Forecast for Tbilisi: hot summer, cyclone from the West



Last week was marked by the aggravation of the situation in Georgia, a neighboring state that is important for Russia. So what happened and what will follow?

The law «On Transparency of Foreign Influence», simply put, on foreign agents, caused another outburst of opposition activity, which resulted in street protests. Even before and during the discussion in parliament, the pro-Western opposition and its handlers demonstrated hysterical reactions. They called the law «Russian», claiming that it would allegedly turn Georgians into «slaves» of oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party. It was characterized as anti-democratic in the European top brass and demanded that it be dropped from consideration. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili announced in advance that she would veto it.

However, unlike last year, when the first attempt was made to pass the bill, the now ruling Georgian Dream party did not withdraw the document from the vote, this time the parliament passed it in the first reading with 83 votes of pro-government deputies. The opposition refused to vote and staged a provocation. The leader of the Citizens faction Aleko Elisashvili ran up to the rostrum and punched the Executive Secretary of the Georgian Dream Mamuka Mdinaradze, who was presenting the bill. Other MPs joined the fight.

Then the opposition continued to be hysterical on the streets of Tbilisi. More than 40 of the most active troublemakers were detained during the mass demonstrations, which in some places escalated into fights with the police. As the Georgian authorities reported after the fact, the protesters’ plans included at least seizing the parliament building and setting up a tent camp in the center of the city. And here the Georgian authorities showed firmness, effectively suppressing the protests that went beyond the bounds of the law.

Pro-government observers explain this by the fact that the «law on foreign agents» will to some extent regulate the influence of external forces and avoid Georgia being drawn into an anti-Russian campaign, and perhaps even war.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze said the law meets the European democratic standard; the United States has a similar, even stricter document. «The bill is Georgian because it protects the main principle of our statehood — national sovereignty. If we do not protect sovereignty, the same thing that happened to Ukraine will happen to us», he explained.

Moscow positively assessed the Georgian bill. «Any country, if it wants to become a sovereign state where the people have the right to determine their own future, must adopt a law on foreign agents, the essence of which is the prohibition of outside interference in internal affairs», said State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin. And Deputy Head of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev considered the street riots in Tbilisi an overseas production: «Whoever calls such actions as spontaneous protests, let him be the first to throw a stone in his own mirror. Behind all these rallies we can see an experienced and familiar Hollywood hand».

And it’s hard to disagree. With a few caveats. The scenario does not concern only the current moment, but extends much further and deeper. If there were no draft law on foreign agents, another reason for protest actions would have been found. And these reasons will certainly be found again. And the intermediate goal is to prevent normal parliamentary and presidential elections, in which the pro-Western opposition is unlikely to achieve the desired result. Even according to American estimates, the Georgian Dream is leading in the rating of voters’ preferences. And taking into account the election of the president through the parliament, its founding father Bidzina Ivanishvili may become the leader. Therefore, they need to mix the pieces on the board by organizing a Maidan or something like that. And this requires leverage or even control of the situation, which is provided by the work of foreign foundations and NGOs. By the way, when last year the Georgian authorities agreed to withdraw the draft law on foreign agents from the discussion, the precondition was to stop the work of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), which finance the activities of NGOs in Georgia. But the West refused to do so. The ambassadors of Western countries also refused the proposal of Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze to discuss the draft law on live TV.

«Of course, the West is behind the current aggravation in Georgia», says Dmitry Medoev, a senior research fellow at the Center for Eurasian Studies at the Russian Foreign Ministry and a candidate of political science. — The position of the American side, which has been repeatedly conveyed to Georgia’s top political leadership by representatives of the State Department and U.S. ambassadors in Tbilisi, boils down to the fact that Washington will under no circumstances allow «Georgia’s transition to Russian control» and the restoration of full Russian-Georgian relations. At the same time, the Americans place a special emphasis on the inadmissibility of any initiatives of the Georgian government aimed at the final peaceful resolution of the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts, the signing of a document on the non-use of force, as well as the creation of any negotiation format without the participation of the United States, the EU and international organizations.

In order to disrupt progress on this issue, Georgia’s Western partners are demonstrating their determination to engage in various kinds of provocations on the Georgian-South Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhaz borders. Various measures are also being implemented to finance the radical opposition and discredit representatives of the Georgian Dream in the Georgian and foreign media.

The plans of the US and British embassies in Georgia to artificially create prerequisites for mass civil disobedience actions in the country in summer and fall of 2024 with the aim of unconstitutional change of power without waiting for the autumn parliamentary elections are not a big secret. What happened last week can be called one of the attempts or, rather, rehearsals of the upcoming battles. There will still be consideration of the draft law ‘On Foreign Influence’ in the second and third readings.

Medoev agrees with the opinion of Georgian political analysts, who believe that an attempt to forcefully release former Georgian President Saakashvili from the Vivamedi clinic, who is in custody and under the supervision of doctors, may also become a reason for further aggravation. The parliamentary investigation into Saakashvili’s activities, which led to the outbreak of the 2008 war and the loss of territory, could hinder these plans.

The West fears a loss of influence in Georgia and seems ready for more decisive action. So a hot summer awaits Tbilisi.