Saffron Restaurants reservation The West should simply say no to Georgia’s ‘Russian law’, the West should not fall into the trap

The West should simply say no to Georgia’s ‘Russian law’, the West should not fall into the trap


Facing some of the largest protests in the history of the country of Georgia, the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party in the capital Tbilisi is laying a theatrical trap for American and European diplomats. GD appears to be waging a campaign to demoralize protesters and pretend that Georgia is in conflict with the West rather than in a struggle between a people and its rulers. The best way for the West to stand with the Georgian people, who overwhelmingly reject the Russian legislation passed by parliament yesterday, is to refuse to accept its legitimacy in any way – including any amendments or implementation promises. offered by GD – and to punish those responsible, as the US State Department threatened to do yesterday “if the law goes further against EU standards.”

Georgia’s controversial “foreign agent law” aims to suppress civil society and the media, the only remaining checks on an illiberal government even as the country ostensibly pursues membership of the European Union. The legislation mirrors a Russian law by labeling citizen-oriented non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media as “supporting the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad, even if their apolitical work related to charity. , development, the rule of law, or building impartial capacity for a level political playing field. In addition to imposing a cynically misleading stigma on NGOs, the law would authorize the GD government to conduct investigations into them, access their personal data, require cumbersome reporting, and impose crushing fines, restrictions, and prison sentences to media and social groups that are considered non-compliant.

Moreover, Georgia’s law aims to draw money from Western countries that have traditionally been allies and friends of Georgian democracy, rather than from Russia, the country that militarily occupies a quarter of Georgia and consolidates its malign influence through through multifaceted covert operations, including secretly financing political parties and oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili who rules the country by in turn financing GD.

Stage management for the story

EU leaders in Brussels have warned that the law “in its current form” is “a serious obstacle on the road to Georgia’s European integration,” which helps explain why the issue is mobilizing so many people in a country where around 80 percent of the population is in favor of joining the EU instead of being swallowed up by Russia. But GD is adept at manipulatively staging European diplomats as set pieces in a narrative campaign designed to break the spirit of a restive Georgian opposition or public. Three examples illustrate the pattern.

Firstly, after a similar law was introduced last year when Brussels dangled the popular prospect of EU candidacy, GD withdrew and was rewarded with EU candidate status later in the year, albeit with conditions that GD would never meet because it would complicate their ability. to corruptly tilt the electoral playing field in their favor. Having pocketed that European concession as if it were an irreversible bureaucratic move, GD is now behaving as if Europe can do nothing to stop Tbilisi as it pivots decisively toward Moscow.

Secondly, following irregularities in the 2020 parliamentary elections, all opposition parties relinquished their positions and boycotted the second round of elections, calling on voters to abstain. When there were protests and the opposition refused to enter parliament, GD turned to the classic Kremlin-style tactic of escalation to de-escalate: jailing opposition leader Nika Melia, prompting EU-mediated negotiations on a acceptable solution. This resulted in provisions for early parliamentary elections, the release of Melia from prison and the return of opposition MPs to parliament. By allowing itself to be drawn into this internal political mediation, the EU unwittingly legitimized fraudulent elections and deflated the opposition.

Third, during the ongoing battle over Russian law, there have been times when the GD has used European diplomats as propaganda material to legitimize a controversial regime. The most notable example was a Photo op of the EU ambassador cutting a ribbon with top GD leaders after several nights of GD hired thugs beating up protesters and opposition leaders.

Because that’s what diplomats do: cut ribbons in front of the camera, mediate solutions to political crises and welcome a country as a candidate for the EU. Sometimes they only realize in retrospect that the involvement of foreign partners in solving problems risks robbing the public of its agency by going over their heads at a critical moment. Moreover, the natural instinct of diplomats is to support bilateral relations with the host government and deal with technical aspects of policy issues. That poses a current risk related to something else diplomats do: negotiating which changes would sufficiently “soften” controversial legislation.

Selling ‘changes’ to buy time

GD is currently leading EU diplomats to believe a solution is on the horizon through a legislative process that would see the recently passed version of the bill amended after Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili vetoed it, which she has promised to do. GD has enough votes in parliament to override the veto – the final legislative move expected in the coming weeks – and Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze says the government is not planning “substantial changes” to the bill. But Georgian parliament speaker Shalva Papuashvili says recommendations such as those advised by the Venice European Commission will be discussed and the bill could be amended.

The whole point of GD’s push for amendments is to buy time so that the protests can lose steam and trick just enough Western diplomats into talks about a legislative compromise that would inadvertently legitimize the regime and break the spirit of the people on the streets . Moreover, the GD’s tactical trap of winning over Western diplomats with amendments is only part of its broader strategic trap in which the GD tries to frame this as a conflict between them and the West, rather than between them and the Georgian people. Both the GD and the Kremlin accuse the West – without a shred of solid evidence – of financing and fomenting the protests as an attempted coup.

The safe ground for Western diplomats is simple. Just as clearly as State Department briefers once warned then-President Trump: “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” Putin after an illegitimate election, US and EU diplomats must now be advised: DO NOT NEGOTIATE. Accept nothing other than that GD completely withdraws the law. Urge the GD to respect the will and rights of Georgians. Show the Georgian people that the West supports them by sanctioning Ivanishvili and Kobakhidze and threatening to appoint all parliamentarians who vote to override the veto and make the Russian law Georgian law.

Financial sanctions must be imposed quickly because DG recently passed an offshore finance law that helps them launder money and hide assets to evade sanctions. Visa bans are also necessary for GD leaders and their families, as they enjoy vacationing and studying in the West. The EU should follow the example of US Assistant Secretary of State Jim O’Brien warned yesterday in Tbilisi that if the law takes effect, the United States will sanction those responsible and their families. And the EU must clearly warn that it will revoke visa-free travel and suspend Georgian candidacy for the EU if the GD does not resolve its differences with the Georgian people peacefully and fairly.

This is a time for Western governments to listen to the masses of Georgians who are on the streets, pleading with their partners and allies to support them through force, and not through friendly diplomacy as practiced in liberal democracies.

IMAGE: Georgian law enforcement officers push protesters away from parliament during a rally against the controversial ‘foreign influence’ law in Tbilisi on May 14, 2024. The Georgian parliament passed a controversial ‘foreign influence’ law on May 14, 2024 that has led to weeks of of mass protests against the measure, which is denounced as a reflection of Russian legislation used to silence dissent. The bill requires non-governmental organizations and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as entities “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.” (Photo by GIORGI ARJEVANIDZE/AFP via Getty Images)