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Georgia's distance from the West means getting closer to Russia

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Thursday, August 25, 2022
Russia's attack on Ukraine on February 24 was a particular turning point, after which the "Georgian Dream" increasingly distanced itself from the West and moved closer to Russia. Various versions have been put forward to explain why this happened. Each of them allows making certain conclusions to understand the situation.

According to one of the versions, the "Georgian Dream" that came to power in 2012, which represented completely different political groups gathered around the Russian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, was a Russian project from the beginning, and what the Kremlin could not achieve through the war in 2008 - the replacement of Saakashvili's pro-Western government - was achieved through the elections. Initially, political leaders and groups with a western orientation were included in the "Georgian Dream", but gradually Ivanishvili removed them, or they removed themselves. Today, there is practically no one left in the "Georgian Dream" who has not made critical statements regarding the West.

At first, the coming to power of the "Georgian Dream" through elections was considered a critical success of Georgian democracy and it was met with great approval in the West. And Bidzina Ivanishvili made promises that she would surprise the world by creating an "unprecedented democracy" in Georgia.

However, if we look at recent Western assessments, Georgian democracy has serious setbacks, and the created political system was characterized by the opposition (meaning the resistance that "Georgian Dream" calls "radical") as oligarchic-authoritarian.

The government of "Georgian Dream" or Ivanishvili has been taking steps towards Russia for years and actually did everything to return the country to Russia's orbit, but at the same time talking about western orientation and applying for EU membership.

The vast majority of the population of Georgia and a significant part of the voters of the "Georgian Dream" support the Western orientation. It was easy for the "Georgian Dream" to talk about the Western orientation because it looked like a very vague and distant perspective.

Russia's attack on Ukraine changed everything, Georgia would already have the status of a candidate for EU membership, like Moldova and Ukraine, if it were not for the actions of the "Georgian Dream", which, according to the opposition, took such extraordinary steps that they did not even think about granting the candidate status to Georgia.

All Georgian authorities have always been accountable to the West. On the one hand, this resulted from the officially recognized Western orientation of Georgia, on which there was a consensus both among the official circles and the general public and on the other hand, from the great support given to Georgia by the West.

Perhaps, in 2012, the "National Movement" was not very happy to admit defeat in the parliamentary elections, but it took into account the position and advice of the West.

In the beginning, "Georgian Dream" also behaved like this, as if it had to report to Charles Michel, who came to Tbilisi several times and signed a document that provided for the implementation of reforms, but after 100 days, he demonstratively refused this document.

What could "Georgian Dream" hope for when it went to a direct confrontation with its Western friends? The answer is simple - Russia. Putin seemed invincible, the West could not oppose the seizure of Crimea, or the creation of separatist regimes in Donetsk and Luhansk, with the support of Moscow, Lukashenko suppressed strong opposition speeches.

Under such conditions, why should they comply with the demands of the "weak" West regarding the need for democratization?

Judging by the reaction of the Georgian authorities after Russia's attack on Ukraine, they were sure of Putin's quick victory, Georgia did not join the sanctions and actually blamed the Ukrainian authorities, who "couldn't avoid" the war with Russia.

But the subsequent development of events turned out to be an unpleasant surprise for Putin and the circles focused on him. Maybe they sometimes think about the question of what will happen if Russia loses in Ukraine.

Maybe the "Georgian Dream" does not have much choice in today's situation. On the one hand, it shows that it is working to obtain the status of a candidate for EU membership, on the other hand, it remains among the "friendly countries" of Putin's Russia, although this "friendship" actually poses great threats to Georgia.

The 12 conditions put forward by the European Union mean the democratic modernization of the existing political system of Georgia. De-oligarchization, independent court, electoral reform, etc. The implementation of these demands actually means the dismantling of the system on which Bidzina Ivanishvili's shadow government is based. The opposition is sure that the "Georgian Dream" is not going to fulfill these demands either. And with a strong anti-Western campaign, it prepares the ground by rejecting the Western orientation.