Georgia hugs Belarus and Russia as it turns away from the West

This month marks the 13th anniversary of the Russian invasion of Georgia, a 3.7 million country wedged between Russia and Turkey. Georgia has been the most pro-western and pro-American country in the region for decades. Its top foreign policy priority is accession to the European Union and NATO, and it has answered almost every call by both organizations for peacekeeping and combat operations.

Several dozen Georgians made the ultimate sacrifice while serving side by side with US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Georgia is not only a security factor for the United States, but also strategically important as a departure from the only economically viable east-west trade route that does not pass through Russia or Iran.

This month marks the 13th anniversary of the Russian invasion of Georgia, a 3.7 million country wedged between Russia and Turkey. Georgia has been the most pro-western and pro-American country in the region for decades. Its top foreign policy priority is accession to the European Union and NATO, and it has answered almost every call by both organizations for peacekeeping and combat operations.

Several dozen Georgians made the ultimate sacrifice while serving side by side with US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Georgia is not only a security factor for the United States, but also strategically important as a departure from the only economically viable east-west trade route that does not pass through Russia or Iran.

Georgia is keen to join the Euro-Atlantic community and has also distinguished itself in its region for having made the most progress towards democracy. This progress is now threatened by the ruling Georgian Dream party, which appears to be more anxious to seize the reins of power than to meet Western government standards. It also seems to be strengthening its ties with Russia and even Belarus.

In 2019 the leaders of the Georgian dream invited a Russian legislature addressing the Georgian legislature, causing outrage and riot in the streets. It torpedoed two projects that would have strengthened Georgia’s independence from Russia, one a deep-water port on the Black Sea and the other a new one East-west corridor of the fiber optic cable.

Some in Georgian Dream are carrying out a state conquest, concentrating power and wealth in the hands of a small group of elites at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is raging in the country, damaging the economy and falling GDP 6.2 percent last year. Georgia has accepted a half a million cases and more than 6,500 deaths, a positivity rate of 10.4 percent and only seven percent of the population is completely vaccinated.

Based on a page from the playbook of illiberal regimes such as those in Moscow and Minsk, Tbilisi has also started to attack the West. In late 2019, Facebook removed fake accounts, all attributed to Georgian Dream and expressing anti-Western sentiments, some of which were specifically anti-American. More recently, websites and social media accounts associated with Georgian Dream have launched unprecedented attacks on the US Ambassador to Tbilisi and her European counterparts for voicing criticism of the Georgian Dream or the government in response to that criticism to silence.


The political crisis in Georgia came to a head last autumn when opposition parties challenged parliamentary elections and accused the Georgian Dream government of engaging in voter manipulation and fraud. While there is little doubt that Georgian Dream got more votes than any other party, many have questioned whether it got 40 percent enough to form a government without having to form a coalition. During most of the international observers the fall elections competitiveMost analysts agree that Georgian Dream has tried to marginalize opposition forces, monopolize power and control the judiciary.

The opposition’s decision to boycott parliament sparked a political crisis which the government worsened in February by arresting and imprisoning Nika Melia, leader of the largest opposition party, the United National Movement. Many opposition activists also accused that the charges against Giorgi Rurua, the majority owner of the opposition television channel Mtavari Arkhi, were politically motivated.

In April the European Union intervened to get one approval at least temporarily defused the political crisis and led to Melia’s release. In addition to calling for an amnesty for “political prisoners”, the agreement called for early parliamentary elections if Georgian Dream does not receive 43 percent of the vote in the upcoming local elections. But then, in early July, right-wing demonstrators ran amok on the day of a planned LGBTQ Pride rally and attacked journalists and civil society offices. Some of the protesters had ties with Moscow and were encouraged by the Georgian Orthodox Church, which has links with its Russian counterpart.

More than 50 journalists were injured, and one died several days after brutal beatings. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili accused the “radical opposition” for inciting the clash. His failure to prevent and condemn the violence contributed to this persistent tension between supporters of the Pride March and journalists on the one hand and counter-demonstrators on the other. The US Ambassador to Tbilisi slammed Garibashvili because of a lack of “energetic leadership” in dealing with homophobic and media-hostile violence.

Tapping into the less tolerant sections of Georgian society and doing justice to the Orthodox Church, Garibashvili described the Pride March as “unacceptable for a large part of Georgian society” and “organized by revanchist forces such as the radical opposition”. The organizers of the march – who were in fact victims of the violence – were, in Garibashvili ‘s view, “unreasonable” and risked “civil confrontation”. So far there have been no arrests of the organizers of the attacks and acts of violence.

The political use of the judiciary, the intimidation of the media and the accumulation of power by the executive branch are hardly unprecedented in Georgian politics. In 2007, the United National Movement-led government of Mikheil Saakashvili used violence against anti-government protesters, stated a Emergency, and pulled the biggest opposition broadcaster Imedi TV out of the air. However, what is unprecedented is Georgian Dream’s announcement that it is withdraw from the agreement brokered by the EU, a step that re-opens the political crisis and signals the latest break in the Georgian Dream from the West and towards the model of illiberal regimes.

The deal contained a number of power-sharing elements, but perhaps most importantly, a promise to hold new parliamentary elections if Georgian Dream didn’t win more than 43 percent in the local elections in October. One recently International Republican Institute survey shows Georgian Dream well below this threshold.

And in news that is breathtaking even by Georgian standards, and intergovernmental agreement on cooperation between the State Security Committee of Belarus and the Georgian State Security Service is said to have come into force this month. The agreement, originally signed in 2016, ties the Georgian government to one of the most violent regimes in the world, and the Belarusian KGB service and the Russian FSB have very close ties.

So far, Georgian officials have not denied the existence of the agreement; instead, they have criticized reports about it. To repeal an agreement with the EU and at the same time reaffirm an agreement with the dictatorial regime in Minsk does not look good for Georgia, to say the least, and heighten concerns about the commitment of the current Georgian authorities to a Western orientation and democratic values.

Opinion polls show consistently over two thirds of Georgians support Euro-Atlantic integration. While the Georgian Dream government pretends to seek deeper integration with the EU and NATO, recent events have shown that it has chosen one-party rule and appeasement of Moscow. It undermines all of the hard work that has been done over the years to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic community, and some Europeans are now pushing back. Garibashvili had to cancel a planned trip to the Baltic states when the heads of state and government did not want him given the recent developments in Georgia.

In the face of such a democratic relapse, there are steps Washington can – and should – take.


The United States has had significant influence and influence over many years in Georgia because of close, long-standing relationships. Biden’s government and Congress, which have shown strong bipartisan support for Georgia, should urge Georgian Dream to return to implement the terms of the EU agreement. They should also push for international surveillance of local elections in October (if the pandemic situation allows).

Should Georgian Dream fail to revert to the agreement or refuse to dissolve the agreement with the Belarusian regime or participate in election games, the Biden government should impose targeted penalties on the leadership of the Georgian Dream party. While the United States has never imposed such measures in Georgia, they are likely the only way to halt the current slide.

The United States owes this to the overwhelming majority of the Georgian people who want their country to stay on the western path. It is also in Washington’s interests to help the most pro-American country in the region and protect US interests there.


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