The World Today for May 02, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

Hearts and Minds

GEORGIA

The prime minister of the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, recently met European and NATO leaders in Brussels to press the case for his country’s admission into both Western organizations.

Garibashvili and his fellow citizens felt snubbed when the European Union offered candidacy status for membership in the bloc to the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Moldova, reported Radio Free Europe.

Russia invaded Georgia, after all, in 2008 under the pretense of defending Russian-aligned breakaway republics in the small country on the Black Sea. That short war is considered to have been a test run for ongoing meddling in Moldova, the annexation of Ukrainian territory in 2014, and the full-fledged invasion of Ukraine last year.

Both the EU and NATO, however, told Garibashvili that he would need to enact political reforms and strengthen adherence to human rights standards if he wanted Georgia to join either organization.

The European and NATO leaders might also have had second thoughts about Georgia because Russia seems to already be dominating the country.

The Russian military has occupied 20 percent of Georgia since the 2008 war, noted Foreign Affairs. The population is largely pro-Western, but, rather than supporting Ukraine, Garibashvili and other Georgian leaders have appeared to grow closer to Russia in the past year. They have also launched Russian-style crackdowns on political dissidents.

Demonstrators recently took to the streets of the capital of Tbilisi, for example, to call for the release of political prisoners, press freedom, an end to efforts to suppress Western-funded non-governmental organizations and other demands.

“The government is controlled from Moscow and our obligation is to save our homeland from Russian stooges,” said Giorgi Margvelashvili, a former president who served from 2013 to 2018, in an interview with Euronews as he marched on the streets. “We are freedom-loving, we are part of the European family, we reject Russian slavery.”

Writing in Politico, another ex-president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now imprisoned on charges of corruption and sponsoring attacks against political opponents, said Garibashvili and other members of the ruling Georgian Dream political party have been receiving Russian support. Tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, an oligarch with close ties to Putin, allegedly runs the party, argued Saakashvili, who maintains the charges against him are political.

American officials recently announced that four top Georgian judges would not receive visas to enter the US due to their rubber-stamp decisions in favor of Ivanishvili, for example, Agence France-Presse reported.

Georgia’s heart might yearn to join the ranks of London, Paris, and Berlin. But its head just can’t stop thinking about Moscow.

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