Georgia’s Ruling Elite Encourages Russia and Fights Western Influence

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 54


Executive Summary:

  • The Georgian government has again introduced a bill on foreign agents that follows the model of similar Russian legislation, specifically targeting nongovernmental organizations and Western donors.
  • The initiative will play a central role in the approaching October parliamentary elections, as Georgian Dream hopes to avoid another wave of protests.
  • The bill itself was introduced to counter Tbilisi’s aspirations to join the European Union and will likely encourage further Russian influence while moving Georgia away from the West.

On April 3, the Georgian government initiated a new bill on foreign agents (, April 3). A similar bill, proposed last year, caused massive unrest in the country. As a result, the law was not adopted (see EDM, March 13, 2023). When the measure failed, the Georgian ruling elite promised never to submit a law of this type again. Behind the renewed actualization of this initiative is billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the informal leader of Georgia and honorary chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party. Ivanishvili’s party associates have confirmed that they have been consulting with him on this issue (, April 3). The introduction of the new bill, which follows the model of similar Kremlin legislation, underlines Russia’s growing influence in the country. Georgian Dream officials believe that they will be able to approve the law this time around and hope to avoid another round of protests.

The Georgian law was prepared following the Russian-style “foreign agents” bill. It outlines governmental financial control over nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive financial donations from abroad. Georgian officials do not consider opposition parties as their main opponents, but rather Western-financed NGOs. After Georgian Dream came to power in 2012, the ruling elite led an aggressive confrontation with Georgia’s civil society leaders.  Particular focus was given to local offices and representatives of international donors and NGOs, including the National Democratic Institute (NDI), International Republican Institute (IRI), and US Agency for International Development (USAID) (see EDM, December 10, 2019).

The new bill was introduced to counter Georgia’s aspirations to join the European Union and will have serious consequences for Tbilisi’s relations with the West. The European Union and some Western politicians have already reacted to this development. EU officials expressed concern about the re-introduction of a draft law on the “Transparency of Foreign Influence” and recalled the Georgian government and the ruling party’s pledge to “unconditionally withdraw” such legislation last year. Brussels also warned Georgian officials that, “transparency should not be used as an instrument to limit civil society’s capacity to operate freely” (Delegation of the European Union to Georgia, April 4). Georgia is currently awaiting the European Union’s decision to open negotiations for official membership. The new legislative initiative could bury the dream of a European Georgia. Additionally, on April 4, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated, “I oppose any attempt by the Georgian government to re-introduce the draft law on foreign agents or foreign influence, as this is actually an effort against strengthening democratic institutions in Georgia” (, April  4).

The Georgian people also reacted quickly to the news. On April 9, a protest under the slogan “Down With Russian Law” took place in Tbilisi (, April 9). Last year, similar protests occurred under the slogan “No to Russian Law” (, March 6, 2023). Georgian officials believe that some forces deliberately misled Georgians last year and turned them against the bill. They intend to approve the new law by the end of the spring session of parliament in May or June (, April 3).

On April 3, during a presentation on the updated initiative, Mamuka Mdinaradze, the executive secretary of Georgian Dream, blamed the former US ambassador to Georgia, Kelly C. Degnan, for the bill’s failure last year and called her a representative of the “Global War Party” (, April 3). Mdinaradze accused Degnan of leading an open campaign against the Georgian law in March 2023, presenting it as an analog to the Russian law. In 2023, the ruling elite in Georgia insisted that their legislation was analogous to the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, not the Russian legislation.

The renewed initiative takes on special significance given Georgia’s upcoming parliamentary elections in October. Georgian and international NGOs are active during elections primarily as observers and monitors. During the 2020 parliamentary elections, the results of a parallel vote count conducted by one local NGO—the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, with the support of international donors—did not line up with the official election results, triggering mass protests (, November 1, 2020). The opposition accused the Georgian government of rigging the election and announced a boycott of the newly elected parliament. By initiating restrictive measures against NGOs, Georgian officials are trying to prevent a similar result before the 2024 parliamentary elections.

To alleviate public protest, the Georgian government decided to change the name of the law to “Transparency of Foreign Influence.” In the bill, the term “foreign agent” will be replaced with “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power” (, April 3). The law targets organizations that receive more than 20 percent of their income from foreign donors (, April 3). These NGOs will be forced to submit an annual declaration on the amount of their foreign funding and a report on how this money is spent (, April 3).

Georgian officials suspect that many political parties use foreign donors to obtain funding for their political activities, creating fictitious NGOs to receive donations. In Georgia, it is forbidden for political parties to receive money from abroad. Before this, such a ban did not apply to the activities of NGOs. With the new bill, the Georgian government seeks to minimize the activity of NGOs with political parties behind them and other influential NGOs that create issues for the ruling elite. The measure applies to Georgian NGOs as well as all foundations and foreign NGOs, including NDI, IRI, and presumably USAID. In 2023, Georgia’s ruling elite accused USAID of financing the preparation of a coup. Tbilisi insinuated that USAID financed training for young people on using force to overthrow the government. A criminal case was opened, and the special services began to harass Georgian citizens involved in these alleged activities (, October 6).

Rather than fight Russia’s growing influence, Georgia’s ruling elite is actively contributing to the fight against Western influence in the country. The Kremlin continues to push all countries in the post-Soviet space to adopt similar “foreign agent” legislation and is clear evidence of entrenched Russian influence in certain countries. Moscow insists on the adoption of such a law in Abkhazia, where, despite the occupation, foreign donor organizations, including USAID, actively operate (Ekho kavkaza, February 29).

Georgian Dream’s failure to pass the law on foreign agents last year caused discontent in Moscow. The Kremlin believes that Georgia could return to Russia’s sphere of influence if the activity of foreign foundations and NGOs in Georgia is effectively curtailed. The Georgian Dream government considers NGOs to be disseminators of Western liberal values and ideas and, therefore, anti-Russian notions. The governments of Russia, occupied Abkhazia, and Georgia seem to have found a common enemy in the form of Western donors.