The State Security Service, Georgia’s domestic intelligence agency, has issued its annual report for 2020, outlining key challenges faced by the country, as well as measures employed to protect it from threats.
The agency says the Russian occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia remained the main threat in 2020, while “activities by intelligence services of foreign countries to the detriment of Georgia’s national interests” constituted another key challenge.
The report says the continued militarization by Russian forces in the occupied regions, which “damages security environment on the ground,” amounts to “regional threat and international challenge.” Moscow “fully controlled” and engaged in all processes of military, social-political, and social-economic areas in occupied territories, the SSG adds.
According to the SSG, Russia made further steps towards the annexation of occupied regions, which included the signing of the ‘Common Social-Economic Space’ Program” between Moscow and Sokhumi in November 2020, the reemergence of Russian territorial claims on Aibga village that lies at the Abkhaz-controlled Georgian state border with the Russian Federation, and simplified “customs control procedures” between Moscow and Tskhinvali introduced in December last year.
Noting continued unlawful detentions of Georgian citizens and “borderization” processes at dividing lines separating Georgia proper from Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region, the report points at long prison sentences of two Georgian citizens – Zaza Gakheladze and Irakli Bebua.
As part of the occupation, Russia employed hybrid warfare tools aimed at “discrediting Georgian state institutions, fueling nihilism and pessimist attitudes in the society, and creating hurdles on the country’s path to Euro-Atlantic integration,” which was also accompanied by disinformation campaigns and fake news, SSG says.
The report notes that closure of so-called “crossing points” “significantly worsened” daily lives for residents behind dividing lives, particularly in Gali district of Abkhazia and Akhalgori district of Tskhinvali, restricting their freedom of movement, access to quality healthcare and education, as well as pensions and social assistance for residents of occupied Tskhinvali.
Ethnic Georgian residents of occupied regions also faced “deliberate discrimination” problems, including restricted education in their native language and limited property rights. The policy designed by the occupation regimes is directed at the change of “ethnic identity and assimilation,” the document stresses.
The SSG said foreign intelligence services attempted “direct or indirect” interference with domestic political processes and social life of Georgia, “to breach constitutional order, create disorder, shake state foundations and governance forms, hamper the functioning of the country’s institutional systems and limit their development.”
There were “active attempts” of influencing important processes through “manipulating public opinion, dividing and polarizing the population,” the report adds. Using various “disinformation and propaganda” tools, foreign intelligence services continued “sowing distrust” among the public towards Western partners, diminishing democratic values and spreading in turn “views suiting interests of particular countries.”
According to the annual report, particular countries and “groups under their influence” aimed at limiting NATO activities in the Black Sea region and Georgia. There were reportedly also attempts to portray Georgia as an “unreliable, unstable partner” internationally.
The document names as a particular regional challenge in 2020 the military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, when “interested groups” attempted to “strain the situation” between the country’s ethnic Azeri and Armenian citizens and spill the conflict into the territory of certain Georgian municipalities.
SSG says malign actors were spreading false information regarding Georgian engagement in the Nagorno Karabakh developments and encouraging attitudes that were harmful to Georgian-Azerbaijani and Georgian-Armenian relations.
“By deploying military forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia tries to consolidate military-political and economic levers of influence over the region,” the agency warns, noting that this can “significantly affect security environment of the region.”
Hybrid Warfare, Disinformation
“Hybrid threats” coming from foreign countries and their intelligence services, using disinformation and “soft power” and clandestine operations, exerted “essentially negative influence” on the security environment, State Security Service says.
According to the report, foreign states “periodically attempt fueling discords among various ethnic, religious or social groups,” while “certain groups” spread radical views” towards ethnic and religious minorities by appealing on “patriotic motives.”
There were “active attempts” throughout the last year to influence “various groups of Georgian public,” as well as significant processes through “coordinated and joint use” of clandestine activities and disinformation tools,” SSG says.
Cybersecurity & Terrorism
Numerous cyber attacks have been carried out against “critical public information systems” of the Georgian state, the report says, recalling the September 2020 attack on the Health Ministry that led to the leak of documents related to COVID-19 pandemic management. The attack was preceded by “intensified disinformation campaigns and destructive processes” alongside the pandemic, including statements by Russian occupation forces and representatives of de-facto regimes of occupied territories, SSG adds.
As for the terrorist threats, the report says there were no identified hotspots of spreading terrorist ideology. Neither were there any recorded cases of Georgian citizen’s departure to Syria or Iraq in 2020, it concludes.