On October 2, the State Security Service of Georgia (SSSG) released a statement alleging that three Serbian trainers are recruiting activists with the intent to orchestrate the violent overthrow of the Georgian government (Civil.ge, October 2). The SSSG’s statement highlights the Georgian Dream government’s growing paranoia regarding connections between Georgian society and international civil society organizations. The individuals in question were brought to Georgia to participate in a program reportedly funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). According to the SSSG, the trainers are affiliated with the Center for Applied Nonviolent Actions and Strategies (CANVAS) in Belgrade. The SSSG claimed that Giorgi Lortkipanidze, deputy head of Ukraine’s military counterintelligence; Mikheil Baturin, bodyguard of former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili; and Mamuka Mamulashvili, commander of the Georgian Legion operating in Ukraine are the original authors of the alleged plot (Civil.ge, September 18).
Serbian citizens Siniša Šikman, Jelena Stojšić, and Slobodan Djinovic first arrived in Georgia on September 25. They were brought to the country at the invitation of the East-West Management Institute, of which USAID is reportedly one funder. The SSSG pointed out that these individuals were connected to the Rose Revolution that unfolded in Georgia in 2003. The SSSG states, “Over the years, they have also been associated with similar revolutionary developments in Serbia, Ukraine, and various other countries. They have been actively teaching the methods of igniting protests and the tactics of holding violent rallies” (Tabula.ge, October 2). Šikman and Djinovic are former members of the Serbian organization Otpor, which played a key role in the overthrow of Slobodan Miloševic.
CANVAS held its most recent workshop in Georgia at the Hotel Ibis in Tbilisi from September 26 to 29. The training supposedly focused on “ways to achieve greater independence and efficiency” for artistic expression in Georgia. The SSSG summoned three members of the CANVAS staff on September 29 for questioning in relation to the event. No arrests were made, and the CANVAS team members were allowed to leave the country aboard a previously scheduled flight on September 30 (Civil.ge, October 15). On October 2, the SSSG invited one of CANVAS’s Georgian representatives, Nini Gogiberidze, in for questioning (Formulanews.ge, October 2)
After these interrogations, the SSSG informed the Georgian public of its allegations that a certain group acting both inside and outside Georgia is plotting to foment civil unrest within the country. The security service added that, based on the findings of its investigation, this process will begin sometime in October 2023 and continue into November and December. The SSSG reiterated that the alleged final objective of this effort is the violent overthrow of the Georgian government (Civil.ge, October 2).
The SSSG previously alleged that “a big group of individuals of Georgian origin fighting in Ukraine” are currently training along the Polish-Ukrainian state border to participate in the planned coup. SSSG officials alleged that the coup will involve placing barricades along the main streets in downtown Tbilisi and near strategic facilities throughout Georgia. This will also include fortifying and barricading government buildings. According to the SSSG, “In particular, it is verified that the organizers are considering implementing a scenario in Georgia similar to the ‘Euromaidan’ held in Ukraine in 2014” (Agenda,ge, September 18).
Given the claims against USAID, the US embassy in Tbilisi immediately responded to the SSSG’s accusations. The embassy’s official statement characterized the allegations as “false” and “fundamentally mischaracterized.” It emphasized that “USAID has collaborated with CANVAS for more than two years to help people to speak up for the issues that matter to their families and communities.” Specifically, the embassy has “partnered with CANVAS to deliver training to mothers advocating for better cancer treatments for children and to people advocating for the rights of elderly citizens in their communities” (Ge.usembasssy.gov, October 2).
Officials of the Georgian Dream (GD) government offered their own rejoinders to the US embassy’s statement. For example, on October 3, Kobakhidze declared, “Instead of seeing [the US embassy] distancing [itself] from the processes directly related to the preparation of a revolution, we saw a completely different statement, which is concerning.” The GD party leader further contended that Georgian society “wants peace in this country, not revolution, or the problems that revolutions have brought, for example, to our friends in Ukraine.” Kobakhidze expressed hope that the United States “will not support the revolutionary processes under any circumstances; however, the embassy’s statement was absolutely shocking and insulting to Georgian society” (Formulanews.ge, October 3). On October 12, he called the embassy’s statement “rather cynical” (Imedi.ge, October 12).
The allegations of Washington supporting a “revolutionary scenario” caused a stormy reaction within some parts of Georgian society. Vakhtang Maisaia, a political analyst and professor in Georgia, argued in an October 14 interview with this author that the SSSG’s statement can be considered “meaningless.” Maisaia affirmed his belief that the SSSG’s accusations against CANVAS and (indirectly) against the United States aim to “reinforce the ruling party positions and willingness to sabotage our strategic partners—the United States and Ukraine.” He further observed, “I think this is the statement of the ruling party leadership, not SSSG,” as the government is “absolutely implementing an appeasement policy toward Russia” (Author’s interview, October 12).
Not all Georgians, however, are as skeptical about the SSSG’s statement. The allegations of a coup plot seem to have resonated with those Georgians who are truly afraid of a revolutionary scenario in Georgia. Petre Mamradze, who served as head of the Georgian State Chancellery from 1995 to 2007, claimed that the supposed plot is not surprising to him due to his insider knowledge of how nongovernmental organizations, both foreign and domestic, operate in Georgia. Mamradze stated, “I remember some of the actions during the 2003 Rose Revolution. And the point is that USAID often financed such activities” (Author’s interview, October 12).
The fact that the GD government suspects Washington of prepping for regime change in Georgia represents a new low for US-Georgian relations. Anonymous sources within the GD party told this author that a bloody revolutionary scenario is worse for them than damaging relations with the United States (Author’s interview, October 12). These party officials rest their hopes of resetting relations with Washington on the new US ambassador to Georgia, Robin L. Dunnigan, who recently arrived in the country on October 12 (Interpressnews.ge, October 12). Yet, even with the infusion of new diplomatic blood, Dunnigan faces the difficult task of seeking a constructive rapprochement with the current Georgian government.