Georgia: when will it go up in flames there too?


Vano Shlamov / AFP / Getty Images

It is hard to keep up with the flow of news in Russia’s near abroad: something blows up over there, or a local leader gets scandalized here… And as a result, no sooner do you get to one issue than another, even more acute one, interrupts it. Nevertheless, against the background of the tragic events in Artsakh and the new outburst of emotions in Yerevan, I would like to return to the recent report from Tbilisi about the disclosure of preparations for a coup d’état.

It is good that it was prevented. But this is a very dangerous signal for the Georgian government, because this is unlikely to be the end of the matter. And it seems that everything is going either to a «color revolution» or to an even harsher scenario.

The government and the parliamentary majority of this Transcaucasian republic, representing the bloc of parties Georgian Dream — Democratic Georgia (GD-DG), from the point of view of the West have started to behave somehow «wrongly» in relations with Russia, especially after the start of the special military operation. And in general, they dared to allow themselves a lot of unnecessary things in foreign policy.

It is humanly possible to understand the Americans and European bureaucrats: Tbilisi not only did not join the sanctions against Moscow, but also increased the volume of trade. In addition, not without benefit to themselves, the Georgians welcomed both the «heroes of Upper Lars» and a considerable number of Russian firms and companies that were forced to change their citizenship in order to overcome the notorious sanctions against Russia and its business.

In this regard, it should be noted that according to the Georgian National Agency of Public Registry (NAPR), an average of 1,300 Russian businesses per month have been registered in the republic since the start of the Special Military Operation.

The economic effect from their activities, as well as from the increased inflow of Russian tourists in the first half of 2023 led to the fact that the National Bank of Georgia (NBG) increased its foreign currency reserves by $1.06 billion and at the end of June they amounted to $5.07 billion.

And then there is the abolition of entry visas for Georgian citizens by Russia, the resumption of normal air traffic between the two countries, the unprecedented influx of Russian tourists, and some progress in the resumption of railroad traffic….

But even this is still far from over. The Georgian leadership, despite numerous hints, has flatly refused to open a «second front» against Russia in the Caucasus, apparently remembering the events and, most importantly, the consequences of August 2008. And at the same time Georgia claims to be an official candidate for accession to the EU, and maintains relations with NATO within the framework of the notorious «Partnership», participates in the exercises, recently they were held on its territory, and so on.

In addition, Georgia, claiming membership in the EU in the future, has become friends with Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who consistently defends the sovereignty of his country, irritates Brussels and the entire collective West. And, as Western observers note, the Georgian and Hungarian leadership have developed «close ties and mutual understanding on a number of fundamental issues of international politics».

It came to the point that Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili made a trip to Beijing, and in the documents on its results it was stated about «strategic partnership» of the two countries. This was seen in Washington as a «rejection» of the similar status of bilateral relations with the US, which was fixed back in 2009.

Such behavior of Tbilisi clearly does not suit the White House. That is why it is not by chance that during the hearings of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, during which the candidacy of the new US Ambassador to Georgia Robin Dunnigan was discussed, one of the priority tasks for her was «organization of counteraction to Tbilisi’s turn» towards Russia and China. It was not specified how.

And here an old joke comes to mind: «color revolutions» are impossible in the United States because there is no American embassy there. But there is one in Tbilisi. And the mood of Her Excellency, Mrs. Ambassador is very serious, dangerous for the current leadership of the Republic.

The prognosis is not very favorable: Georgia may go up in flames either at the end of this year or at the end of next. The formal reason for this will be in the first case — the decision on granting the republic the status of EU candidate, in the second case — parliamentary elections.

In order. According to analysts of the British center The Economist Intelligence Unit Ltd (EIU), Tbilisi’s chances of getting candidate status are «much worse» than those of Ukraine and Moldova. But nevertheless, they are in place.

On the one hand, the granting of this status will be hindered by the «misbehavior» of the Georgian leadership, as mentioned above. To this we should add the impeachment that is being prepared for the president of the republic Salome Zurabishvili — her actions are a strong irritant for the ruling bloc of the GD-DG and the government. And also take into account the position of European Commissioner Josep Borrell, who, judging by leaks in the media, was offended or disappointed by something during his recent visit to Tbilisi.

On the other hand, the officially proclaimed course of Brussels to increase the number of members of the organization is known. The British also note active «lobbying activities» allegedly conducted by another European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, who is responsible for the issues of neighborhood policy and enlargement of the organization (EU enlargement commissioner). According to the EIU, this Hungarian representative is «Viktor Orbán’s man» who is interested in attracting like-minded people to the EU.

Moreover, it is Varhelyi and his office that in mid-October should give the EU leadership their opinion on the expediency of granting candidate status to the applicants.

It should be borne in mind that if Georgia receives a rejection, the reconsideration will be postponed to 2025, because in 2024 elections to the European Parliament will be held and the composition of the new EU leadership will be formed.

Isn’t this a reason for large-scale protests of «European integrators»? Let us recall at least the Maidan of 2013–2014 in Ukraine, and how it ended.

If Georgia gets the status of a candidate, the opposition will surely give a decisive fight in 2024, using the heat of passion caused by the election campaign and accusing the current government of violations. At the same time, the opposition, primarily the United National Movement and European Georgia parties, as well as their allies, numerous NGOs that receive Western funding, etc., will have enough time to prepare. This is an option that has been repeatedly tested by the Americans.

President Zurabishvili will also play a role in this scenario, and the probability of her impeachment seems quite low. Since at present the GD-DG bloc clearly lacks 100 parliamentary votes for this project to overcome all possible obstacles. For now, the bloc hopes to gain two more currently empty seats in the parliamentary by-elections and attract votes of those parties that often support it in the voting. However, even these may not be enough.

Although the figure of the president in a parliamentary republic like Georgia is largely ceremonial, Salome Zurabishvili, a former French foreign ministry official, is well placed to cause problems for the government in times of crisis. In particular, she has good ties, built up over the years, in the leadership of a number of European countries, as well as in the EU. In addition, as President of Georgia, this lady has a constitutional right to pardon convicts, which, by the way, she is actively using.

Moreover, as practice shows, pardons are often granted to persons from among the opposition, convicted for acts of violence during anti-government actions, and other unpleasant citizens whose activities are aimed at destabilizing the situation in the country. According to Georgian experts, such «selective humanity» is one of the main reasons that gave rise to the idea of trying to use the impeachment mechanism.

But let’s return to the attempted coup d’état, which was prevented: first of all, this is not the first attempt of the opposition to involve former associates of Mikheil Saakashvili, who have settled in Ukraine. Let us recall at least their participation in protest rallies in connection with the intention of Georgian parliamentarians to adopt a law on foreign agents. By the way, I would venture to suggest that it was the speeches of these militants from the so-called Georgian Legion, which was stained with numerous bloody crimes against civilians, massacres of prisoners of war and torture, that prompted Georgian security services to monitor the activities of this category of their former compatriots.

And secondly, I do not share the opinion of some of my colleagues that the Ukrainian leadership is behind the preparation of the prevented coup. Kiev itself does not decide anything. It only carries out instructions from above — from those who pay it. And the Americans are paying, everyone else is just paying extra.

The persons named in the Georgian counterintelligence press release are in one way or another connected to the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine (GUR). One of them is the deputy head of this organization responsible for terrorist and sabotage acts in the frontline zone and on Russian territory. They also mention militants from the Georgian Legion, which is supervised by the GUR and which has special units in charge of carrying out terrorist acts. Therefore, it is hard to believe that professional saboteurs will be used to fight with the guards of government buildings.

They are capable of more large-scale tasks. For example, hypothetically speaking, to blow up one of the main pipelines running through Georgian territory — the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline or the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Not much, so that it could be repaired quickly. The main thing here is the noise, which is surely heard in Western capitals.

Against the background of «protest» riots in Tbilisi, alleged police brutality and other outrages, an accident of international scale would hurt the positions of the country’s leadership. Under these circumstances, the emergence of «Georgian Pashinyan» would look absolutely logical. With all the ensuing consequences…