On August 2, Irma Inasvhili, one of the founders of the Georgian pro-Russian political party Alliance of Patriots, posted her faction’s open letter to “Your Excellency,” Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking for his assistance in repairing cooperation between their two countries. The Alliance of Patriots informs Putin—the head of a state that has occupied 20 percent of Georgia’s territory since August 2008—that the party shares the Kremlin’s concerns about Georgian cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and has already developed a concept for Georgia’s military neutrality (Facebook.com, August 2). The published letter (signed by dozens of former parliamentary deputies, previous officials and even retired generals) claims that the majority of the Georgian population supports neutrality. But opinion polls show that the opposite is true: 77 percent of Georgians (61 percent fully and 16 percent somewhat) back Georgia joining NATO (Iri.org, August 2).
Probably not coincidentally, the letter coincided with the multinational military exercise Agile Spirit 2021, held in Georgia with the participation of 2,500 military personnel from 15 NATO and Western partner countries—maneuvers that Russia condemns annually. Inashvili stated that the Georgian government and the opposition United National Movement are ruining the country and that “the director of this theater [sic] is the United States” (Facebook.com, August 2, 2021).
The Alliance of Patriots party was created immediately after the coming to power of the ruling Georgian Dream Party in 2012. Domestically, some perceive this fraction as a satellite and pro-Russian wing of the ruling party. Due to its explicitly pro-Moscow stance, Alliance of Patriots does not enjoy significant backing in the country. However, it receives financial support from Russia: according to the Dossier Center investigative group, the party illegally obtained $8 million from Russian sources ahead of the parliamentary elections in 2020 (Dossier.center, August 24, 2020), although it ended up attracting only 3.14 percent of the vote (Cesko.ge, December, 2020).
With its open letter to Putin, the Alliance of Patriots is apparently trying to prove its loyalty to Moscow in the hopes of restoring greater Russian patronage. For several years up to 2020, the Alliance of Patriots was clearly considered Russia’s main ally among Georgian parties; but the Kremlin recently switched to other preferred “partners” in Tbilisi. Russia regularly contributes to the creation of so-called conservative, traditional groups in Georgia that espouse religious and nationalistic values.
Arguably, the most powerful far-right group presently supported by Russia is the “Georgian March,” a political movement–turned political party known for engaging in violent street actions. A public report published by the Estonian Intelligence Service notably asserts that the Georgian March carries out special missions from Moscow (Valisluureamet.ee, February 2020). This organization was informally established in 2017, bringing together many different pro-Russian, nationalist and radical groups or individuals. After the Georgian March’s creation, the Alliance of Patriots party receded in importance and gradually lost its relevance for the Kremlin.
Initially, Georgia’s major pro-Russian radical groups active today had relied on methods of street violence against liberal and pro-Western activists to build their visibility; but gradually, they transformed themselves into political parties. In 2020, the Georgian March registered a political party under the same name (Civil.ge, July 3, 2020). It unsuccessfully ran in that year’s parliamentary elections, winning no seats. After that, a new player with ties to Moscow entered Georgia’s political stage: In May 2021, Levan Vasadze, a Russian businessman of Georgian origin, unveiled his political movement “Unity, Essence, Hope,” which aspires to take over the Alliance of Patriots’ traditional role as the vanguard of pro-Russian politics in Georgia.
If the Alliance of Patriots is supported mainly by elderly people and former or retired state officials, Vasadze’s organization is characterized by young aggressive activists who prefer physical strength. Indeed, Unity, Essence, Hope has integrated into its ranks much of Georgian March, de facto taking over setting policies for the latter. Moreover, the political movement’s leader, Vasadze, has more significant contacts in Moscow than the leadership of the Alliance of Patriots party.
Outwardly, these Kremlin-backed groups are careful to self-identify as “pro-Georgian” and assert that they seek to protect national, religious and traditional values. They tend to characterize the West as “evil,” asserting it represents a perverted lifestyle that threatens Georgia’s identity; in contrast, they look to Russia as a co-faith neighbor that can protect and shield Georgian from the corrupt influences emanating from the Western world. In line with such thinking, these groups and factions frequently promote (outwardly or implicitly) Russian Eurasianist ideologist Alexander Dugin’s recommendations of military-political neutrality for Georgia (YouTube, July 15, 2020). And they warn Georgians that if their country becomes a NATO member, Russia will never de-occupy Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
To promote such Russian and anti-Western sentiments, both the Alliance of Patriots and Unity, Essence, Hope launched their own TV channels—Obieqtivi and Alt-Info, respectively (Mythdetector.ge, June 21, 2021). But despite such efforts and the financial costs incurred by the Kremlin, the popularity ratings of the Alliance of Patriots, Georgian March, and Unity, Essence, Hope remain marginal—not exceeding 1–2 percent, according to a June poll conducted by the International Republican Institute (Iri.org, June 2021). Last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov observed, “We see the emergence of Georgian politicians who support the restoration of relations, and these are just small parties in the ruling elite.” Nonetheless, he assured that “…in the end our traditional historical closeness and mutual attraction of our peoples will triumph” (YouTube, September 17, 2020). Opinion polls (conducted in June 2021) show that 79 percent of Georgians believe Russia poses the greatest political threat to Georgia (Iri.org, June 2021)—far and away the top choice, but slightly down from 88 percent in February 2021 (Iri.org, February 2021) and 82 percent in June of 2020 (Civil.ge, August 2020).
Until 2012, a different constellation of pro-Russian groups operated in Georgia, but they were marginalized and lost all of their influence in the public sphere during the intervening years. Instead, more overtly far-right pro-Russian groups have filled this space, particularly thanks to the ruling Georgian Dream party’s instances of turning a blind eye to Russian interference in Georgia’s internal politics (see EDM, May 29, 2018). Moreover, to one degree or another, Georgian Dream has also sought to coopt these Kremlin-backed factions in its fight against the opposition and liberal civil society activists (see EDM, December 10, 2019). For now, those pro-Russian political forces remain weak; but their strength could grow if the authorities continue to tolerate or even promote their existence.