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Who Will be There to Protect Georgia?

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, February 16, 2022
Many politicians and experts talk about Russia's aggression against Ukraine that will not leave Georgia aside. However, it may also be that if Putin has not achieved much in Ukraine, he may resort to aggression against Georgia, thus retaining the image of a ‘powerful leader.’

Mikheil Saakashvili, the third President of Georgia in prison, is actively talking about Russia's aggressive plans against Georgia. According to Saakashvili, Russia will try to do what it had planned in 2009 — declare the occupied Tskhinvali region as part of the Russian Federation, which it actively ‘borderizing’, trying to occupy the Truso Valley and Anaklia Port, as well as Enguri hydroelectric station.

It is interesting how the current government of Georgia will act in this case, which for years pursues a policy of ‘not irritating’ Russia, does not vote for the expansion of the occupation zone in the Tskhinvali region, and recently did not dare to mention the role of the Russian aggressor in the resolution in support of Ukraine. It can be said with certainty that such an action by Russia will lead to anti-government protests in Tbilisi.

The opposition has long considered the Georgian Dream government to be pursuing a Russian policy in Georgia. According to Saakashvili, Russia has prepared a plan to change the government in Georgia and establish an open pro-Russian government. To do this, use the agency embedded in the armed forces, security, church, alt-info, and other areas. One of the leading politicians of the ‘Georgian Dream’, who has close ties with the FSB, is becoming the leader of the openly ‘Russian Georgia’.

What Saakashvili did not fully, named the TV channel Mtavari Arkhi, according to which, the leader of ‘Russian Georgia’ is the elected mayor of Tbilisi Kakhi Kaladze. The Georgian Dream did not pay attention to the statements of Saakashvili and the ‘Main Channel’ as absurd, but the steps taken by Russia indicate the reality of such or such a plan.

Despite the Georgian Dream's policy of not irritating the Georgian Dream, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus abruptly announced on February 7 that he did not rule out recognizing the independence of occupied Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. In 2009, Minsk was considering recognizing Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, but ultimately did not take that step. Lukashenko then explained the decision by saying that Moscow refused to share the negative consequences, including the direction of sanctions that awaited Belarus from the West if it recognized the two regions.

Now, it seems, in exchange for Russia's help in suppressing opposition speeches, Lukashenko is ready to do whatever Moscow dictates. It is ready to get involved in the war against Ukraine and to recognize the occupied territories of Georgia as ‘independent countries’.

The response from Moscow to Lukashenko's statement was not delayed. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Belarusian president himself knew what to do with Abkhazia, the Tskhinvali region, and Crimea and did not need outside instructions.

The reaction of the Georgian Foreign Ministry to these statements was moderate. A spokesman for the ministry said that given the bilateral relations between Belarus and Georgia, the ‘Recognition of independence is not on the agenda.’ Instead, the separatist regime in Sukhumi expressed hope that Lukashenko would recognize their independence.

As for the occupied Tskhinvali region, their ruler Anatoly Bibilov prefers independence to ‘joining’ directly with Russia. According to Anatoly Bibilov, in this way ‘United Ossetia’ will be formed within Russia. Bibilov declared "unification" with the Russian Federation in March 2020 as a strategic goal of the Tskhinvali region. On April 10 this year Bibilov has ‘presidential elections’, and Moscow supports his candidacy.

According to the statistics of the occupied region, as a result of the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Georgian population over the years, about 48,000 Ossetians live in the Tskhinvali region, although some experts consider this number to be exaggerated. There are about 7,000 Russian troops in the region.

What is the purpose of Lukashenko's statement regarding Georgia during the crisis in Ukraine? After all, official Tbilisi is trying not to deserve Moscow's wrath. If Moscow declares the occupied region of Tskhinvali as part of itself, then the Georgian Dream will lose any argument for pursuing its chosen policy towards Moscow, and in the event of an open aggressive move, Moscow will probably not be limited to the Tskhinvali region alone.

The Kremlin aims to expand the occupation zone and establish an open pro-Russian government in Tbilisi. “We have to adapt and work with our Western partners to avoid 'worse',” Saakashvili said in a letter referring to Russia's plan. It is clear that Saakashvili is not referring to the current Georgian government, he is referring to the Western-oriented opposition and Western friends.

The West's attention is focused on Ukraine. Putin knows that war in Ukraine will not be easy for Russia, nor does it guarantee an easy defeat for Ukraine, and the threat of harsh Western sanctions is real. However, it does not back down and the threat of war has not disappeared, which some experts expect in the second half of February.