Georgia, a new Ukraine? Two separatist enclaves and Russia wanting to impose gag laws

Police crack down on protesters waving the flag of Europe in the streets of central Tbilisi. They protest against a “gag law” that the government wants to copy from one imposed by Putin in Russia. (AFP)

The situation has so many similarities that it is impossible to believe that it is not about the same strategy and the same objective. Like in Ukrainethe republic of Georgia has two separatist enclaves on its territory fueled by Russian money and weapons. The vast majority of its population is likely to be part of the European Union and Moscow is doing the impossible so that this does not happen. Tbilisi’s government is divided and a pro-Russian faction is pushing draconian laws to destroy the opposition and contain any discontent as it does Vladimir Putin.

This last week, while parliament was discussing a “gag law” in which any organization with international connections that receives more than 20% of its income from outside the country is considered as “foreign agent” there were massive demonstrations that were harshly repressed. It is an almost exact copy of the law that has been in force in Russia since 2012 and another in ally Belarus, from the same time, and that even allows the government remove the nationality of people with international connections.

According to, Giorgi Gogiadirector of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watchthe law “attempts to create a special status and legal regime for organizations and the media that receive foreign funding and -under the guise of transparency- interferes with the freedom of associations and the media and their legitimate functions”.

An anti-gag protester in Georgia holding a sign saying he no longer wants to be part of a bloody Soviet Union.  (REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze)
An anti-gag law protester in Georgia holding a sign saying he no longer wants to be part of a bloody Soviet Union. (REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze) (IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/)

The objective of the majority party in the government coalition, Georgian Dreamis to prevent opposition parties, human rights organizations and independent media from being forced to cut all ties with Europe. It seeks to isolate the country and bring it ever closer to Russia’s interests. Even other members of the coalition oppose the law. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, already promised to veto it, and in a video message posted on Facebook gave his support to the protesters. “Those who today support this law, all those who have voted in favor of this law today, are violating the Constitution. They are all taking us away from EuropeZourabichvili said in the video on Tuesday. “I said the first day that I would veto this law, and I will.”

After two days of unprecedented demonstrations in Tbilisi and other Georgian cities, the government announced that it would not go ahead with the parliamentary process. At first sight it could be interpreted as a victory for the pro-European opposition. Although the opposition remains on guard. The vast majority of 3.6 million Georgians who want to leave the tutelage of Moscow and join the European Union fear that this is a new euromaidanthe demonstrations that took place in that square in the center of kyiv in 2013 and overthrew the then pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. The joy of the Ukrainians, then, did not last very long. The following year, Russia invaded the Ukrainian peninsula and opened two separatist enclaves in Luhansk and Donetsk.

“In recent years, and especially in the last 18 months, Georgia’s ruling coalition has taken a number of steps aimed at distance the country from the West and gradually bring it into Russia’s sphere of influence”, is the conclusion of a report prepared by the study center European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). The report points to Bidzina Ivanishvili, former prime minister and billionaire, as one of the drivers of this turn towards Moscow. “Much of the responsibility for this shift away from the EU lies with the oligarch and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose Georgian Dream Party dominates the governing coalition,” the report said. Ivanishvili made a fortune, calculated by Forbes in some 6.4 billion dollars, in Russia during its turbulent transition to a market economy, and was part of an influential group of Russian bankers who supported Vladimir Putin’s rise to power. Later, he returned to Georgia and formed the party of the Georgian Dream inspired by United Russiawhich keeps Putin in power.

(Marcelo Regalado)

In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia and the call was recorded Five Day Warwhich resulted in more than 600 deaths, in support of the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The first, lying on the Black Sea, is one of the favorite places for wealthy Russians to spend their summer vacations; the second is located in the center of the country, on the border with the Russian region called North Ossetia. Both regions have their own small security force, but it is Russia’s border service – under the Federal Security Service, one of the intelligence agencies inherited from the KGB—who guards what for Moscow is a “border.” A fence of almost 400 kilometers was erected. The strip is also patrolled on the Georgian side by patrols from the monitoring mission of the European Union in Georgia (EUMM).

Within the enclaves it is estimated that there are about 13,000 Russian soldiers ready to intervene in any conflict that could jeopardize the “Russian character” of those areas. The only countries that recognize the “independence” of the enclaves are: Venezuela, Nicaragua, Syria and Nauru.

The two enclaves remain closed in on themselves and are totally dependent on what Moscow provides them. The coronavirus pandemic made them isolate themselves even more. “This allows Russia to advance its fixation on determining the external orientation of the post-Soviet space,” explained the Georgian deputy Nikoloz Samkharadzewho heads the parliamentary committee on Foreign Affairs, in an interview with the BBC. The deputy points out that the Kremlin uses South Ossetia and Abkhazia as a “support point” to try to “destabilize” Georgia. While Paata Zakareishvilia former Georgian Minister of Reconciliation, believes that the Georgian governments themselves, which “They pushed South Ossetians and Abkhazians further into the arms of the Kremlin by not offering them credible exits while Russia showers them with gifts and comparative advantages.” “We told them that if they stayed with us they would soon be Europeans, but the European Union never ended up accepting us into their ranks,” Zakareishvili complained bitterly.

Police crack down on protesters who carry a Georgian flag and oppose the law on
Police crack down on protesters who carry a Georgian flag and oppose the “foreign agent” law. (REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze) (IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/)

This is precisely what was seen this week in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, in the demonstrations against the “gag laws”, in front of Parliament, where as many national flags as the European ones were waved. Georgia is caught in the same dilemma as Ukraine: wants to be admitted to the European Union as soon as possible to try to escape from the Russian clutches. But what both are achieving so far is being just the sweet in the sandwich that spills over to Putin’s imperial appetite.

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