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Maidan 2.0 in Georgia? Be careful what you wish for

Georgian protestors call for the government to follow a 'pro-Western' path this month. Credit: Getty.

March 14, 2023 - 7:00am

Huge protests against a now-dropped law in Georgia that would have obliged foreign-funded entities and individuals to register with the state were quickly compared to Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution. For some, images of water cannons and tear gas being turned on civilians waving EU flags illustrated another clear moral conflict, with a pro-Western populace desperate to throw off the yoke of a Putin-friendly government. 

There may be truth in such portrayals, but there is danger too. EU diplomatic sources see the situation in Georgia as a complicated picture in which there are no easy answers, but a real risk of bloodshed. 

Georgia’s continued relations with Russia are widely attributed to the self-interested motives of its ruling elites. The Georgian Dream party is suspected of currying favour with Moscow by, among other tactics, helping Russia bypass EU sanctions, with investigations showing Russian goods making their way via Georgia into Turkey and then to Bulgaria under false papers. Georgia has, meanwhile, seen booming imports of EU goods that suspiciously outstrip apparent domestic demand since the imposition of sanctions on Russia.

Georgian Dream shows little sign of wanting to cut Russia off economically, but its choice between the West and Russia is by no means a simple one. Geographical and demographic realities favour at least a degree of balance; Russia is Georgia’s second largest trading partner after Turkey, and its dominant market for key industries such as wine and tourism. This arguably puts Georgia in an impossible situation, as cooperation with the West or Russia becomes an either/or choice.  

The leaders of Georgian Dream are keen to point out that this dilemma is set against a real risk of war. Russian troops are stationed in breakaway regions just 40km from the capital Tbilisi — following the pro-Western protests, Russia ominously warned of “provocations” in those breakaway regions. Just this week, former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili declared that he had been poisoned.

Perhaps for all these reasons — coupled with dubious electoral and judicial reforms pursued by Georgian Dream — the widespread pro-Western sentiment behind last week’s protests doesn’t yet translate into a coherent political challenge to the current government. With opposition parties riven by their own controversies and historical baggage, there’s a sense in diplomatic circles that the country’s only realistic route towards an unequivocally pro-Western regime may indeed be a Maidan-style revolution. And there’s acknowledgment that given Georgia’s unique circumstances, such a revolution may be bloody. 

But with Russia already committed to waging war in the region, a “Maidan 2.0” in Georgia would carry enormous risks. Conditions exist for the Kremlin to claim justification for new military action. Russia has already portrayed these protests as an “attempt to change the government by force” orchestrated by the USA. Russian-controlled breakaway regions provide ready-made positions for a military assault at Tbilisi. And, crucially for propaganda purposes, Georgia hosts a large and unintegrated Russian expatriate community which has grown significantly since the war in Ukraine began. These people may be seen as ripe for “liberation” in another illegal war of aggression. 

In this context, onlookers hoping that unrest in Georgia marks the start of a Ukraine-style pro-Western revolution should at least consider that, while current ties with Russia are cause for significant concern, forced and sudden regime change could lead to another brutal war being unleashed by a cornered and jealous Putin.


William Nattrass is a British journalist based in Prague and news editor of Expats.cz

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Dermot O'Sullivan
DO
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 year ago

In the midst of the war in Syria, the Jordanian king saidt that his country was between Iraq and a hard place.

Dermot O'Sullivan
DO
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 year ago

In the midst of the war in Syria, the Jordanian king saidt that his country was between Iraq and a hard place.

Atticus Basilhoff
AB
Atticus Basilhoff
1 year ago

While sympathetic to the basis of this argument, I doubt sincerely the Russians could afford or effect a new offensive in Georgia, or anywhere, at this time. Putin can claim US interference from the US and NATO but the reality is he can do little to nothing to stop any pro-western drift in Georgia short of verbally backing a brutal response from the Georgian government on their own people.

Atticus Basilhoff
AB
Atticus Basilhoff
1 year ago

While sympathetic to the basis of this argument, I doubt sincerely the Russians could afford or effect a new offensive in Georgia, or anywhere, at this time. Putin can claim US interference from the US and NATO but the reality is he can do little to nothing to stop any pro-western drift in Georgia short of verbally backing a brutal response from the Georgian government on their own people.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago

Hopefully, Georgia will resolve their differences peacefully. And any desire by Georgians to retake their stolen land is understandable.
However, any danger of Russian intervention is misplaced, if not delusional. Putin has permanently lost all the former Soviet republics, except Belarus. He will never get them back. This is an ex-great power.
So, Georgia’s future holds one of two scenarios:
–Putin will remain bogged down in Ukraine, in a cold war very much resembling that from 2014, which means Georgia will have a free hand in taking back its territories.
Or:
–Russia will fall apart, and Georgia will then regain its lost territories by default.

harry storm
HS
harry storm
1 year ago
Reply to  martin logan

The putinoids don’t like your sensible comment.

harry storm
HS
harry storm
1 year ago
Reply to  martin logan

The putinoids don’t like your sensible comment.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago

Hopefully, Georgia will resolve their differences peacefully. And any desire by Georgians to retake their stolen land is understandable.
However, any danger of Russian intervention is misplaced, if not delusional. Putin has permanently lost all the former Soviet republics, except Belarus. He will never get them back. This is an ex-great power.
So, Georgia’s future holds one of two scenarios:
–Putin will remain bogged down in Ukraine, in a cold war very much resembling that from 2014, which means Georgia will have a free hand in taking back its territories.
Or:
–Russia will fall apart, and Georgia will then regain its lost territories by default.