Russia winning in Georgia - Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs publication about Georgia
The authoritative American publication Foreign Affairs published an article about Georgia, which says that the Georgian government is building an authoritarian state similar to Russia, and it is winning in Georgia.
What is written in the article:
● While the US and its NATO allies have focused their attention on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, Russia’s attempts to bring another country into its orbit have largely gone unnoticed.
● The US and its European allies must prevent Georgia from joining the Russian camp. As long as Ivanishvili and his party rule Georgia, EU membership is unthinkable.
● The people of Georgia generally support accession to the European Union and NATO. This desire intensified after Moscow’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, when Russia occupied 20 percent of Georgia’s territory. However, not only did Georgia’s current leaders fail to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression, but they stepped up anti-Western propaganda and earned Moscow’s praise for not joining Western sanctions and trade restrictions on Russia and following the Russian style of repression.
- “People want Europe, not Russia” – Georgian President’s speech in Parliament
- Reform process in Georgia stalled – PACE on Georgia
- EU foreign ministers demand sanctions against oligarchs in Georgia and Moldova – POLITICO
● Georgian authorities tried in March to pass a law that would recognize pro-Western and pro-democracy civil society organizations as “agents of foreign influence.”
● Tbilisi’s apparent slide into authoritarianism is all the more worrisome given that it is largely being done by one man, the former head of the ruling Georgian Dream party, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.
● As the founder and former chairman of Georgian Dream, a growing pro-Russian populist party that has taken full control of Georgia’s state institutions, Ivanishvili has been running the country through proxies for the past ten years.
● Ivanishvili, who made his initial fortune in Russia, fears that attempting to meet the democratic criteria for Georgia’s EU integration could jeopardize his hold on Georgian institutions and government, and therefore vehemently opposes closer ties with Europe in favor of an agreement with Moscow.
● Like the ruling parties in Hungary and Russia, Georgian Dream has used institutions to maintain and expand its power through successive elections. Ivanishvili also used this control to strengthen ties with Moscow.
● To weaken Russian control over Georgia, the US and its allies should support the Georgian democratic opposition and take action against Ivanishvili and any Georgian companies helping Russia evade sanctions. It’s time for the US and its allies to impose sanctions on members of the Georgian government.
● Two decades ago, Georgia was a model for the transition of the former Soviet republics to a democratic system. After the Rose Revolution of 2003, when a series of demonstrations erupted over disputed parliamentary elections that led to the overthrow of Georgia’s kleptocratic government, Georgia’s third president, Mikheil Saakashvili, introduced important reforms. For the first time, a government started working for its people in a timely manner, as the new government kick-started the economy and drastically reduced corruption. But after a few years, Saakashvili began to abide less by democratic norms.
- “The door to the 3+3 format remains open for Georgia” – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
- Posters, slogans and jokes at Georgia protests. Photos
● The rise of the Georgian Dream coincided with Moscow’s attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine back under its influence. These efforts were first made in 2008, when both Georgia and Ukraine were joining the West in an attempt to join the European Union and NATO. For Moscow, these steps were a direct threat, and it sought to block them at all costs. After invading Georgia in 2008 and eastern Ukraine in 2014, the Russian government made the Georgian Dream party a sort of agent in Tbilisi.
● In the wake of the war in Ukraine, Finland joined NATO, Sweden plans to follow Finland’s lead, and Ukraine and Moldova have applied for accelerated membership with the EU. However, due to the apparent strengthening of the “pro-Russian” orientation of the Georgian Dream, Georgia was excluded.
● While other countries on Russia’s periphery tried desperately to join Western institutions, Georgia did not. European leaders are concerned about the rise in anti-Western rhetoric and Georgian Dream politics.
● In 2022, when the EU was deciding whether to grant Georgia candidate status, the country’s authorities arrested Nika Gvaramia, CEO of an independent Georgian media outlet, for embezzlement of the assets of a popular TV channel and abuse of office. It violates EU rules, media freedom standards. Organizations, including Amnesty International, called the allegations politically motivated. This move effectively ended consideration of the country’s candidate status, at least in the short term.
● The Georgian Dream government arrested Mikheil Saakashvili upon his return to Georgia in 2021 and charged him with abuse of power. “Russian agents” poisoned him in prison, and in February 2023, EU member states expressed concern about Saakashvili’s deteriorating health.
● The treatment of Georgia’s former president is yet another attempt by Georgian Dream to undermine the rule of law and thereby undermine Georgia’s chances of integrating with the West.
● In February 2022, Georgia refused to support Western sanctions against Moscow and actually boasted that it saw new opportunities to increase exports to Russia. There is also evidence that the Georgian Dream government is helping Russia avoid Western sanctions.
● Ukrainian intelligence agencies have publicly accused the Georgian government of negotiating with Moscow to smuggle Western civilian and military goods into Russia. Georgia’s imports from the EU have skyrocketed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, raising suspicions that Russia is using Georgia to evade sanctions.
- “Nobody needed this law on agents, it could have only come to be at Moscow’s behest” – President of Georgia
- What is the procedure for recalling foreign agents bill in Georgia – comment by a lawyer
● In January 2023, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov publicly praised the Georgian government for not joining the sanctions against Russia and for “resisting pressure from the West.” In March 2022, Grigory Karasin, the Kremlin’s representative for informal dialogue with Tbilisi, said that Georgia’s “balanced” position on sanctions “will not go unnoticed” in Moscow.
● Although the political opposition to Georgian Dream was fragmented and weak – due to years of illegal government surveillance, blackmail and media control – many Georgians reacted strongly to the proposal to outlaw so-called foreign agents. Mass demonstrations began across the country which managed to attract the attention of Western media.
● Georgian Dream leaders believe that as long as their party remains in power, the country will be safe. This message resonates with a section of Georgian society that is not pro-Russian at all, but is concerned for its security and fears that the war in Ukraine will continue in their country.
● Instead of punishing the whole country, a better strategy would be to add Ivanishvili and his wealth to the list of Western sanctions. On April 5, 2023, the State Department sanctioned four high-ranking Georgian judges for corruption, a move rare in US-Georgia relations that will likely serve as a warning to Ivanishvili and other Georgian Dream officials that they could be next.
● The United States and its allies should also apply secondary sanctions against Georgian companies and organizations that help Russia evade sanctions.
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● Faced with massive protests against the law on foreign agents, Georgian Dream repealed the law, but it can be re-enacted at any time, and the government likely figured it could gradually cool the opposition and then continue with its plan.
● Georgia’s civil society remains firmly committed to a Euro-Atlantic future and, with adequate Western support, can prevent Moscow from crossing the country’s borders and interfering in its affairs.
● Georgians were among the first victims of Russian post-Soviet imperialism, whose warnings in 2008 went unheeded. This time, their opinion should be heeded if the West is not ready to allow Russia to completely take over this endangered democracy.