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Putin uses the Russian population in Georgia as his new threat

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, September 12, 2022
The "humanitarian policy concept" approved by Putin can be perceived as a double threat for Georgia. First, the Russian concept envisages the "development of cooperation" with occupied Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, and on the other hand, the "protection of the Russian-speaking population", which is a familiar trick of Moscow to justify its aggression in neighboring countries.

Whatever also provides for the protection of the Russian-speaking population, is perceived as a direct threat to Georgia, although "Georgian Dream" does not see a reason for concern.

If we carefully consider this list, we should exclude the three Baltic countries, which are members of NATO and the European Union, we should also exclude Moldova, which Russia does not directly border and Ukraine separates from Moldova, with which Moscow is not doing well in the war. There remains Georgia, one-fifth of whose territory is already occupied by Russia.

Previously, Putin has threatened Georgia with many things, - he has stopped the supply of natural gas, he will ban the import of Georgian products into Russia, he has expelled Georgian citizens from Russia, he has also started a war against Georgia, but he did not talk about the protection of the Russian-speaking population for the simple reason that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian-speaking population. In fact, the population was no longer in Georgia.

But recently, especially after the Russian attack on Ukraine and the introduction of Western sanctions against Russia, many people from Russia and Belarus have flocked to Georgia. There were favorable conditions for this: Georgia had a visa-free regime with Russia, introduced by Saakashvili (while Russia has a visa regime with Georgia), and those who came from Russia can stay in Georgia for the whole year.

The opposition has long been expressing concern over the uncontrolled entry of a large number of Russians into Georgia. On the land road entering Georgia from Russia, at the customs office of Lars, several kilometers long queue of light vehicles to enter Georgia has turned into a common story.

"Georgian Dream" did not see any problem in this and still does not see it today. According to them, it is tourism that contributes to the country's economy. Of course, some of these people are really tourists and will leave Georgia at the end of summer. But it is clear that we are not only dealing with tourism. Russian citizens who have entered Georgia actively buy real estate and become individual entrepreneurs, thereby obtaining the right to reside in Georgia.

No one controls what the Russian citizens, who have been doing business with, are doing in Georgia for months. "According to Transparency International - Georgia, during only four months of 2022 (March - June), about 6,400 Russian companies were registered in Georgia, which is 7 times more than the annual rate of 2021. A total of 13,500 Russian companies were registered in Georgia, and half of them were registered after the start of the war in Ukraine.

According to their own information, 93% of registered companies from March 2022 are individual enterprises. This means that a part of Russian citizens came to Georgia to live and do business. There is an assumption that one of the main directions of their activity is to circumvent the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West. No one from the Georgian government is talking about this either.

The opposition is afraid that among the people who have arrived from Russia in an uncontrolled and massive manner, there are employees of the Russian special services, who have been sent on a special assignment.

Here they use the example of Ukraine, where some of the people who came from Russia and settled in Ukraine long before the start of the war turned out to be saboteurs and actively helped the Russian military. The opposition often repeats that "Georgian Dream" has not detained any Russian agents during its 10-year rule.

Are there Kremlin agencies among tens of thousands of people arriving from Russia? Of course, there is, and the positive answer to this is a woman arrested in Albania on charges of Russian espionage. This is Svetlana Timofeeva, aka Lana Sator, who before her arrest in Albania often entered Georgia as a tourist and, as noted, walked freely and took strategic and military objects without hindrance.

The opposition demands the introduction of a visa regime with Russia. The "Droa" movement also presented a special plan, which involves the introduction of three-week tourist visas for Russian citizens, restriction of business registration for them, restriction of registration of private property, and restriction of the right of residence. "Georgian Dream" completely ignores such requests.

Some citizens of Russia and Belarus settle in Georgia and no one restricts them. On the contrary, under the conditions of the "Georgian Dream", they have created a very comfortable environment. There is already an attempt to open Russian private schools in Tbilisi and Batumi. They are going to work according to "Moscow programs", which is a gross violation of Georgian legislation, and such schools should be closed. However, this can already be considered a "violation of the rights of the Russian-speaking population" in the Kremlin.