Russian ‘Elves’ in Georgia Fight Against Putin

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 186


On November 20, Radio Tavisupleba, the Georgian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, published an article about Russian citizens’ activism in Georgia in fighting against the Vladimir Putin regime and its invasion of Ukraine. According to the outlet, about 200 “elves” write hundreds of posts and commentaries daily on Russian social networks in an attempt to convince Putin’s supporters that Moscow’s war against Ukraine is unjust (Radio Tavisupleba, November 20). These Russians elves use accounts under false names to avoid being identified by the Russian authorities. They call themselves “elves” as a counterbalance to the Kremlin’s “trolls.”

The Russian elves in Georgia work in three shifts and leave at least 120 comments a day on various social networks, especially the social media site VKontakte (Radio Tavisupleba, November 20). The annual costs of their activities totals about $4 million. These elves express their support for the independence and territorial integrity of Georgia, oppose the Russian occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and hope for the country’s accession to the European Union. The Radio Tavisupleba article provided a link to a 19-gigabyte archive that displays some of the work that these elves have been engaged in. The drive includes documents with tens of pages outlining daily tasks, links to instructions on how to leave comments, and detailed commentaries on different issues they may encounter (Google Drive, accessed December 6).

The Russian activists target different groups in Russia with a variety of messaging tactics. For example, they post content with the intent to scare military-age men in Russia away from military service and play on the growing concerns of Russian women that they will lose their husbands and sons if they are sent to fight in Ukraine (see EDM, November 27). The Russian elves call Putin a “thief” and “murderer” and criticize Moscow’s mobilization efforts and draft laws that throw significant numbers of Russian citizens into the “meat grinder” in Ukraine (Kyiv Post, December 6). They also remind the population that Russians and Ukrainians fought side by side in World War II.

The Radio Tavisupleba report touches on the activities of Russian elves within Russia who are working collectively against Kremlin propaganda (Radio Tavisupleba, November 20). Their “elf factory” is not financed by the Georgian state, but by Western elements who aim to weaken Moscow’s position and convince Russian society of the need to end the war. The Georgian journalists also speculate that these elves aim to push Russian society to act decisively for a possible regime change in Moscow.

The investigative report aroused great interest within the Georgian expert community. Gocha Mirtskhulava, editor in chief of Georgian independent outlet, said in a December 1 interview with this author that he has actively studied the mood and activities of the Russians who moved to Georgia after the start of the war in Ukraine. He asserts that there is no evidence of a “fabric of elves” in Georgia as a united group that works for money: “If 200 elves write only 120 or even 200 comments, it means that someone is throwing money down the drain.” He further argued, “This commissioned work was also low in pay. … From a budget of $4 million, the monthly salary for one person would be $1,666. Living in Tbilisi for $1,666 per month, renting an apartment, food, and other utility expenses, is insufficient” (Author’s interview, December 1).

Mirtskhulava suggests that many Russians who came to Georgia and work against Putin have differing motivations. The Georgian expert observed, “Russians living in Georgia see what Putin and his government are actually doing. They also realize that if they return to their home country, they will become cannon fodder. These people left their parents in their homeland, the capital they had earned … for their own development; they [already] had future plans.”

According to Mirtskhulava, many of the Russians fighting Putin’s regime from Georgia do so out of a sense of civic responsibility, not for money. He contended that when these elves express their positions through false accounts, it means they are taking care not to put their family members remaining in Russia in the Kremlin’s crosshairs. “They also warn themselves that, if they ever decide to return to their homeland, they will become targets of the intelligence services. They know that ‘Novichok’ is not only poisoning people in Britain,” the Georgian editor concluded (Author’s interview, December 1).

Irakli Tabliashvili, a journalist from independent television outlet Formula News, voiced concerns that the Russian elf factory in Georgia may be part of a sophisticated game conducted by Russian intelligence (Author’s interview, December 1). “They can earn trust by criticizing the Putin regime, but then begin to call on Ukraine to also make concessions to Russia on territorial issues,” Tabliashvili warned. He recalled that the Soviet KGB often created “false personal authorities” to force people to act in Moscow’s interests. For example, Tabliashvili mentioned Oleksii Arestovych, a former advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who gained a following with his anti-Russian statements. Recently, however, Arestovych’s narrative has changed in calling for a compromise on the issue of Ukrainian accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as, according to him, such a development would be more beneficial to Moscow than to Kyiv (Bbabo Net, November 30).

Since February 2022, 60,000 to 100,000 Russians have moved to Georgia, bought or rented apartments, and started businesses while waiting for the end to the bloody war (Kommersant, June 28; see EDM, August 10). Some have become elves seemingly engaged in fighting the Kremlin’s trolls from abroad. As Mirtskhulava pointed out, many of the Russian elves in Georgia are speaking out against the Putin regime as part what they consider to be their civic duty in carving out a future in which they can return to their homeland in peace.