Russia claims west behind successful Georgia protests

Russia claims west behind successful Georgia protests

Russia claims the west instigated this week’s unrest in Georgia after the parliament dropped so-called foreign agent legislation.

Georgia aims to join the European Union and Nato, which angers Russia. Moscow invaded in 2008 and has seized two border territories, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“There is no doubt that the law on the registration of non-governmental organisations… was used as an excuse to start, generally speaking, an attempt to change the government by force,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Moscow media. 

The protests “are of course being orchestrated from abroad [to create] an irritant on the borders of Russia”.

Protesters celebrated outside the Tbilisi parliament, displaying the Georgian flag and signs reading: “We are Europe.”

On Wednesday, police used water cannon and tear gas against protesters. During last week 66 people were arrested after the bill was passed in a first reading in parliament.

Only one Georgian MP of 36 backed the bill, which has been compared to Russian laws used to prevent NGOs from operating. 

In 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin imposed controls on NGOs funded from abroad. Last June, the Russian Duma approved another bill restricting individuals and organisations “under foreign influence”. 

“This is a victory. We won thanks to our unity,” said student Irina Shurgaia, 21, outside the parliament.“The whole world saw that Georgians are united in their resolve to be part of the European family.”

Georgia applied for EU membership together with Ukraine and Moldova shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.

But Tbilisi must implement reforms before it can acquire candidate status. 

The billionaire Georgian Dream party chairman, Irakli Kobakhidze, is still claiming the legislation is necessary. 

“Being an agent is shameful no matter whose agent you are,” he told the media, calling Georgian NGOs “agents of foreign influence”. 

President Salome Zurabishvili praised the protesters’ “first victory.”

“There is distrust towards the government as we pursue our European path,” she in an address from New York.

The On Transparency of Foreign Influence bill was proposed by a faction in the parliament which left Georgian Dream but remained in the parliamentary majority.

It said nongovernmental and media groups that received up to 20 per cent of its annual revenue from abroad could be classified as “foreign agents”.

Organisations registered as an “agent of foreign influence” would need to submit a financial declaration on the source, amount and purpose of anything received. The legislation would have permitted Georgia’s justice ministry to authorise investigations and request personal data.

The bill threatened up to five years in prison for noncompliance.

Tbilisi protests. Picture credit: YouTube

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