The Red Army invasion of Georgia also known as the Soviet—Georgian War or the Soviet invasion of Georgia(15 February – 17 March 1921) was a military campaign by the Soviet Russian (RSFSR) Red Army against the Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG) aimed at overthrowing the local Social-Democratic (Menshevik) government and installing theBolshevik regime in the country. The conflict was a result of expansionist policy by the Soviets, who aimed at control of the same territories which had been part of Imperial Russia until the turbulent events of World War I, as well as the revolutionary efforts of mostly Russia-based Georgian Bolshevik elite, who did not enjoy sufficient support in their native country to seize power without foreign intervention.
Georgia effectively escaped Russian control in the chaotic aftermath of the February Revolution in Russia in 1917. After an abortive attempt to unite with Armenia and Azerbaijan into a federative state, Georgian leaders proclaimed the country’s independence as the Democratic Republic of Georgia on 26 May 1918. Through sporadic conflicts with its neighbors and occasional outbreaks of civil strife, Georgia managed to maintain its precarious independence and achieved more or less firm control over its newly established borders in the troubled years of the Russian Civil War.
Despite relatively high public support and some successful reforms, the Social Democratic leadership of Georgia failed to create a stable economy and build a strong and disciplined army that could be able to oppose an invasion. Although there were a significant number of highly qualified officers who had served in the Imperial Russian military, the army was underfed and poorly equipped. A parallel military structure, the People’s Guard of Georgia, was recruited from the members of the Menshevik Party, and was hence more honored and disciplined, but dominated by party functionaries and highly politicized.
The tactics used by the Soviets to gain control of Georgia were similar to those applied in Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1920, i.e., to send in the Red Army while encouraging local Bolsheviks to stage unrest. However, this policy was rather difficult to implement in Georgia, where the Communist party did not enjoy popular support and remained an isolated political force.
On the night of 11 to 12 February 1921, with the instigation of Ordzhonikidze, the Bolsheviks attacked local Georgian military posts in the ethnic Armenian district of Lorri and the nearby village of Shulaveri, near the Armenian and Azerbaijani borders. The Armenia-based Red Army units quickly came to an aid of the insurrection, though without Moscow’s formal approval. When the Georgian government protested to the Soviet envoy in Tbilisi, Aron Sheinman, about the incidents, he denied any Russian involvement and declared that any disturbances which might be taking place must be a spontaneous revolt by the Armenian communists. Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks had already set up a Georgian Revolutionary Committee (Georgian Revkom) in Shulaveri, a body that would soon acquire the functions of a rival government. Chaired by a Georgian Bolshevik Filipp Makharadze, the Revkom formally applied to Moscow for help.
Disturbances erupted also in the town of Dusheti and among Ossetians in northeast Georgia who resented the Georgian government’s refusal to grant them autonomy. Georgian forces managed to contain the disorders in some areas, but the preparations for a Soviet intervention were already being set in train. When the Georgian army moved to Lorri to crush the revolt, Lenin finally gave in to the repeated requests of Stalin and Ordzhonikidze to allow the Red Army to invade Georgia, on the pretext of aiding a staged uprising, and establish Bolshevik power. An ultimate decision was made on the 14 February meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party:
“ The Central Committee is inclined to allow the 11th Army to give active support to the uprising in Georgia and to occupy Tiflis provided that international norms are observed, and on condition that all members of the Military Revolutionary Council of the Eleventh Army, after a thorough review of all information, guarantee success. We give warning that we are having to go without bread for want of transport and that we shall therefore not let you have a single locomotive or railway track. We are compelled to transport nothing from the Caucasus but grain and oil. We require an immediate answer by direct line signed by all members of the Military Revolutionary Council of the Eleventh Army. ”
Yet, the decision to support the invasion was not unanimous. It was opposed by Karl Radek and was held secret from Trotsky who was in the Ural area at that time. The latter was so upset by the news of the Central Committee decision and Ordzhonikidze’s role in engineering it that on his return to Moscow he demanded, though fruitlessly, the set up of a special party commission to investigate the affair.Later Trotsky would reconcile himself to the accomplished fact and even defended the invasion in a special pamphlet.
On 21 July 2010, Georgia declared 25 February Soviet Occupation Day to recall the Red Army invasion in 1921. The Georgian parliament voted in favor of the government’s initiative. The decision, endorsed unanimously by the Parliament of Georgia instructs the government to organize various memorial events on every 25 February and to fly national flag half-mast to commemorate, as the decision puts it, hundreds of thousands of victims of political repressions of Communist occupational regime.