Emancipation prohibited | Russia wants to stifle Georgia’s pro

Georgia, a small ex-Soviet republic located in the Eurasian Caucasus mountain region, is in the grip of an existential dilemma. The population of this nation is strongly aligned on pro-European and pro-Atlantic positions, but the reasons from the realpolitik they are forcing the executive in Tbilisi to deal with a cumbersome neighbour: Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Bilateral relations with Moscow were wiped out by the blitzkrieg that broke out in 2008 and ended with the Kremlin’s victory. On that occasion, which in some ways recalls the events in Ukraine, Russian troops invaded Georgia and occupied twenty percent of its territory to get their hands on two Russian-speaking breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia , and to put an end to the rapprochement of the then Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili with the West.

The Russia, as remembered from Center for Strategic & International Studiesbelieves that Tbilisi’s pro-European and Atlanticist overtures pose a threat to national security, and President Putin regards Georgia as an integral part of his sphere of influence. The Kremlin’s goal is to demolish Georgian aspirations by making Moscow the sole guarantor of security.

However, the population was not impressed. A survey, carried out in 2021 by the National Democratic Institute, certified that support for Georgia’s entry into the EU and NATO has reached its maximum with, respectively, eighty and seventy-four percent in favour. Tbilisi has also carried out cooperation projects with the United States consisting of the supply of equipment and participation in military exercises.

In the last ten years something has changed in Georgia and this change, which should worry the European Union, concerns the political framework. The defeat of the Saakashvili government in the 2011 elections brought to power the Georgian Dream, a party led by oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili which, over the years, has shifted its political orientation towards Moscow.

Tbilisi has struggled to condemn the annexation of Crimea in 2014, prevented Georgian volunteers from taking part in the conflict in Donbas, facilitated the release of some pro-Russian officials and gave visa-free access to Russian citizens wishing to visit the Georgia. The political opposition has been subjected to persecution and internal reforms, much to the chagrin of Brussels, have entered a problematic stalemate.

Ivanishvili is Georgia’s most powerful oligarch and the party he founded has governed the country for ten years. The oligarch, who has abandoned all public and institutional office, is considered the gray eminence of power in Georgia and, according to analysts of the Balkans and Caucasus Observatory, would be able to appoint and dismiss premiers, ministers as well as guide the course of the country’s foreign policy.

The Georgian government, for example, has decided not to impose sanctions on Russia and, in recent months, has issued statements that place it in conflict with Kyjiv and the partner westerners. Ivanishvili himself would have important economic interests in the Russian Federation.

The American non-governmental organization Freedom House, which monitor annually respect for civil and political rights around the world, highlighted Georgia’s political affairs and media are affected by oligarchic influence and that the rule of law is undermined by widespread politicization. In the 2022 Freedom House report, Georgia received a score of fifty-eight out of a hundred (where a hundred equals a perfect democracy) and was awarded the status of “partially free nation”.

According to the organisation, the 2020 parliamentary and 2021 presidential elections have been marked by a number of problems, while opposition parties and their members are subject to intimidation. Journalists employed in the public can be fired if they criticize the government and are therefore restricted in expression,

Eleonora Tafuro, analyst at the Institute for International Political Studies (Ispi) and expert on Central Asia, the Caucasus and Russia, explains to Linkiesta that “pragmatic and economic reasons push the government led by Irakli Galibashvili, an exponent of the Georgian Dream, to be close to Russia because it is possible to do profitable business given the oligarchic structure of the Georgian economy”.

Tafuro clarifies how “the commercial relations between Georgia and Russia favor a greater penetration of Moscow into the Caucasian nation” and also that “in Georgia there is an attempt to start a process of de-oligarchisation of the productive apparatus but it is a complex and tortuous path” . The analyst points out “that the question of relations with Russia is a litmus test that plays an important role in all the programs of the Georgian political parties”.

The European Parliament, during the approval process of the Association Agreement between Brussels and Tbilisi concluded on 14 December, adopted a resolution in which it recommends reducing the excessive influence exerted by Bidzina Ivanishvili in Georgia and among the appropriate measures it indicates «the adoption of EU sanctions against Ivanishvili himself and all persons held responsible for the degradation of democracy in Georgia”.

The Eurochamber has also asked the Georgian authorities to release former president Saakashvili, sentenced in absentia in 2018 to six years in prison for abuse of power and arrested in October 2021 upon returning to the country after eight years in exile. Saakashvili’s health has deteriorated sharply in recent weeks and according to a report released by some doctors who have visited him, he has lost over forty kilos of weight in just over a year as well as having suffered serious deterioration in mental health.

Emancipation prohibited | Russia wants to stifle Georgia’s pro-European aspirations – Linkiesta.it