Do Not Allow Putin to Capture Another Pawn in Europe

The Georgians call it the Russian Law. It was passed recently by the Parliament in the Republic of Georgia, purportedly to improve transparency by having civil society and media groups that get some of their funds from abroad register as groups “carrying the interests of a foreign power.” But the tens of thousands of Georgians who have taken to the streets again and again against the law know its real goal — to suppress those who would hold the government to account, and to move the country into the orbit of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The law has drawn stiff rebukes from the United States and Europe. The State Department has announced visa restrictions on officials behind the foreign-agent law and Congress has threatened further sanctions. European Union officials have warned that it could block Georgia’s bid for membership only six months after the country was granted candidate status. This is a serious threat for a country where polls show about 80 percent of the population supporting a Western political orientation.

The clash over the foreign-agent law in a small country nestled in the Caucasus Mountains has been largely overshadowed by Russia’s war on Ukraine. Yet it is also at its core an East-West struggle over Georgia’s political path, a contest with cardinal implications for the region’s future. Georgia, in fact, was the first neighboring country invaded by Russia post-Soviet Union, in 2008, to block its westward drift.

Now the ruling party, Georgian Dream, seems to share Russia’s goal, though it has generally avoided openly siding with Russia. Launched 12 years ago by the billionaire oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili — who made his money in Russia — as a broad and ill-defined opposition movement, the party has taken an increasingly anti-Western stance in recent years. In a speech in Tbilisi, the nation’s capital, last month, Mr. Ivanishvili inveighed against a “global war party” that, he said, was “appointed from outside” and was using nongovernmental organizations to take control of Georgia. Georgian Dream has also echoed other Russian attacks on purported Western decadence.

The foreign-agent bill marks the most overt political attack on Western influence the party has taken. When first introduced last year, massive public protests forced the government to pull it back. But the government revived it this spring, and despite even larger and angrier protests, the protests were as large and angry, the Parliament passed the bill on May 14.

The pro-Western president of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, whose position is largely ceremonial but allows her to block legislation, promptly vetoed the measure, arguing that in essence and spirit it was “a Russian law that contradicts our Constitution and all European standards, and therefore an obstacle to our European path.” Though Georgian Dream has more than enough votes to override the veto, it has not done so yet, and there are reports that it might be prepared to let it stay on the shelf in exchange for Western aid and other perks.

Back to top button