Russia’s Last War and a New “Iron Curtain” on the European Continent

" We are ignoring the views of the people who've been comprehensively and systematically vindicated in their analysis and listening to the views of people who've been comprehensively and systematically wrong," – Edward Lucas

“Ivanishvili is Putin’s most successful project” – I can’t recall who first uttered these words to me. Perhaps they were never spoken aloud; instead, they emerged during those restless moments before sleep, when memories of distant days or the weight of half a century’s worth of emotions bubble up, delaying the arrival of rest. Regardless, with the passage of time, I have become increasingly convinced that Ivanishvili truly represents Putin’s most triumphant endeavor. For twelve years, he has deftly manipulated European and American political luminaries with cunning maneuvers from “KGB playbook” (as noted by a senior American diplomat back in 2023).

Zaza Bibilashvili is the Founder and Chairman of Ilia Chavchavadze Center for European Studies and Civic Education

In 2018, when the Chavchavadze Center published a bilingual brochure titled “The Georgian Dream or a Russian One? – Only the Facts”, many criticized us for “accusing” Ivanishvili of being pro-Russian. Several years have passed, and today, this has become a self-evident truth in the free world. Today, when we hear from President Salome Zurabishvili and European Parliamentarian Viola von Kramon that the “Georgian Dream” is actually a “Russian Dream,” how can we not be reminded of the phrase quoted above by Edward Lucas?

The brutal war born of the medieval mentality of Russia’s leaders, now in its third year in Europe, is but one part of the larger geopolitical war being waged by the sinister successor to the Evil Empire. This war has been going on for a long time. Unfortunately, however, it has been one-sided. “Unfortunately,” because if the collective West had seen all the obvious signs in time and implemented countermeasures, a KGB agent from Leningrad would not be the world’s headache today.

For years, the collective West was unwilling to notice Russia’s barbaric actions – the explosions of the apartment buildings used as a pretext to start the second Chechen war, Kursk, Beslan, Nord-Ost, Litvinenko, Yandarbiyev, the 2008 war on Georgia, the Anschluss of Crimea in 2014 – always finding a rationale to revert to business as usual with Russia, whether it was the need to collaborate on climate change, the necessity of jointly combating international terrorism, or the sway of economic and energy factors, which the collective West had willingly made itself hostage to.

The attack on Ukraine has changed the situation. To be more precise, it wasn’t the attack itself that altered the situation, but rather the Ukrainians’ unexpectedly successful response to it. Otherwise, the collective West seemed poised to accept the outcomes of the Russian “blitzkrieg” as the new reality.

Today, thanks to the war in Ukraine, what was viewed with suspicion in many Western capitals just a few years ago is accepted as an axiomatic truth. Namely, that Russia is not a strategic partner but an enemy in the most prosaic sense of this word – the enemy that seeks to restore the borders and global influence of the Soviet empire through hybrid warfare. A vital phase of this conflict unfolds in the form of the “Russian law,” which is being forcibly imposed by the Georgian Government upon its citizens, nearly 90% of whom aspire for their country’s integration into the European Union.

Georgia occupies a distinct position in the frenzied gamble conceived within the twisted mind of a nefarious dictator. Positioned as the geopolitical key to the Caucasus and, to some extent, Central Asia, Georgia’s subjugation not only grants control over this crucial territory but also stifles the emerging pro-Western sentiment blossoming in Armenia… Until 2012, successful Georgia was an inspiration to the post-Soviet countries and an example of how they could develop without Russia. Russia’s 2008 attack on Georgia was aimed to punish this success story.

The war stopped Georgia’s progress towards NATO for many years. However, it did not achieve regime change in Georgia, which Russia had directly demanded from Western actors. It was then that Putin said that the Georgian people would do what the Russian tanks could not do. Then, in 2012, he asked with his usual cynicism, “Well, when do you have elections…”. Years later, Aleksandr Dugin said that even if Russia had brought its tanks to Tbilisi during the war, it could not have installed a better government than the one sitting in Tbilisi today. As mentioned above, even President Zurabishvili on April 12 confirmed what this author wrote years ago: that the “Georgian Dream” is actually a Russian dream. The reintroduction of Russian law put an end to the last illusions of GD’s pro-Westernism.

Is it all worth it? – Many people will ask. If the “Georgian Dream” were an independent political force, the answer would be unequivocal “no”. But “Georgian Dream” is not independent. Its consistent anti-Western rhetoric and propaganda exhibit a near total synchronization with Russia. If this argument is not enough, then one must once again refer to Edward Lucas’ quote above.

Russia is preparing for a post-defeat scenario in Ukraine. In this scenario, passing the Russian law is a guaranteed way to drive the collective West out and effectively end democracy in Georgia. By adopting this fundamentally repressive law (which will brand civil society and critical media as “organizations serving the interests of a foreign power” – modern-day “enemies of the people” – and systematically stigmatize them), Russia will expel or neutralize all those who support the country’s democratization, European integration and the rule of law. With this law, Russia will draw a new dividing line on the European continent and leave Georgia on the Russian side of the line.

Why does “Georgian Dream” do this? – It is indeed a logical question for those who may not be aware of the unprecedented scale of corruption and opacity in which Ivanishvili engulfed the country. There are hundreds of families who have amassed fabulous wealth without any knowledge or work, solely as a gratuity for unconditional obedience. Among them are the people who were on the list of socially vulnerable individuals 12 years ago. Today, they are millionaires. By voting for the Russian law, they protect this vast, illegal wealth obtained with the oligarch’s blessing.

When talking about GD MPs, we should also remember that they are not politicians in the classical sense. Almost none of them have a prior political biography. They were hand-picked “out of nowhere” by the oligarch and, whenever he felt it was time, they would disappear (remember former Prime Ministers Kvirikashvili and Bakhtadze?)… At one time, Georgia’s Prime Minister was Ivanishvili’s former personal assistant, the Minister of Economy – one of the managers of his bank, the Minister of Health – his wife’s dentist, the Minister of Internal Affairs – the head of his personal security, etc. “Georgian Dream” MPs and ministers have no sense of accountability towards voters because the source of their power and prosperity lies elsewhere.

To borrow from Hannah Arendt, it can be said that treason has never been so banal. The feeling that the “Georgian Dream” has betrayed the country is equally prevalent among women and men, in all social, age and ethnic groups, in all religious communities, in urban and rural populations. It is an existential struggle. The “Georgian Dream” protects its power and corrupt property, while in return, it kills Georgia’s European, democratic future. On the other hand, the people defend liberty, democracy and Georgia’s European future. For many, this battle is analogous to February 1921, with the role of Russia’s 11th Army assumed by the honorary chairman and deputies of the “Georgian Dream” (if this comparison is uncomfortable to digest, let’s recall Edward Lucas again.)

If Ivanishvili pushes through this law by force, disregarding the unanimous international outcry and public anger – and if he gets away with it – it would herald an expedited process of Belarusization of Georgia: some would face expulsion, others capture, and some might meet untimely ends under suspicious circumstances akin to the fates of Magnitsky, Nemtsov, or Navalny. Those who can, will flee. With the implementation of the new law facilitating the tax-free transfer of capital and assets from offshore entities, the nation risks transforming into a haven for illicit funds, fostering the arrival of “Russian peace” in Georgia.

Without wanting to scare anyone, we only have days left to save Georgia. Maybe weeks. But not months. That is what is at stake, which both sides understand well. That is why almost all our European and American friends are against this law, and the only supporters are in Moscow.

A few months ago, Dmitry Medvedev said that if Russia does not win the war in Ukraine, it will disintegrate. Examining historical precedents of the rise and fall of empires, Medvedev’s assertion isn’t entirely unfounded. We may be witnessing the end of the empire, which must result in Russia’s total defeat, a national catharsis, and the eventual transformation of the empire into a nation-state. But that is a matter of time, and Georgia is running out of time.

The views and opinions expressed on Civil.ge opinions pages are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Civil.ge editorial staff


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