With international attention presently centered on Iran and the Persian Gulf it comes as no surprise that recent events in Georgia have been overlooked. Protests broke out in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on 20 June after a Russian MP delivered a speech from the speakers chair in the Georgian parliament. This act was viewed as deeply offensive by the Georgian people, and the political opposition. Thousands of citizens took to the streets to demonstrate and the protests swiftly grew violent. The incident in parliament unleashed a torrent of anti-Russia feelings which had been festering among the people. Georgia’s current government has been viewed as being overly receptive to Russian political and business interests, much to the dismay of the Georgian people. Clashes erupted between protesters and police, resulting in over 250 people being injured.
It is no secret that anti-Russia sentiment runs deep in Georgian society. The brief 2008 Southern Ossetia conflict, and subsequent loss of Southern Ossetia, and Abkhazia contributed greatly to the feelings. Since 2012, Georgia’s government has been led by the Georgian Dream party. GD has moved to restore economic and political relations with Russia, although many Georgians now view these moves as placing their nation back in the Russian sphere of influence.
Russia’s response to the protests has been eye-raising to say the least. State media issued warnings that Georgia is not safe for Russian tourists, and that there have been some attacks on citizens in recent days. The warnings came on the heels of Russian President Vladimir Putin placing a temporary ban on flights to Georgia effective 8 July, 2019. On the surface, Russia’s response appears proportionate to the events which took place last week.
Concern materializes with the realization that the present Russian moves are strikingly similar to what took place during the leadup to the annexation of Crimea in 2014. It began with the discovery of a somewhat obscure and veiled threat facing Russian nationals and citizens living in or visiting Crimea. From there events continued on, gaining momentum until one morning there were Russian troops on the ground ostensibly to protect Russian citizens on the peninsula.
There seems to be a possibility that Russia could be planning something similar for Georgia in the near future.