Who would benefit from destabilising the situation in Georgia?

11.03.23 11:20

On 7-8 March 2023, Georgia once again approached the dangerous frontier of chaos. The protests in the centre of Tbilisi began to take on the character of unrest after the Georgian Parliament on 8 March supported in the first reading the draft law "On Transparency of Foreign Influence" (on foreign agents).


The draft law "On Foreign Agents" provides for the registration of non-entrepreneurial (non-commercial) legal persons and media outlets as agents of foreign influence, whose revenues exceed 20% from abroad.  According to the draft law, anyone considered an agent of foreign influence would have to be registered in a database in a state register with the same name. At the time of registration, the income received would have to be reflected. At the same time, organisations will be obliged to fill in financial declarations annually. According to the opposition, this draft law has similarities with the Russian law "on foreign agents".


It is clear that NGOs, students and young people became the catalysts of the protest and were joined by opposition forces. On the night of 8-9 March 2023, the authorities managed to keep control of the situation and disperse the protesters, but in the morning the authorities did make concessions.


In the morning of 9 March 2023 the ruling Georgian Dream party promised to withdraw the bill from Parliament. And, apparently, the deal was not with the protesters, but with the West. It is known that several hours before the withdrawal of the bill "on foreign agents", US State Department Advisor Derek Schole spoke to Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili about the situation in Georgia.


Everybody understands perfectly well that the issue of the bill "on foreign agents" is just an occasion to influence the political situation in Georgia. It is no secret that many in the West expect the Georgian authorities to more actively support Ukraine, which is at war with Russia, and to impose tougher sanctions against Russia. Ukraine itself understandably wants this, reminding that Georgia has occupied Abkhazia and Samachablo, which, according to many Ukrainian politicians, are now quite realistic to liberate.


But not all NATO countries would want such a development and a rapid shift of the front to the South Caucasus. Turkey, a key NATO country, has no interest whatsoever in destabilising the situation in Georgia by engaging in war. Ankara consistently supports the Georgian authorities in their efforts to ensure peace and stability in the region. It is obvious why - a war on the territory of Georgia puts at risk the most promising transit projects that involve Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan.


Of course, the current Georgian government wants to de-occupy Abkhazia and Samachablo. But it intends to do this as peacefully as possible, especially since, as a result of the almost inevitable defeat of Russia in the war in Ukraine, the question of de-occupation of all foreign territories by Russia will arise automatically.


Also, when analyzing the likely scenarios of the war for liberation of the occupied Georgian lands, the following nuance should be taken into account - schizophrenic mania of the Kremlin leadership to retain foreign lands "on the warm sea" at all costs. During the current war in Ukraine, the Russian occupiers retreated without much resistance after initial setbacks and defeats from the northern and landlocked regions of Ukraine - Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkiv to the state border line. The occupants clung to Kherson, situated in the south, and together with Kherson they cleared only the right-bank part of the Kherson region, occupying the line along the Dnieper River. But the Kremlin is ready to fight to the last word for the occupied Crimea and threatens even with nuclear war if it tries to take the peninsula away from them. Meanwhile, the Kremlin likes coastal Abkhazia no less than the Crimea.


And for the Armenian lobby in Russia this Georgian land, already populated predominantly by Armenians, is much more valuable than "Artsakh". Armenian nationalists will forgive the Russian leadership for surrendering "Artsakh" but they will hardly forgive Abkhazia where many Armenians from Karabakh intend to go after Russian peacekeepers are withdrawn from this Azerbaijani region in 2025. The Russian occupiers will fight no less fiercely for Abkhazia than they are expected to for Crimea. There is little doubt about that.


In addition, it is currently dangerous to open a "second front" as the Russian Federation has more than enough power to simply "sweep away" Georgian statehood and force a "military corridor" into Armenia.  And it is precisely this goal (in order to get the last chance to "save" Artsakh) that the powerful Armenian lobby in Russia is clearly setting before the Kremlin.


Another danger is that this very "second front" may pass through the Georgian society. No matter how much the pro-Western opposition claims that the Georgian Dream "rigged the elections" and so on. - The ruling party has real support in the Georgian society.


The concessions made by the ruling Georgian Dream party, i.e. withdrawal of the bill on "foreign agents" from Parliament and the March 9 release of all those detained during the protests, are a marker that the Georgian ruling political force is likely to agree to certain concessions on other issues as well. In particular, in the matter of tougher attitude to Russia. However, the question is whether the West will agree to have their plans implemented by the current Georgian authorities, albeit under pressure, or will prefer to have them replaced.


So far the Georgian authorities seem to be hoping that the situation can be pacified and kept under control, and that an amicable deal can be reached with their Western partners. Although, after the first concessions of the government, some of the radical opposition called for the gathering of protesters in the centre of Tbilisi and rallying until Georgia takes a guaranteed pro-Western course.


The logic of the protests is not hard to predict. The "foreign agents" law will quickly be forgotten, but tomorrow the opposition will demand punishment for "those responsible for the crackdown", the day after tomorrow the government will resign, etc. The question remains open as to how far the authorities are prepared to make concessions and to what extent the "military lobby" is interested in drawing Georgia into the war against Russia, with the opening of a "second front".



Alexandre Zakhariadze

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