On February 12, the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (EFIS) published a report which discusses the latest security developments in the region, including Georgia and the South Caucasus.
The report outlined Russia’s increased sway in South Caucasus. “In 2019, Russia continued to use military pressure, exploitation of conflict zones, influence activities, and a mix of economic pressure and incentives to maintain its leverage in South Caucasus,” the report stressed. According to EFIS, Russia sees the region as “a geopolitical buffer zone.”
As stated by the report, in 2019, Russia has clearly stepped up its military and political pressure on Georgia. The report refers to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement back in September, in which he vowed to fund the modernization and re-armament of Moscow-backed Abkhazia’s “armed forces.”
#Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service's annual #report is out. “International #Security and Estonia 2020” discusses the latest developments in Russia's military, internal politics, influence operations etc. Full report: https://t.co/Y3zaRNrKtl https://t.co/XtFB1N8afI
— Estonia in the EU (@EEinEU) February 12, 2020
EFIS called attention to ongoing attempts to shift dividing line between the Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia and Georgia proper deeper in Tbilisi-controlled territory. The process has grown “more aggressive and provocative than before,” the report states, resulting in “physical threats” against European Union Monitoring Mission patrols. EFIS stressed the fact that the autonomy of South Ossetian “authorities” is an illusion and Moscow pulls the strings of “the puppet government.”
The report also noted that this year Russia is planning to conduct a strategic military exercise, dubbed “Kavkaz 2020,” in its Southern Military District adjacent to South Caucasus.
EFIS stated that, in addition to hard power, Russia employs an array of other means to exert influence. Among Russia’s soft power arsenal two Russian-bankrolled institutions are singled out: Yevgeny Primakov Georgian-Russian Public Centre in Georgia, and a local branch of the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund. Through providing free Russian language courses and bolstering cultural ties, these outfits act as instruments in Russian influence actiities, EFIS stressed. An enlargement is planned, reads the report, as an opening of Russkiy Mir/Russian Cultural Centre was due to open its doors in December 2019.
The report raised concerns about a significant rise in Russian-backed propaganda which promotes “so-called traditional values” in Georgia. EFIS referred to Georgian March, ”an umbrella organization for extremist movements,” “playing major role” in this regard. Organization’s activities, EFIS reckoned, are aimed at “rattling public support for joining the European Union and NATO, as well as creating internal tensions and escalating conflict within Georgian society.”
“Its mission is to resist the values supposedly imposed on Georgian society by the West, allegedly threatening the very existence of the Georgian people and society,” the report noted, adding that among the leaders of the Georgian March several individuals had ties to Russia and its “influence activities.”
EFIS warned that Russia would attempt to influence Georgian parliamentary elections in 2020, in order to ensure “a more beneficial election result” for itself. It will do so “by favoring Russian-friendly candidates or those who have the most divisive influence in the West,” the report noted.