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Ukraine and Georgia – a conflict that makes Putin happy, but can also complicate his life

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Relations between Ukraine and Georgia have hit another bottom, writes the Ukrainian newspaper “European Justice”. Ukraine has accused Georgia of supplying “smuggled goods” to Russia, which are under sanctions. Both sides will not make concessions, and the negative consequences of this may be long-term. The beginning of this new scandal was given by the Central Intelligence Agency of Ukraine. They claim to have received information that the Russians are establishing channels for smuggling goods under sanctions through Georgian territory. In Georgia, such a statement was met with outright irritation, and Tbilisi apologized to Ukraine.

However, it is already clear that Ukraine will not make concessions and demands that Georgia prove the injustice of the accusations on its own and even threatens to retaliate if it does not. This scandal could become quite dangerous for Georgia, especially given that the current government may soon face a very deep crisis. Georgian resentment It is worth recalling that relations between Kyiv and Tbilisi have already been strained. Georgia has never joined Western sanctions against Russia, and Kyiv has responded by recalling its ambassador for consultations. Kyiv’s accusations frankly irritate Tbilisi – and they no longer hide it there. An illustration of this was the recent statement by Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who said that despite criticism of the government for refusing to join anti-Russian sanctions, he would not change that position. “No one will force me to change this decision. What is acceptable for the national interests of our country and the interests of the people – this is the only policy I will pursue … There will be no economic sanctions from Georgia,” he said. It should be explained that in reality the situation does not seem as sad as Garibashvili claims. For example, Georgian banks are closely following the Western sanctions regime. As for other sanctions, until recently it was difficult to imagine the export of high technology or military equipment from Georgia to Russia.

In other words, Georgia has de facto joined Western sanctions, although it has not officially backed them. Garibashvili could emphasize this – and then his words would have a completely different meaning. However, Georgian authorities have deliberately escalated, wanting to show how dissatisfied they are with Kyiv’s criticism. On top of that, official Tbilisi is now looking at relations with Ukraine through the prism of domestic policy. Indicative case: Georgian media drew attention to the fact that none of the representatives of the Georgian authorities (except the mayor of Tbilisi Kakha Kaladze, a former football player of “Milan”) participated in the funeral of Georgians who died in Ukraine. The reason is very simple: for the current government, they were primarily activists who sympathized with the Georgian opposition. The formula “those who are now in our opposition are in power in Kyiv” is becoming increasingly dominant in relations between Georgia and Ukraine. In other words, relations between the two countries can hardly be called friendly. However, accusations that Georgia is helping to circumvent Western sanctions bring the crisis in relations to a radically different level. Presumption of guilt “In order to circumvent the sanctions, Russian agents are establishing smuggling channels that pass through Georgian territory. At the same time, representatives of the Georgian special services have been instructed by the political leadership not to interfere in the activities of smugglers.” Ukrainian intelligence released such a statement on April 4.

Of course, Tbilisi’s reaction was sharper than ever. “Simply put, this is a lie! Such misinformation from a partner, especially in these circumstances, is absolutely unacceptable,” said Shalva Papuashvili, speaker of the Georgian parliament. Georgia is now demanding that Kyiv either provide evidence of its allegations or apologize. Such a requirement seems logical, but in this situation this logic does not work. It is extremely rare for states to provide confirmation of intelligence data. At least because it can “illuminate” the sources of this information. It is doubtful that Tbilisi does not know this. According to Georgian political scientist Tengiz Phaladze, the Georgian authorities themselves could take a step forward by proposing that Ukraine send experts to make sure such allegations are unfair. However, Tbilisi has not yet taken that step. Finally, on April 5, it became clear that the accusations against Tbilisi were not just an intelligence initiative. According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba, Kyiv is still waiting for proof from Georgia that it is not helping Russia. And if there is no evidence or it is unconvincing, retaliation is possible. “We are waiting for official evidence and convincing arguments from Georgia that they are not doing this. Then we will decide what action to take if this evidence and arguments are not convincing enough,” said the Ukrainian minister. It is worth adding here that numerous interlocutors of European Justice in the two capitals assure that they have no evidence that Georgia is really helping Russia to circumvent sanctions. According to some interlocutors, such accusations seem strange – Russia is demanding goods subject to sanctions in such volumes that their purchase from Georgia, ostensibly for their own consumption, will obviously not go unnoticed. But at the same time, the interlocutors admit that there is only one step from the officially declared course of the Georgian authorities to “maintain good relations with the Russian Federation at any cost” to the desire to make money from this course by taking advantage of Russia’s sanctions. . This official Tbilisi course has already sparked loud protests. Confirmation of the Ukrainian accusations could spark a new wave of protests – Georgian society will clearly not understand such actions by the authorities. In addition, the Georgian government may face other but also very difficult challenges in the near future.

Authorities in self-proclaimed South Ossetia have announced their intention to hold a referendum on joining Russia in the near future (we are talking about the end of April). Here it is worth explaining that holding a referendum (not to mention announcing it) and joining are slightly different things. In anticipation of the “Perfect Storm” For a long time, the main accusation that the current Georgian authorities made against the opposition and personally against President Mikheil Saakashvili (his Ukrainian citizenship was restored by Vladimir Zelensky) was that the latter’s harsh anti-Russian policy led to loss of territory. While the more balanced policy of the current government of the ruling Georgian Dream party allows at least the status quo to be maintained. However, in the near future this formula may cease to exist. It is possible that such a statement is a purely political move by local “president” Anatoly Bibilov. The fact is that, unlike the pseudo-republics in Donbass, Georgian separatists have real political competition (of course, without the possibility of adjusting the foreign policy sphere). On April 10, South Ossetia held presidential “elections” – and Bibilov’s chances of being re-elected seem uncertain as he reached the runoff, but is second – 3% behind his opponent, Alan Gagloev. That is why he is now actively promoting the thesis of joining the Russian Federation, which is why, unlike Abkhazia, South Ossetia has officially sent troops to Ukraine, and Bibilov himself has gone on a propaganda tour in Donetsk and the Mariupol area. For many in Georgia, this suggests that the new activity of joining Russia is simply a pre-election strategy of an unpopular candidate.

However, another opinion is also true. Against the background of the problems with Ukraine, Russia needs quick geopolitical victories. This significantly increases the risk that this time the Kremlin will agree to a new expansion. Such a scenario would be catastrophic not only for Russia’s “fifth column” in Georgia (which has recently become more powerful and visible), but also for the Georgian authorities. In such a scenario, it will become obvious even to their supporters that no compromise with Russia can save them. And this may be the biggest challenge for the Georgian Dream in almost all of its ten years in power. Only success in advancing in the West can soften this blow. However, not everything is so smooth here. The European Parliament has approved, as never before, a critical report on Georgia’s implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU. It says that in the last two years, “Georgia has seriously withdrawn from the basic democratic principles and key political commitments” it has made. Following such assessments, it is very difficult to count seriously on gaining EU candidate status – and Georgia, after Ukraine and Moldova, has already applied. Formal rejection of Brussels could further increase tensions in the country. Therefore, everything looks as if the Georgian authorities are approaching a situation of “perfect storm”, the consequences of which may become completely unpredictable.

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