception question, in addition to demographic characteristics and domestic political preferences, as the independent variables.

If Georgians have a preference for balancing, there should be an association between identifying Russia as the main threat and a preference for a pro-Western foreign policy orientation that deters that threat, i.e., aligning with the European Union and NATO. The results provide evidence in support of this. As the table shows, those who identify Russia as the main threat are far more likely to support a pro-Western foreign policy (top left quadrant).



If, conversely, Georgians had a preference for bandwagoning, we would see an association between identifying Russia as the main threat and a preference for closer relations with Russia, i.e. a pro-Russian orientation – this is not the case. Contrary to the bandwagoning logic, we do not see support for a pro-Russian foreign policy amongst those who see Russia as the main threat. Rather, it is those who do not identify Russia as the main threat who are more likely to support a pro-Russian foreign policy. Notably, running the model without the threat perception variable made very little difference to the effect of the other variables on foreign policy preference.

However, as noted above, most respondents, when given the option, expressed a preference for a foreign policy that hedged between a purely pro-Western or pro-Russian orientation. The second part of this blog post, which will be published next Monday discusses this in greater depth.

Note: The analysis uses a multinomial logistic regression. The dependent variable is the foreign policy preference. The base category is ‘Pro-Western’. The table shows the predicted probabilities for the following independent variables (with base category in parentheses): threat perception (all responses other than Russia as main threat), education (higher than secondary level), party support (Georgian Dream–Democratic Georgia), and country direction (Georgia is not changing at all). The other independent variables are sex, age group, settlement type, and ethnic minority domain. Party support was recoded into four categories: GD-DG, United National Movement, No party/Don’t know, and Other. Country direction was recoded as wrong direction, right direction, or no change.

Replication code of the full analysis is available here, including alternative model specifications. The data used are available here.  

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Georgia’s Foreign Policy Trilemma: Balance, Bandwagon, or Hedge? Part 2

The first part of this blog post discussed evidence of an association between perceiving Russia as the main threat to Georgia and a preference for a foreign policy that balances against that threat through alliances with the West. The relationship between threat perception and hedging, defined as attempting to maintain good relations with both Russia and the West, is less clear.

A large number of Georgians prefer some form of hedging foreign policy – either a pro-Western policy that maintains good relations with Russia, or a pro-Russian policy that maintains good relations with the West. In absolute terms, the pro-Western hedge group is much larger than the pro-Russian hedge group, and the former is fairly evenly split – 54% to 46% – between those who perceive Russia as the main threat and those who do not. In the pro-Russian hedge group, only 16% identify Russia as the main threat. If we combine all those who expressed a preference for either of the two hedging options – about three quarters of respondents who expressed a foreign policy preference – slightly less than half (44%) identify Russia as the main threat to Georgia (which is about the same as the population as a whole).

Hedging, by design, incorporates the logic of both balancing and bandwagoning. On the one hand, support for the two hedging options mirrors the more uncompromising positions of straight pro-Western or pro-Russian preferences. Identifying Russia as the main threat is positively associated with both a purely pro-Western and pro-Western hedge position as well as negatively associated with both a purely pro-Russian and pro-Russian hedge position.

On the other hand, a hedging strategy seems to be more important for those who do not see Russia as the main threat: this group is more likely to support a pro-Russian policy that also maintains good relations with the West (bottom left quadrant). But those who do see Russia as the main threat seem to prioritise balancing over bandwagoning. At the same time, they are less likely to opt for a policy that maintains good relations with Russia (top right quadrant) than a strictly pro-Western orientation.





Commenting on Serbia’s foreign policy and Belgrade’s attempt to navigate between the West and Russia, a US diplomat once said "You cannot sit on two chairs at the same time, especially if they are that far away." This precarious position for small states is well-known to Georgia and Armenia, and comparing the two cases can be instructive. Georgia and Armenia face similar conditions for reasons of geography and history, and the trilemma of balancing, bandwagoning, and hedging shapes foreign policy choices. Each country risks incurring costs if they lean too far towards the West or towards Russia, and as a matter of self-preservation they have to successfully manage relations with both sides, which also comes with risks. That said, threat perception among their respective publics is very different – Armenians do not see Russia as a threat to the same extent as Georgians – and support for Euro-Atlantic integration is far higher in Georgia.

The intuitive logic of hedging is clearly appealing and it resonates with many Georgians. There is a large domestic constituency in favour of a foreign policy that seeks good relations with both the West and with Russia, especially among the more than 50% who do not identify Russia as the main threat to the country.

The danger, however, of pursuing the best of both worlds is that you end up with the worst of both. Nor should it be forgotten that foreign policy preferences may be explained better by shared identity and values than by threat perception, and that it is a primarily pro-Western policy that also maintains good relations with Russia, and not vice versa, that commands the greatest support among Georgians.

Confronted with multiple competing demands and challenges – from strong public and elite support for greater Euro-Atlantic integration to the persistent tensions between the West and Russia and, not least, the ongoing presence of the Russian military on Georgian territory – Georgia’s politicians and diplomats have their work cut out as they navigate a tough geopolitical neighbourhood.

Note: The analysis uses a multinomial logistic regression. The dependent variable is the foreign policy preference. The base category is ‘Pro-Western’. The table shows the predicted probabilities for the following independent variables (with base category in parentheses): threat perception (all responses other than Russia as main threat), education (higher than secondary level), party support (Georgian Dream–Democratic Georgia), and country direction (Georgia is not changing at all). The other independent variables are sex, age group, settlement type, and ethnic minority domain. Party support was recoded into four categories: GD-DG, United National Movement, No party/Don’t know, and Other. Country direction was recoded as wrong direction, right direction, or no change.

Replication code of the full analysis is available here, including alternative model specifications. The data used are available here.  

Monday, December 23, 2019

Who believes Georgia will regain its territorial integrity?

Territorial integrity is frequently cited by Georgians as one of the most important national issues, but the relative salience of Georgia’s territorial conflicts has declined since the 2008 Georgian-Russian war. Evidence from the 2013 Caucasus Barometer suggests that there is a high level of uncertainty about when or if the conflicts will be resolved and that there is little public support for any type of settlement involving less than the full restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity (such as high levels of autonomy for Abkhazia or a confederation state).

Georgians are split in their expectations about whether the country’s territorial integrity will be restored: when asked in the March 2018 CRRC-Georgia/NDI survey whether they agree or disagree that Georgia’s territorial integrity will be restored in the next 15 years, 35% agreed and 38% disagreed (the rest didn’t know or refused to answer). What might explain this variation in attitudes towards the future of Georgia’s territorial integrity? To find out what predicts these attitudes, this blog uses multinomial logistic regression analyses and data from the March 2018 CRRC-Georgia/NDI survey.

Beliefs about whether territorial integrity will be restored are likely to be related to a more general optimistic or pessimistic outlook on Georgia’s prospects: it is plausible to assume that people who think the country is going in the right direction are more likely to agree that territorial integrity will be restored and vice versa. Evidence from the analysis supports this: a person who believes that Georgia is going in the right direction is more likely to agree that territorial integrity will be restored compared to someone who believes that Georgia is not changing at all, and a person who believes that Georgia is going in the wrong direction or not changing at all is more likely to disagree that territorial integrity will be restored.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the analysis also suggests that support for joining the European Union and NATO and a belief that US military assistance to Georgia has increased are good predictors of a belief that territorial integrity will be restored. Even controlling for a general attitude about the direction in which Georgia is going, respondents who approve of the government’s aim to join NATO and the EU and who believe that US military assistance has increased are more likely to say they agree that territorial integrity will be restored.

Support for joining the EU and NATO are highly correlated, so two separate models were run – one using a question on approval of NATO membership, and one using a question on approval of EU membership. In model 1, approval of joining NATO is positively associated with a belief that territorial integrity will be restored. Those who believe US military assistance has increased are also more likely to have this belief. In model 2, which includes the question on EU rather than NATO membership, we see a similar pattern: support for EU membership and a belief that US military assistance has increased are both positively associated with a belief that Georgia’s territorial integrity will be restored. The effect of NATO support on believing territorial integrity will be restored is stronger than the effect of EU support on this belief.





It should be noted that the absolute number of respondents who believe that US military assistance has increased is quite small (19%). Still, 50% of this group believe that Georgia’s territorial integrity will be restored. Another variable from a question relating to defence issues provides some further insights. In both models, a belief that Georgia’s defence capabilities have worsened is associated with being less likely to agree that territorial integrity will be restored compared to those who believe those capabilities have stayed the same. However, believing that Georgia’s defence capabilities have improved is not associated with agreeing that territorial integrity will be restored.

One possible interpretation of these findings is that attitudes about the prospects for territorial integrity are not about military capabilities per se, or about international alliances and Euro-Atlantic integration alone, but more specifically about external military support. While the association between support for EU membership and believing territorial integrity will be restored may cast doubt on this interpretation, there is some evidence from the same survey that people support EU membership not only because of the potential economic benefits, but also for the prospects of greater security and, albeit to a far lesser extent, as a way of helping restore territorial integrity. However, respondents were not asked how they thought territorial integrity would be restored (or what would prevent it from being restored), so it is not possible to draw such conclusions from this survey and further research is necessary to fully explain these attitudes.

Note: The analysis uses multinomial logistic regression. The dependent variable is belief in whether territorial integrity will be restored in 15 years (‘Agree’, ‘Disagree’, ‘Don’t Know’). The base category is ‘Don’t Know’. The tables show the predicted probabilities for the following independent variables (with base category in parentheses): political direction the country is going in (no change), EITHER approval/disapproval of the government’s goal to join the EU (don’t know) OR approval/disapproval of the government’s goal to join NATO (don’t know), if Georgian defence capabilities have improved/worsened (stayed the same), if US military assistance to Georgia has increased/decreased (stayed the same). The other independent variables are sex, age group, settlement type, ethnic minority domain, and party support. The following variables were recoded as dummy variables and tetrachoric correlation was used to test the extent to which pairs of variables were correlated with each other: approval/disapproval of NATO membership, approval/disapproval of EU membership, country direction, US military assistance, and Georgian defence capabilities. The relatively high correlation between support for NATO and EU membership meant that they were not used in the same regression. All other pairs are independent of each other. 

Replication code of the full analysis is available here. The data used are available here.  


Monday, December 16, 2019

Perceptions of healthcare quality in Georgia

Affordable healthcare remains one of the main national issues for people in Georgia: 18% of people considered it one of the most important issues in the July 2019 CRRC and NDI survey. The salience of this issue was at its highest in 2012 (35%), and has decreased over the years, particularly in light of the passage of the universal health insurance program. Nonetheless, affordable healthcare remains one of the most important issues for the public and particularly the cost of medicine, which is one of the three largest costs for over a third of families in Georgia. In this regard, it is unsurprising that over half of the population name the cost of medicine or the cost of care/doctor visits as the largest ones facing the healthcare system in Georgia. The second most common issue, which 24% of respondents named on the question about issues in the healthcare system, was a concern over the lack of professionalism of doctors and medical personnel, something associated with the quality of care.

At some level, people have contradictory attitudes towards the quality of care in Georgia. For instance, the majority of people in Georgia (71%) are satisfied with the quality of healthcare. Moreover, the majority of the population (79%) trusts the medical diagnoses that doctors give in Georgia.  At the same time, every other person reports that if they were in need of complicated surgery or treatment, they would prefer to have it done abroad instead of in Georgia.

Further analysis of the above questions suggests that assessments of the universal healthcare program, ethnicity, and age are related to people’s satisfaction with quality of care. People who assess the universal healthcare program positively are more likely to be satisfied with the quality of healthcare in Georgia. Similarly, ethnic minorities and people between the ages of 35 and 54 are more likely to be satisfied than ethnic Georgians and younger people (18-34). Aside from demographics, people who do not trust diagnoses are more likely to be dissatisfied with the quality of the healthcare as are people who report that they felt like doctors prescribed medicine for personal financial gain.




 As with the previous analyses, a number of factors predict whether or not someone wants to seek treatment abroad, including education level, wealth, ethnicity, and age. Wealthier people are more likely to prefer to have surgery done abroad than in Georgia. Ethnic Georgians, young people, and people who have higher than secondary education are also more likely to prefer having surgery done abroad. As in the previous analysis, attitudes like trust in diagnoses and satisfaction with healthcare quality are also associated with preferences for treatment/surgery abroad. People who distrust diagnoses that doctors give in Georgia and people who are not satisfied with the quality of healthcare in Georgia are more likely to report that they would prefer surgery to be done abroad. The same is true of people who felt that doctors prescribed medicine they did not need for personal financial gain.




The above analyses lead to a number of conclusions. First, people’s satisfaction with the quality of healthcare is associated with their attitudes towards other aspects of the healthcare system in Georgia. Second, ethnic Georgians, wealthy people, and young people perceive a lower quality of healthcare. Third, people’s views are contradictory. On the one hand, they express satisfaction with the quality of care, while related questions suggest there are issues with healthcare quality.

Note: The data in the above analysis and replication code for the above analysis is available here and here. The analysis uses a logistic regression, which includes the variables depicted in the graphs above.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Optimism Regarding EU membership is decreasing

Georgia is not a candidate for membership in the European Union (EU), but the government has the stated goal of joining the EU when the country is ready for it. According to the Knowledge of and Attitudes towards the EU in Georgia survey (EU Survey) CRRC-Georgia conducted in spring 2019 for Europe Foundation, 71% of the population of Georgia would vote for EU membership if a referendum were held tomorrow. Only 10% would vote against it and 7% would not vote at all. While support for joining the EU is clearly high, people are increasingly pessimistic about how long it will take Georgia to join.

Since 2009, the EU Survey has asked respondents, “When will Georgia join the EU, in 5 years or less, in 6-10 years, in more than 10 years, or never?”  The chart below shows that optimism regarding joining the EU is declining. Respondents who think that Georgia will join the EU in 5 years or less has declined from 30% in 2009 to 15% in 2019. Furthermore, the share of respondents who think that Georgia will join the EU in more than 10 years and those who think that Georgia will never join the EU has increased from 10% in 2009 to 19% in 2019 and 1% in 2009 and 11% in 2019, respectively. Consequently, the data suggest that optimism on this issue is on the decline.



To understand the current situation, further analysis of the 2019 wave of the EU survey was conducted. The analyses shows sex, age, settlement type, and education level are associated with people’s outlooks. Generally, people older than 55 are less likely to be optimistic regarding Georgia joining the EU than people from 18 to 35 years old. Female respondents are less pessimistic compared to male respondents.

Aside from demographics, party preferences could also reasonably be tied to people’s expectations as positive assessments about a number of issues are tied to whether or not people support the party in power (e.g. see here and here). The data suggest that people who report not knowing or refuse to answer the question about the party closest to them are less optimistic than GD Supporters. UNM, Alliance of Patriots Supporters, and supporters of no party are also more pessimistic than GD supporters.






Note: On the above chart, base categories for each variable are as follows: male, 18-34 age group, Rural, Georgian ethnicity, higher than secondary education, and Georgian Dream supporter. The category “No party” consists of individuals that responded none when asked which party was closest to them. The category “other party” consists of individuals who named other parties not categorized above. 

Optimism over Georgia joining the EU is declining, and this decline started after 2013. People older than 55, people who support no party, the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, and UNM supporters are more pessimistic regarding this issue than GD supporters.

Note: The above analysis is based on a multinomial logistic regression analysis, where the dependent variable is optimism over Georgia joining the EU which is measured through the question “When will Georgia join the EU?” The independent variables are party support, gender, age group, ethnicity, settlement type, and education. The data used in the blog is available here. Replication code of the above data analysis is available here.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Who thinks the EU is a threat to Georgian culture?

[Note: This article was originally published in partnership with OC-Media, and is available here.]

If a referendum were held tomorrow, 71% of Georgians would vote for the country to join the European Union according to CRRC Georgia and Europe Foundation’s 2019 survey on Knowledge of and Attitudes towards the European Union in Georgia (EU Survey). 

Clearly, a large share of the public supports the country’s integration into European structures. Still, over a quarter of Georgians are against the country joining the EU.

One reason that is often talked about in this regard is that some suggest the European Union poses a threat to Georgia’s culture and traditions. Further analysis of the EU survey suggests that this sentiment has been on the rise over the last ten years, and is associated with lower levels of support for Georgia joining the EU.

This suggests that if the Government of Georgia and EU want to build a greater societal consensus on the country’s Western integration, demonstrating that the EU is not a threat to Georgian culture and traditions matters.

Respondents to the EU survey have been asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement that the EU threatens Georgian traditions since the survey started in 2009. The share who disagree with this statement has changed relatively little over the years: 48% disagreed with the statement in 2009 and 46% did in 2019. The only exception was in 2015 when there was a 9 percentage point dip in disagreement and 15 percentage point increase in agreement with the statement.

While disagreement with the idea has been stable, uncertainty has declined and agreement with the idea that the EU poses a threat to Georgian traditions has been on the rise. 

In 2009, 28% of the public responded don’t know or refused to answer the question. Only 12% did in 2019. In 2009, only 23% of the public thought that the EU posed a threat to Georgian traditions. In contrast, 42% did in 2019. The decline in uncertainty and rising threat perception suggests that many people’s attitudes have formed in recent years.




Note: On the above chart, the agree category is composed of response options ‘agree’ and ‘agree more than disagree’. The disagree category is composed of response options ‘disagree’ and ‘disagree more than agree’.

Further analysis of the 2019 wave of the survey suggests that a number of groups are more likely to think that the EU represents a threat. Men, people in rural areas, those with vocational education, and ethnic Georgians are all significantly more likely to think the EU is a threat to Georgian tradition.

In contrast, age was not a significant predictor of whether or not someone perceived the EU as a threat, all else equal.



Although the perception that the EU is a threat to Georgian tradition is on the rise, most people who perceive it as threat still support Georgia’s potential membership in the European Union (65%). This compares to 76% of people who support EU membership and do not perceive the EU as a threat to Georgian culture.

A further analysis testing for an association between the perceived threat to culture and whether or not someone would vote for EU membership suggests that, controlling for the above demographic factors, perceiving the EU as a threat is associated with a 15 percentage point lower chance of reporting that one would vote for EU membership if an election were held tomorrow.

The data shows that the public is increasingly worried that the EU is a threat to Georgian culture. It also suggests that efforts at assuaging fears related to threats to tradition should focus on people in rural areas, people with vocational education, and ethnic Georgians.

While the perception of the EU as a threat to Georgian culture is present, most who perceive this threat still would support the country’s membership in the EU.

Nonetheless, attitudes change, and if relevant actors want to ensure that Georgian society maintains its pro-Western orientation, demonstrating that the EU is not a threat should be a priority.

Note: The second chart in this blog is based on a logistic regression analysis. The analysis compared individuals who agreed with the statement to all other individuals in the sample, except those who refused to answer the question. The analysis included age group, sex, settlement type, ethnicity, and education level. The data used in the above analysis can be found here. The replication code for the above analysis can be found here.

Dustin Gilbreath is the Deputy Research Director at CRRC-Georgia. The views presented in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia or any related entity.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Attitudes towards the new banking regulations

The share of the public with loans from formal financial institutions doubled from 2011 to 2016 according to World Bank Group’s analysis based on Integrated Household Survey in Georgia. The July 2019 CRRC/NDI survey data suggests that about half of the population has a loan. To address perceived over-indebtedness, on 1 January, 2019 the National Bank of Georgia introduced new regulations, restricting lending without more extensive analysis of a consumer’s solvency. The analysis includes looking at an individual’s income, expenses and total obligations, and determination of debtors’ capacity to service their loans without significant financial difficulties.

But, what does the public think about the new regulations?

Almost half of the population approves of the new regulations, a third disapproves, and the remainder are uncertain or did not respond to the question. Considering that the Georgian Dream introduced the regulation it is unsurprising that Georgian Dream supporters have a more favorable view of the legislation than people who identify with the United National Movement (UNM). People who identify with liberal parties or support no party at all are less likely to approve of the new regulations compared to GD supporters. Apart from party support there are no significant differences between different social and demographic groups. Nor is there any significant difference in approval between people who have and do not have loans.





Although every second person in Georgia has a loan, the data suggests that having a loan is not associated with approval of the new regulations. However, support for different parties is. Those who identify with UNM, liberal parties or no party are less likely to approve the regulations compared to ruling party’s supporters.

Note: This blog post is based on a binary logistic regression analysis. The analysis includes having a loan or not, age group, settlement type, education level, party support, and employment status. The party support variable is coded as follows. The category “No party” consists of individuals that responded none or don’t know when asked which party was closest to them. The liberal group consists of New Rights, Bakradze-Ugulava - European Georgia, the Republican Party, the Free Democrats, the New Political Center – Girchi, the Movement State for the People, Political Platform - New Georgia, European Democrats, and Development Movement. The other grouping consists of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, Free Georgia, Democratic Movement – United Georgia, Left Alliance, Industry will save Georgia/Industrialists, the Georgian Conservative Party, the Georgian Labor Party, the Unity of Georgian Traditionalists, Tamaz Mechiauri for United Georgia, and Georgian Troupe. The data this blog post is based on is available here. The replication code for the above analysis is available here.