On mentioning Georgia, the first city that comes to mind is Tbilisi but a close second is the port city of Batumi. While Batumi might not be the most famous city in Europe, but it is appreciated as a major tourist attraction by those visiting Georgia. The attention is natural, for Batumi is the second largest city in the country and boasts of a beautiful water front that sits on the Black Sea. Its wide variety of beautiful hotels and restaurants serve many cuisines and allow visitors to enjoy the breath-taking views the port city has to offer. Batumi also plays host to many international events which bring people from the world over to its doors.
Hidden beneath this beautiful veil is another reality as well, made especially apparent by the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. As the conflict began, ports along the Black Sea took on center stage as the key nodes to fight for. Odessa was the stage for a massive and destructive battle between the two side. The ferocity with which the two sides fought for the city made it clear that these ports were worth fighting and dying for.
This ties into Batumi in two ways. For starters, access to Batumi for Russia would be a significant break through for the nation as its army attempts to protect Crimea from the Ukrainian counter-offensive. On the other hand, if European nations have military access to Batumi it could spell the end of Russia’s time in the occupied territory of Crimea. The current geopolitical climate in Georgia is such that the nation is in the midst of picking between the EU and Russia. With Georgia’s application for EU membership up for review by the end of 2023, the ramifications of that decision could be significant for the future of Batumi and Georgia on the whole.
Georgia itself shares a shaky history with Russia after fighting a brief but bloody war against them in 2008. Russia still lays claim to Georgian territories that it annexed. Considering this and the popular opinion of the masses, Georgia should be siding with the west. This could be put into question though if Georgia’s EU membership is under question.
Regardless of which side the wind sways towards, Batumi will likely be of great significance to Georgia in the times to come. Batumi will serve as a major tourism and cultural center but also play a significant role in the future of the conflict that engulfs the region. The port city has already shown its significance as a trading outpost and has denied access to the Russian navy at one point after the conflict with Ukraine began. It has also played host to US naval patrols in the past and is recognized as a strategic port city by all parties involved.
The mayor of Batumi, Archil Chikovani recognizes the significance of his city. His understanding of Batumi’s cultural, economic and geopolitical significance is apparent in the steps he has been taking to boost Batumi’s image and viability in the region. In June, he was seen in Lugano with mayor Michele Foletti, signing a statement of intention. This allows the Batumi to have close cooperative ties with the Swiss city. He was also seen in Vienna representing Batumi at the Green Cities Annual Conference in oct 2022. Chikovani’s efforts have progressively drawn more attention towards the port city and highlighted its strategic significance, not just to Georgia but to the entire region.