Russia has “infiltrated” Georgia’s political establishment and its security apparatus, an opposition MP told the Express. She claimed that Tbilisi was allowing Putin’s intelligence agencies to run amok in Georgia, a NATO ally since 1992, and this posed a threat to the country’s independence. The country’s dominant political force is the Georgian Dream party, which has been in power since 2012.
The party was founded by the billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia and is believed to have close ties with the Kremlin.
Despite his ostensible withdrawal from the political arena in 2021, the oligarch is still seen as the power behind the throne, who determines the government’s agenda.
Salome Samadashvili, an MP for the United National Movement party (UNM), claimed that the billionaire was willing to sacrifice Georgia’s economic, geopolitical and security interests in order to curry favour with Moscow and maintain his iron grip on power.
She explained: “Georgia is a country which is run informally by the Russian oligarch, Bidzina Ivanishvili. He is the real man behind the power. He is, of course, somebody who has made his fortune in Russia.
“His real policy is to try and keep his power base in this country at any cost because strategically it is a very valuable asset to possess.”
Ms Samadashvili argued that although Mr Ivanishvili has sought closer ties with the West in a careful balancing act, the war in Ukraine has forced Mr Ivanishvili to pivot closer to Moscow.
The billionaire was convinced that Putin would secure a rapid victory, and that would allow him to maintain a position of strategic ambiguity.
However, events in Ukraine have made it impossible to remain neutral and created clear demarcation lines.
Consequently, Mr Ivanishvili’s pro-Moscow stance is increasingly visible. He has created a proxy party separate from his ruling one, which heavily criticises the West.
Moreover, the Georgian government has been lukewarm about Western sanctions on Russia and dragged its feet over implementing them.
The upshot of this pivot towards Russia is that Putin is gaining ever greater leverage and control over Georgia’s de-facto ruler and his government, she claimed.
The UNM MP noted: “The Russians are certainly giving him the red lines – how far he can go and where he cannot go. That’s what we see from the way they are conducting their business.”
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She pinpointed two incidents which showcased Moscow’s tightening grip over Georgia’s security and economic affairs.
A Russian barman, Vsevolod Osipov, was recently exposed by the media as an FSB agent, yet was never arrested or interrogated by Georgia’s counter-intelligence.
Ms Samadashvili alleged this proved that Russia’s intelligence services are allowed to act with impunity in Georgia, further undermining her country’s security.
She said: “I think the policy is ‘we do not interfere with the Russian clandestine operations in Georgia, you can do basically whatever you do’.
“My suspicion is that we are completely infiltrated – probably in the government services also.”
The Georgian government signed an investment agreement with an international consortium in 2016 to build a major deep sea port at Anaklia on the Black Sea, which would have improved access to Central Asia and the Middle East.
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Although the construction of the port was backed by both the US and the EU, Tbilisi suddenly decided to scrap the $2.5 billion (£2.2bn) project at the beginning of 2020.
Ms Samadashvili believed that the decision to mothball the project was a result of Russian pressure.
She said: “The Russians did not want this to happen because they do not need a deep sea port in the Black Sea and they killed the project.
“If we had now the deep sea port of course Georgia’s transit potential – especially with the Russian-Ukraine war – would be considerably higher.”
Georgia was invaded in August 2008 by Russian forces, after then President Mikheil Saakashvili moved against separatist rebels in the province of South Ossetia.
As a consequence of the five day war, Moscow recognised the breakaway province along with Abkhazia as independent states – ensuring the territorial breakup of Georgia.
Ms Samadashvili accused the government of failing to strengthen the country’s defence capabilities to protect itself from further Russian aggression.
The MP said: “With 20 percent of our territory occupied by the Russians, we are extremely vulnerable. The way to deal with that is to strengthen your defence capabilities and your international alliances so you are not an easy prey.
“Unfortunately that is something this government has not invested much into. We are in a vulnerable position and that is the result of a decade long rule by the Russian oligarch and his party.”