The Georgian Dream Government comes under criticism both locally and internationally as the news broke about the controversial deal between the Georgian State Security Service and the Belarus State Security Committee (KGB) coming into force on August 1, 2021.
The agreement took effect on August 1, some five years after it was signed in August 2016. One of the clauses of the deal stipulates that it enters into force on the first day of the month following the exchange of the official diplomatic notes, implying the exchange of notes happened in July 2021.
The deal, coming as Georgia’s western partners are expanding sanctions against Belarusian authorities over a rigged 2020 August presidential election and subsequent crackdown on opposition protests foresees information exchange in the field of state security and cooperation on fighting the crime against the constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, transnational organized crime, terrorism, cyber terrorism, and illegal circulation of weapons.
Georgian Opposition, CSOs Raise Alarm
The Human Rights House Tbilisi (HRHT), an umbrella organization uniting several local CSOs, said the implementation of the deal will put in danger the Belarussian nationals, particularly human rights defenders and activists, who have fled to Georgia to escape. According to HRHT, due to air travel bans imposed against Minsk over the flight diversion incident in May, Georgia remains among the few countries where Belarussian refugees can still seek shelter.
Commenting on the list of potential crimes covered by the intelligence exchange deal, HRHT warned that the authorities in Minsk bring similar charges against human rights defenders and organizations to “quash critical opinion in Belarus, grossly violate human rights, and restrict legitimate activities of the human rights defenders in the country.”
Also expressing concerns over the fate of Belarussian asylum seekers in Georgia, the opposition party Droa, led by Elene Khoshtaria, candidate for Tbilisi Sakrebulo Chairpersonship in October 2 local elections, called the signing of the deal “alarming,” saying it legitimizes “[Alexander] Lukashenko’s dreadful and illegitimate regime responsible for thousands of deaths, torture, and political prisoners.”
Giorgi Kandelaki of the European Georgia party, an opposition outfit, said the document “speaks volumes” of the foreign policy trajectory of the Georgian Dream government.
He said the document poses national security threats to Georgia, noting that the Belarusian KGB is heavily influenced by the Russian intelligence services especially in the aftermath of August 2020 events.
Sviatna aTsikhanouskaya, exiled Belarusian opposition leader wrote today that the “only the complete termination of the Cooperation Agreement with the KGB will guarantee the security of Belarusians in Georgia.”
Tsikhanouskaya sent a letter to the Georgian Foreign Ministry, calling to voice “a clearly expressed position on the inadmissibility of using this agreement to issue information about Belarusian citizens and other cooperation that could negatively affect” Belarusians residing in Georgia.
The Belarussian opposition leader also stressed that Belarusians need to be protected from forced deportation to Belarus, “because the regime uses references to ‘anti-terrorist legislation’ to persecute its political opponents.”
Marina Kaljurand, leading Member of the European Parliament on EU-Georgia relations, urged the Georgian authorities to annul the information exchange agreement with “the Belarusian regime’s infamous KGB.”
“Lukashenka has been usurping power since 09/08/2020 falsified election. Belarusian exiles who found safe haven in Georgia must be fully protected!,” asserted MEP Kaljurand.
MEP Viola von Cramon, another leading lawmaker on EU-Georgian relations, called the news about the deal taking force “very scary indeed,” asking why Georgia is implementing the agreement “after 5 years in a situation where everyone else in the world gave up the cooperation with Belarus.”
Is Lukashenka again playing a card of possible recognition of Abkhazia&South Ossetia to get what he wants? https://t.co/dWxSnjcM9v
— Olesya Vartanyan (@Olesya_vArt) August 15, 2021
SSG Says Agency “Deliberately Discredited”
Responding to the criticism on August 16, the Security Service of Georgia said a “disinformation campaign” has been launched to “deliberately discredit” the agency.
According to the SSG, the Georgian government “made all the steps within the respective terms to ensure entry into force of the document, while the Republic of Belarus put the document signed in 2016 into force in August of the current year,” adding that the accord “does not oblige the parties to carry out an act which is against their state interests.”
Justifying the deal, the State Security Service of Georgia also said it has got “law-enforcement cooperation of the similar type with multiple partner countries worldwide, including with the United States of America, the UK, France, Lithuania and other NATO and EU-member countries.”