Poti (ფოთი) is a port city in Georgia, located on the eastern Black Sea coast in the region of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti in the west of the country. Built near the site of ancient Greek colony of Phasis, the city has become major port city and industrial center since the early 20th century. It is also a home to a main naval base and headquarters of the Georgian navy. The Poti port area is planned to become a free economic zone within the framework of a Georgian-United Arab Emirates project inaugurated in April 2008.
After many years of uncertainty and academic debate, the site of this settlement now seems to be established, thanks to underwater archaeology under tough conditions. Apparently the lake which the well-informed Ancient Greek author Strabo reported as bounding one side of Phasis has now engulfed it, or part of it. Yet, a series of questions regarding the town’s exact location and identification of its ruins remains open due largely to the centuries-long geomorphologic processes of the area as the lower reaches of the Rioni are prone to changes of course across the wetland. Phasis appears to have been an important center of trade and culture in Colchis throughout the Classical period. The section along the river Phasis was a vital component of the presumed trade route from India to the Black Sea, attested by Strabo and Pliny.
Between the 6th and 2nd centuries BC, the town played an active role in these contacts. During the Third Mithridatic War, Phasis came under the Roman control. It was where the Roman commander-in-chief Pompey, having crossed into Colchis from Iberia, met the legate Servilius, the admiral of his Euxine fleet in 65 BC. After the introduction of Christianity, Phasis was a seat of a Greek diocese one of whose bishops, Cyrus, became a Patriarch of Alexandria between 630 and 641 AD. During the Lazic War between the Eastern Roman and Sassanid Iranian empires (542-562) Phasis was attacked, unsuccessfully, by the Iranian troops.
In the 8th century, the name Poti enters the Georgian written sources. It remained a place of a maritime trade within the Kingdom of Georgia and was known to medieval European travelers as Fasso. In the 14th century, the Genoese established a trading factory, which proved to be short-lived.
In 1578, Poti was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The Turks, who knew the town as Faş, heavily fortified it and made it into one of their Caucasian outposts which was also home to a great slave market. A combined army of the western Georgian princes recovered Poti in 1640, but the town fell under the Ottoman sway again in 1723. Another futile attempt to dispossess the Ottomans of Poti was made by Russo-Georgian forces in 1770 and 1771. Once Russia took control of most of principal Georgian lands in the 1800s, it again attempted to evict the Turkish garrison from Poti and succeeded in doing so with the help of Georgian irregulars in 1809, but was coerced to return the fortress to the Ottomans in the Treaty of Bucharest (1812). The next Russo-Turkish War resulted in the gain of Poti by Russia. The town was subordinated to the Governorate of Kutais and granted the status of a port town in 1858. The seaport was reconstructed between 1863 and 1905. In 1872, the town became the terminus of the Caucasian railway, whence the line led direct to Tiflis (Tbilisi).
Poti particularly grew in size and importance during the mayorship of Niko Nikoladze between 1894 and 1912. Considered to be the founding father of a modern Poti, Nikoladze presided over a series of modernizing and construction projects, including a drama theatre, large cathedral, 2 gymnasiums, electric station, an oil refinery, etc. By 1900, Poti had become one of the major ports on the Black Sea, exporting most of Georgia’s manganese and coal. During the First Russian Revolution, Poti became a scene of workers’ strikes and barricade fighting in December 1905. During the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing Russian Civil War, Poti was Georgia’s principal window to Europe, also serving as the portal of entry for successive German and British expeditionary forces. On May 28, 1918, a German-Georgian preliminary treaty of alliance was signed at Poti. On March 14, 1921, Poti was occupied by the invading Red Armies of Soviet Russia which installed a Soviet government in Georgia. During the Soviet era, Poti retained its principal function of a seaport and the town was further industrialized and militarized.
During the 2008 South Ossetia war Russian aircraft attacked the port. Although a ceasefire was declared on August 12, on the following day Al Jazeera reported "more and more Russian troops coming into the area" plus the destruction of several Georgian vessels.
On August 23, 2008, the Russians pulled out of most of Georgia following a peace deal to end the South Ossetia war. Russia has continued to keep a military presence in Poti, which they argue is within the remit of the peace agreement; many western nations on the other hand have stated this contradicts the terms.
Service and food industry represent the most important sectors of the economy. The Poti Sea Port (7.7 million tons per annum) is operational. The railway to Tbilisi makes this a more useful port than the natural harbor at Batumi.
In April 2008, Georgia sold a 51% stake of the Poti port to the Investment Authority of the UAE’s Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) emirate to develop a free economic zone (FEZ) in a 49-year management concession, and to manage a new port terminal. The creation of a new FEZ was officially inaugurated by the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili on April 15, 2008.
The Poti naval base was organized by the Soviet government in July 1941, a month after the German invasion during World War II. Commanded by the major-general Mikhail Kumanin, the base operated as a part of the Black Sea Fleet and included 2 submarine divisions, a torpedo boat division, coastal guard boat division, 2 minesweepers, 4 coastal and 6 missile batteries, etc. After the German capture of Sevastopol and Novorossiysk in 1942, several destroyers were transferred to be based at Poti which, together with another Georgian port city of Batumi functioned as a secondary harbor in the Black Sea Campaigns (1941-44). By the early 1990s, the Poti base had accommodated several smaller units of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, but became essentially defunct after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In December 1992, Russia withdrew all its vessels and ammunition from the Poti naval base, but an ethnic Georgian commander of one landing ship refused to obey Moscow’s order and displayed a Georgian flag. At almost the same time, the Georgian government created a Joint Naval Brigade, consisting of several boats, a battalion of marines, an artillery division and a communication detachment. Since then, the Brigade has been enlarged and reequipped with the help of the NATO-member states.
On October 9, 1993, a war-torn Georgia had to legalize the Russian military presence in the country, and lease, among other military facilities, the Poti base to the Russian navy. However, Georgia continued, though fruitlessly, to claim the vessels formerly stationed at Poti as a part of a tripartite Russo-Ukrainian-Georgian dispute over the Soviet Black Sea Fleet shares. By September 1998, the Russian military personnel had been withdrawn from Poti to then-Russian base at Batumi under a Russo-Georgian agreement signed earlier that year.
Currently, Poti is a military facility assignment to several of Georgia’s units. These are the headquarters and main base of the Georgian navy, a primary naval logistic support base, a station of a naval squadron, and barracks for a separate light infantry battalion of the Georgian Ground Forces.