New ultra-conservative political party is being established in Georgia
Levan Vasadze, a Western-educated charismatic Georgian businessman sympathetic to Russia, famous for his ultra-conservative and anti-liberal views, has made the long-expected move of officially entering Georgian politics. Throughout the years Vasadze has been criticizing the social and political situation in the country, however “the last straw”, he said while announcing his entry into politics, was the EU-brokered April 19 deal, which he claims, if fully implemented, would be “a gross violation and reduction of the country’s sovereignty [by the EU and US]”.
His newly established public movement of ERI (Nation) – the acronym for “Unity, Essence, Hope” – is set to be transformed into a political party. Preparations have already begun, with Vasadze launching a series of meetings with his potential supporters in different parts of Georgia. On May 16, Vasadze conducted a rally in Tbilisi, attended by a sizable crowd of people. The participants of the ultra-conservative rally included individuals known for their hardline homophobic and xenophobic stance. The PR support of Vasadze’s new political party will be provided by the Alt-Info TV channel, a far-right media outlet that had been reaching wide audiences on Facebook until its network of pages and accounts were removed from the platform for violating Facebook’s policy on coordinated inauthentic behavior.
A friend of Kremlin affiliate Aleksandr Dugin and pro-Russian Igor Dodon of Moldova, Vasadze has been actively involved in Georgian social life, capitalizing on homophobic attitudes prevalent across Georgia’s socially conservative public. In June 2019, Vasadze and like-minded individuals stood against Tbilisi Pride, a union of local LGBTQI people, planning to conduct a rally in the capital city. To this end, Vasadze galvanized groups armed with shepherd's crooks, something on which the Ministry of the Interior subsequently launched an inquest, with no known results so far.
Many in Georgia believe that due to the very limited success of the anti-Western and pro-Russian Georgian political parties in the latest parliamentary elections, Vasadze, who is a dual Georgian-Russian citizen, may be aiming to become the Kremlin’s new favorite in the Georgian political arena.
Georgia’s occupied territories
Bzhania meets Assad
De-facto president of Abkhazia, Aslan Bhzania, met with President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, during an “official visit” to Syria. The Abkhazian delegation, including the head of the so-called parliament and the de-facto members of government, held meetings with Syrian counterparts. During the visit, the first meeting of the “Abkhazia-Syria intergovernmental commission” was also held. It is noteworthy that Bhzania flew to Syria from Sochi with an airplane belonging to the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation.
Syria, a loyal ally of Russia and its Kremlin-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad, recognized the “independence” of Russian-occupied Abkhazia in 2018, in response to which Tbilisi severed diplomatic relations with Damascus. This case constituted a vivid example of Russia trying to legitimize its occupation of Georgian territories by making Assad, indebted to Moscow for saving his regime in Syria, recognize the “independence” of Georgia’s breakaway regions.
Russia continues illegal borderization
According to the anti-occupation movement, "Strength in Unity", occupation forces in the Tskhinvali region have been cutting down trees in preparation for further illegal borderization. During this process, they crossed 100 meters into Tbilisi-controlled territory and installed 300-400 meters of barbed wire. The State Security Service of Georgia affirmed the fact of the continuation of borderization, activated the "hotline" of the "European Union Monitoring Mission" (EUMM), and issued a statement about the background of the borderization process, attributing responsibility to the Russian Federation. Meanwhile, the "KGB" of the occupied Tskhinvali region, published statistics claiming that 42 people violated the "border" or "border regime" in the past month, compared to 28 people in March.
CoE Committee of Ministers Decision on Conflict in Georgia
On May 12, 2021, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted the decisions on the “conflict in Georgia”. The document establishes the responsibility of the Russian Federation for grave human rights violations during the period of occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions.
The CoE document maintains that: “the Russian Federation continues to impede the peaceful conflict resolution process and to undermine the security and stability in the wider region.” The document welcomed the ECHR’s recent judgment in the Georgia v. Russia (II) case that established Russia’s responsibility and called on the Russian Federation to execute the judgment of the ECHR.
The Committee of Ministers expressed grave concern over impunity concerning the deaths of Georgian IDPs and called on Russia to remove any obstacles to ending impunity in cases concerning the murder of ethnic Georgians in Georgia’s Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the unprecedented decision of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on the Conflict in Georgia and thanked the CoE Member States for their firm support and cooperation.
GEORGIA WATCH BRIEFING in April
Monitoring of disinformation cases
Pro-Kremlin media claim that Estonians no longer want to stay in the EU.
On April 22, Georgia and World, an online media outlet, referring to sputnik-meedia.ee as its source, published an article about Estonia’s plans to leave the European Union. According to the article, this Baltic state has already started collecting signatures for a petition and after collecting enough signatures, its initiator, the far-right Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) will apply to the Parliament of Estonia with a request to hold a referendum on leaving the European Union. Based on this information, Georgia and World headlined its article as “Estonians No Longer Want to Stay in the European Union.” This claim is groundless, because 84% of Estonians support the EU membership, while the above-mentioned petition on referendum had only 1,656 signatories as of May 6, and the Estonian population is estimated at 1.3 million. The author of the Sputnik article also claimed that the 2003 referendum, when Estonian people voted to join the European Union, is invalid because less than one-half of the country’s adult population voted in favor. This argument is manipulative because according to the Estonian Referendum Act, the decision of the people shall be reached by a majority of those who participate in the voting; in the 2003 referendum, both voter turnout and the number of citizens backing the EU membership exceeded 60%.
Channel One Russia manipulatively spreads information about vaccines.
Georgian Facebook accounts disseminated Channel One’s report in which the journalist claims that the Pfizer vaccine surpassed AstraZeneca with side effects and deaths. Channel One Russia cites the Institute for Global Change, an organization founded by the former Prime Minister of the UK Tony Blair. In Channel One’s report, information is covered without context as it is based on the data from the yellow card system. This system allows any user to enter data, and without further investigation, the program cannot confirm whether the vaccine was the cause of death. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency of the United Kingdom (MHRA) studies the notifications on deaths following vaccination, however, no fatal cases connected to the vaccines have been determined so far.
Conspiracy theory about former soviet republic leaders. A fake Facebook account that previously spread disinformation about Lugar Lab and was cited by some online media, published a post accompanying photos of former and current presidents of Georgia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and others taken at different events. Photos do not depict any connection to freemasonry as the source claims. See the details on Myth Detector.
NAMING AND SHAMING
Stalinists celebrate Victory Day with Russian flags and Soviet symbols
On May 9, the Day of Victory over Nazi Germany, the members of the Stalinists movement and other pro-Russian organizations (e.g. the International Center for the Study of the Stalin Phenomenon supported by Grisha Oniani, Chairman of the Stalin Society) gathered in front of Stalin's Museum in Gori to celebrate the triumph with Soviet symbols and to make pro-Russian statements. Later, they marched on the central square, where the statue of Stalin stood for years. According to the Stalinists, it is necessary to return the statue of Stalin to the square. Law of Georgia Freedom Charter prohibits the use of Soviet symbols, although this law "does not exist" for the Stalinists. Despite the violation of this particular law, the police officers did not appear on site.
Civil society organizations' initiatives
MDF has published the report “How Georgian Companies Advertise on Kremlin Propaganda Media Platforms through Google Ads”. The report covers which Georgian companies have advertisements on pro-Kremlin websites and reviews the profiles of those media outlets. The report also includes a chapter on how Google Ads work and information about which company responded to the research findings. MDF has prepared the present report within the framework of the research project implemented by the Open Information Partnership. The project involved think tanks from 5 countries (Poland, Lithuania, Georgia, Estonia, Czech Republic).
The Roadmap concerning the Kremlin’s Policy in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali Region, an information-analytical portal integrated with the website of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS - Rondeli Foundation), published an article titled “The Population of Abkhazia and Ethnic Composition”. It describes the trends and changing tendencies of the population of Abkhazia from 1989 to 2020. The author claims that the statistics are based on the data of the de-facto government of Abkhazia and therefore are not a reliable source of information. The article concludes that the de-facto government of Abkhazia deliberately increases the share of ethnic Abkhazians in the statistics to legitimize sharing less political power with other ethnic groups. The conflict in the 1990s led to the decrease of ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia by 5.5 times from 1989, according to the statistics of the de-facto government. Furthermore, ethnic Georgians are discriminated against and are forced to either assimilate or emigrate. It is noteworthy that the statistics of the occupying regime represent Georgians and Mingrelians as different ethnic groups, thus decreasing the percentage of ethnic Georgians to reduce Georgian influence in the district of Gali.
Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS - Rondeli Foundation) published the twelfth issue of Chinese Activities in the South Caucasus. The document covers the developments in deepening political, economic and cultural ties between China and the South Caucasus states. It is noteworthy that the Georgian province Shida Kartli and the Chinese province Gansu signed a cooperation agreement relating to the Belt and Road Initiative. Also, the Georgian Ambassador to China discussed economic topics with Chinese local government representatives and the Chairman of the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals & Chemicals Importers & Exporters; the Georgian Embassy in China promoted wine exports to China; and Georgian Airways began the transportation of cargo to Xinjiang. As a result of developing Georgia-China economic relations, China was Georgia’s third-largest trading partner in the period of January-March 2021. In other spheres of cooperation, Georgia received 100,000 doses of Sinovac Vaccine and the Chinese ambassador said in an interview to Georgian media, that “China is constantly contributing to the fight against Covid-19 in Georgia”. Also, there has been increasing cooperation in the field of culture and sports, as well.