Russian Influence in Georgia Ahead of Critical Elections

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 39

(Source: TASS)

Executive Summary:

  • Georgia is experiencing the effects of Russia’s soft power through the presence of pro-Russian organizations, media outlets, and parties that assert closer ties to Moscow will settle disagreements between the two countries.
  • Recent polls have indicated that a significant segment of Georgian society is still holding onto elements of the country’s Soviet heritage, making them targets of Russian hybrid warfare.
  • The outcome of the war in Ukraine will determine Moscow’s ability to influence Tbilisi despite ambivalent attitudes in Georgian society toward Russia.

On February 27, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili expressed concerns about Russian interference in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Georgia through cyberattacks and propaganda. Zourabichvili added that pro-Russian groups in Georgia, “which do not openly declare themselves pro-Russian,” are receiving the Kremlin’s support in disseminating anti-Western propaganda (Sky News, February 27). As a result, fears of potential Russian meddling in the parliamentary elections this coming October has gradually started to permeate public discourse.

In 2017, Georgia’s Strategic Defense Review officially recognized Russian “soft power” as a significant threat to the country’s security. As part of Moscow’s hybrid war in Georgia, its soft power tactics have been multifaceted, ranging from informational influence to economic leverage (Free Russia Foundation,  December 27, 2022; Foreign Affairs, April 6, 2023; Atlantic Council, August 31, 2023; Strategic Defense Review, accessed March 13).

About 20 Russia-leaning parties, public organizations, and media outlets exist in Georgia. A great deal of their funding most likely comes directly from Russia. One such organization is the Eurasian Institute and its media platforms “Politforum,” “Georgia and the World,” and the Eurasia Information Agency. In 2023, the Eurasian Institute filmed and distributed the documentary “Fascism in Ukraine—Zelenskyy’s Concentration Camp” (, November 11, 2023). In 2024, the Eurasian Institute plans to hold international roundtables and country-wide public meetings to discuss the future of Georgian-Russian relations (Georgia and the World, February 18).

The Center of the Georgian-Russian Society, named after Georgia-born Yevgeny Primakov, is another dynamic hotbed of pro-Russian influence in Georgia. The Russian Gorchakov Foundation is a co-founder and donor to the Center (, September 13, 2022). Pro-Russian media outlets in Georgia that have a consistent Georgian audience include the news agency “Saqinform,” the internet television channel “Sezoni,” the pro-Russian “Conservative Movement” Party’s television channel “Alt-Info,” and the television/radio station “Obieqtivi,” the media branch of the Russia-leaning party “Alliance of Patriots.” The “Alliance of Patriots” parliamentary party operated from 2016 to 2020 but is inactive now . The pro-Russian public movement “Solidarity for Peace,” which was instrumental in lobbying for restoring direct flights between Russia and Georgia, has been transformed into a political party called “Georgian Unity.” The party plans to participate in the parliamentary elections in 2024.

Judging by the scope of its activity, the well-structured “Conservative Movement” and its media branch “Alt-Info” appear to be Georgia’s most efficient pro-Russian political force. The party has close ties with Moscow, and its representatives have visited the Russian capital several times. It has also been associated with several violent actions against pro-Western liberal groups and the LGBTQ community.

Russian soft power also skillfully capitalizes on local leaders who position themselves as defenders of national traditions and values. These leaders often depict Western values as alien to Georgians. Russian hybrid warfare traditionally assigns a unique role to the Christian Orthodoxy. Pro-Western groups suspect that the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC), the most trusted institution in Georgia, might serve as an instrument of Russian soft power (, October 16, 2017; Civil Georgia, June 26, 2019; Ponars Eurasia, October 10, 2021; Caucasus Watch, February 24, 2022). During the panel discussion “Georgia’s European Opportunity” at Chatham House in February, Zourabichvili emphasized the physical weakness of Patriarch Ilia II and expressed hope that the GOC “will be able to elect a pro-Georgian and pro-European patriarch and not a pro-Russian one” (Chatham House, February 28). The results of the upcoming parliamentary elections are highly likely to determine whether the GOC changes its cautious attitude toward Russia. While declaring its support for Georgia’s pro-European course, the GOC remains a firm opponent of Western liberal values and often mobilizes society against them (OC-Media, July 3, 2023).

The drastic increase of Russian immigrants in Georgia, the growing number of Russian businesses in Georgia, and the significant Russian presence in nearly every sector of the Georgian economy all heighten the effectiveness of Russian influence operations (see EDM, December 6, 2023, February 15; Jam-News, February 1). The relatively loyal behavior of the Russians who settled in Georgia to Tbilisi may change due Russia’s threat to Georgian statehood and their loyalty to the Kremlin, as Russian foreign and security policy emphasizes the protection of Russian citizens abroad, including by military means if necessary (, March 31, 2023).

For the past few years, opinion polls in Georgia have indicated that a significant segment of society still holds onto pieces of the country’s Soviet heritage, making them targets of Russian propaganda. In a survey conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in March 2018, 42 percent of those polled said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a “bad” development for Georgia (NDI, April 30, 2018).

According to the latest NDI survey, the number of those who believe that Georgia’s foreign policy should be exclusively pro-Western has decreased. The survey, conducted in 2022, recorded that 47 percent of Georgians believed that the country’s foreign policy should be strictly pro-Western. In the most recent survey, conducted in 2023, 37 percent of Georgians held this view (NDI, December 11, 2023). The number of Georgians who believe that the country’s foreign policy should be pro-Western but still maintain good relations with Russia increased from 31 percent in 2022 to 36 percent in 2023. Additionally, most respondents admit that Russia is the main threat to Georgia, but only 3 percent consider economic dependence on Russia as a threat to national security. The latest survey also reported that 20 to 25 percent of respondents ranked Russia third after the European Union and the United States when asked which countries Georgia should prioritize for close economic and political relations. About 60 percent of respondents, in varying degrees, believe that Georgia should deepen and/or maintain economic ties with Russia.

The fear of a new conflict with Russia and the purely economic interests of a significant portion of Georgian society, including the business community, are possible reasons behind the ambivalent attitudes toward Russia. Although most of those polled by NDI consider potential Russian military aggression and propaganda as the biggest threats to Georgia, initiatives from civil society and some opposition parties to stop the broadcasting of Russian television channels, block pro-Kremlin Internet resources, and curb Russian immigration have failed to gain broad public support.

The ambivalent attitudes of Georgian society leave Moscow hoping that it can influence Georgia’s upcoming elections. Despite some temporary achievements, however, Russian soft power will face difficulties gaining more traction. The outcome of the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine will largely determine the future of Russian influence in Georgia.