Subscribe for the latest
updates of Free Russia
In the aftermath of the 2020 war in Nagorno Karabakh, Russia was able to seize the initiative and firmly project its power in two distinct ways. First, with Armenia and Azerbaijan compelled to halt military operations and accept the terms of a Russian-imposed ceasefire agreement, the 44-day war over Karabakh ended with a cessation of hostilities in November 2021. By ending that war through engagement, Russia consolidated its near-monopoly over mediation of Nagorno Karabakh, effectively marginalizing France and the United States as fellow brokers within the OSCE’s Minsk Group.
The second manifestation of the Russian power projection was the deployment of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to the Karabakh region, tasked with enforcing the ceasefire agreement. This was a significant development as it negated the long-standing policy by Armenia and Azerbaijan to oppose any Russian military presence in Nagorno Karabakh.
Against the backdrop of a tenuous ceasefire policed unilaterally by Russia, there is an undeniable broader post-war trend of Moscow’s growing capacity to expand and consolidate its power and influence. This third indicator of expanding Russian power emerged in mid- to late-2021, as Russia moved to widen its military dominance over Armenia and included the establishment of Russian border guard posts and military positions within southern Armenia, exploiting a tense escalation in border clashes and following a series of incursions by Azerbaijani forces into Armenian territory. With its resulting central role in managing negotiations over the planned restoration of regional trade and transport, Russia’s leverage over not only Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also over Turkey and Georgia seems serious and sustainable.
From Russian Complacency to Resolute Confrontation
In early 2022, Russia’s stance toward South Caucasus seemed particularly entrenched, with little challenge and no direct rival on the horizon. However, since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022, such certainty over Russia’s power and position in the South Caucasus has faced unprecedented and unexpected challenges. Russia finds itself in a starkly different geopolitical landscape from even a month ago, with the costs rising dramatically for maintaining its power and position well beyond the conflict zone in Ukraine.
The invasion of February 24, 2022 that punctuated months of a steady buildup of Russian military forces along the borders of Ukraine dramatically and instantly altered the already delicate geopolitical landscape in the region. Despite repeated warnings from the West, which were bolstered by specific threats of sanctions in the event of hostilities, Russia ha blatantly disregarded all attempts at a diplomatic resolution in favor a bold determination to use force of arms to escalate its conflict with Ukraine.
While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a profound challenge to the European security, it has rendered a significant setback to the Russian power in the South Caucasus region. Defined and driven by the Russian resentment of any degree of “sovereign choice” among its neighbors, the Russian position is now weakened by isolation and spiking risks. Moscow’s decision to invade Ukraine was driven by weakness and insecurity, and not strength and confidence. Yet Russia’s graduated move from compulsion to invasion was undermined by a set of five flawed assumptions and miscalculations:
Five Flawed Assumptions and Miscalculations
- Since its 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia has had limited contact with and even more limited comprehension of social developments in Ukraine. This self-imposed eight years of ignorance and isolation has only fueled Moscow’s dangerous over-confidence. Russian planners, military and political, have been hindered by the lack of a clear and coherent strategic “end state” objective. If the original goal was to truly impose “regime change” on the democratically-elected and popular Ukrainian government, for example, it would represent a dangerous misreading of the reality on the ground in Ukraine;
- Russia’s reflexive obsession with the West and exaggerated perception of threat posed by NATO were bolstered by the weakness of Russian policy responses — as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union failed to match NATO and the EU. At the same time, Russia arrogantly neglected developments in its immediate neighborhood by dismissing the potency of local agency with a disdain for the genuine aspirations and sovereign choice of its neighbors;
- The decision to move from military-assisted compulsion to outright invasion stemmed from profound over-confidence, partially bolstered by the recent ease of a quick Russian-led CSTO deployment to Kazakhstan deployment. Driven by a desire to reassert and project Russian power, the decision to invade Ukraine was based on a combination of three main misperceptions: a mindset still moored to the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia as the most relevant model for military intervention; a predictive assessment of American distraction and weak Western resolve; and a lesson from the 2020 war for Nagorno Karabakh, which tended to affirm the use of force and that led to expectations of a weak Western response;
- Another key flaw of the Russian strategic decision-making is its leadership which was contained in a bubble, isolated and detached, devoid of honest advice and candid assessments, and burdened by submissive ill-informed myopic “group think.”
- And most critically, in the military context, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has proven to be much harder than expected, exacerbated by s combination of arrogant Russian military planning and inadequate preparation with a serious under-estimation of the morale, resistance and will to fight among Ukrainian defenders.
This last factor of underlying military shortcomings is also linked to serious operational deficiencies that have been evident in Russia’s failure to gain air superiority, its under-performance and misuse of combined arms, the dramatic shortfall in “teeth to tail” logistical support and sustenance, and the decrease in combat readiness, which was particularly degraded as a result of the months-long idle buildup prior to the invasion. Moreover, the immediate result of the invasion for Russia has been profound diplomatic isolation, exacerbated by the imposition of systemic economic sanctions. And most notably, Russia has achieved a significant success in only one area: in uniting and unifying the West.
Impact & Implications
For Russia’s neighbors, concern over the rising tension through the past several months was replaced with worry once Russia invaded Ukraine. As an element of Russia’s determination to impose greater control over the “near abroad” as its self-perceived sphere of influence, Ukraine has now become a central but not sole component of a new frontline of democracy. For Russia’s neighbors, the implications are as far-ranging as the landscape itself, stretching from Ukraine through the South Caucasus and into Central Asia. In this context, there are several significant implications, comprised of likely factors over the short, medium and longer term:
- In the wake of the serious systemic sanctions imposed on Russia, every economy in the Russian neighborhood will face immediate challenges and looming pressure, marked by a sharp and sudden decline in remittances, which are largely denominated in the Russian ruble, triggered by the steep currency crash. For Armenia, the value of its own currency, the dram, has fallen by as much as five percent against the US dollar since Russia launched its invasion;
- These countries will also face the negative short-term shock from restrictions on broader regional trade and from limits on foreign travel resulting from the closure of airspace access. And Armenia is especially vulnerable to a negative spillover from a downturn in trade, as Russia remains Armenia’s leading trading partner and primary export market, with bilateral trade expanding by 21 percent, to reach $2.6 billion last year, and because much of its wheat, cooking oil and other basic foodstuffs are imported from Russia. In fact, even prior to the Russian invasion, food prices in Armenia increased by roughly 13 percent in 2021, with a continued upward trajectory for January and February 2022.
- Over the medium-term, an angry, resentful and isolated Russia will become an even more volatile driver of instability, likely tempted to leverage and provoke other conflicts in the immediate neighborhood to weaken Moldova and Georgia and to maximize pressure Armenia and Azerbaijan. Thus, a weak, more unpredictable Russia will pose a different and even more dangerous challenge to regional security and stability;
- Against that backdrop, we should expect a more assertive Russian crackdown throughout the “near abroad” undermining struggling democracies and targeting aspiring reformers.
- Over the longer term, the post-war drivers of insecurity and instability will likely emanate from a more threatening projection of Russian power and influence across an embattled frontline of democracy, matched by greater Russian impatience and intolerance of reforming neighbors;
In turn, this will feature a new more restrictive environment as Russia demands greater fidelity and submission by its neighbors, friend and foe alike.
An Armenian Perspective
Since the time of the rare victory of non-violent “people power” in what was hailed as Armenia’s 2018 Velvet Revolution, democracy has been consistently strengthened by two back-to-back free and fair elections. Yet despite substantial gains in reform and serious achievements in consolidating its democracy, Armenia’s credentials have fallen short in safeguarding the country from the impact of the 2020 war for Nagorno Karabakh. Most significantly, the 2020 war posed dangerous and distressing precedents for Armenia, standing out as a destructive demonstration of a victory of authoritarian Azerbaijan and Turkey, while also seemingly reaffirming that there was a military solution to a political conflict. Each of these dangerous precedents, if left unchallenged, only undermine Western values and elevate force of arms over diplomacy.
The post-war Armenia faces a new challenge from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For over twenty years, Armenian foreign policy has been defined by a pursuit of “complementarity,” where Armenia struggled to maintain a strategic “balance” between its security partnership with Russia and its interest in deepening ties to the EU and the West. This policy has been difficult to maintain over the years, especially given the underlying trend of Armenian dependence on Russia driven by security and military ties.
Since the 2020 war for Nagorno Karabakh, the limits of Russian security promises to Armenia have become open and obvious. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Armenia now faces an even more imposing and perhaps impossible challenge to meet Moscow’s expectations for loyalty and support for Russian aggression against Ukraine.
A Limited Direct Impact on Armenia
In the case of Armenia, however, concern and worry are somewhat assuaged by two factors:
- First, the lack of any direct military involvement in the Russian invasion provides Armenia with a degree of safety from punitive measures and sanctions. In the event of Russian attempts to use Armenia as a means to subvert or sidestep sanctions on Russian companies, there is a risk of Armenia becoming subject to secondary sanctions, however, as confirmed by the Armenian Economy Minister. But given Armenia’s demonstrable success in conforming to similar Western sanctions against Iran, and considering past precedents of Western sanctions imposed on Russia (imposed for its 2008 war in Georgia and its seizure of Crimea in 2014), which have never included Armenia, the Armenian government is expected to try harder to avoid such risk;
- Second, Armenia holds a rare advantage of geography, defined by its distance (Armenia is further than 1400 kilometers away from Ukraine) and the lack of any land border with Russia (see map below). In that context of geography, Armenia is far removed from the conflict and is not engaged in Russia’s war against Ukraine in any form.
Ukraine in green
Armenia in orange
For Armenia, in terms of lessons for and from the war in Ukraine, perception is as important as reality, as defined by two reactions to the Russian invasion of Ukraine:
- A demonstrable double standard in the media coverage and the concerted Western response to the war in Ukraine, in stark contrast to the elements of the 2020 war for Nagorno Karabakh;
- Despite significant differences and the distinctly separate context between the Ukrainian and Karabakh wars, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a robust Western reaction that imposed punitive costs and sanctions against Russian aggression that were never invoked against Azerbaijan and Turkey for their war against Karabakh in 2020.
Moreover, there is an inescapable degree of Armenian vulnerability, comprised of four factors:
- First, and most notably, Armenia is exposed and subject to competing and contradictory demands from Russia for loyalty and submission, against expectations from the international community to stand against Russian aggression. This poses a strategic risk of Armenia’s isolation on the wrong side of history, misperceived as a supplicant state or pro-Russian vassal;
- Second, in the face of more restricted room to maneuver and fewer options under Russian pressure, the Western commitment to Armenia is in danger of coming under question, with a lack of Western understanding and patience, greater Russian intolerance, and diminished strategic significance of Armenia. Each of these factors could combine to only enhance Armenian timidity and trepidation regarding Russia and perhaps impacting Armenian commitment to the West;
- The third factor stems from the reality that the accidental “convergence of interests” between Russia and the West defined by a shared interest of post-war stability in Nagorno Karabakh no longer holds, with likely developments that include the demise of the OSCE Minsk Group as a mediating diplomatic format, new doubt over Russian support for Armenia-Turkey “normalization,” and a questionable Russian commitment to the restoration of regional trade and transport going forward, as well as a more bleak outlook for a Russian-supported process of border delineation and demarcation between Armenia and Azerbaijan;
- Finally, a broader challenge to Armenian domestic efforts at reform and democratic development is the onset of new Russian pressure, and a new Russian policy framework using Armenian post-war insecurity and Nagorno Karabakh as a key “pressure point” while also leveraging Karabakh as the most attractive commodity to barter with Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Armenia’s Response: “Strategic Silence”
In response to the changing dynamics, Armenian foreign policy establishment has engaged in a delicate diplomatic positioning, jockeying between placating and mollifying Russia while keeping its support and commitment to the Russian side minimal. This adaptive diplomatic response relies on a tactical policy of employing “strategic silence,” designed to do and say as little as possible while avoiding any open or outright defiance of Moscow.
This is most clearly seen in the lack of statements by the Armenian Prime Minister or Foreign Minister, and instead, issuing a diluted statement of support for a “diplomatic resolution” of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine through the Foreign Ministry spokesperson. It is from this perspective that Armenia also exercises abstentions in key diplomatic votes in the UN and Council of Europe as a policy response. 
But there are limits to what such “strategic silence” can achieve for Armenia, as demonstrated by Armenia’s reluctant vote in the Council of Europe against the move to suspend Russia from that body.  And although Armenia’s position, as the only other country besides Russia to oppose that move, dangerously isolates Armenia, there was little choice and even less of an alternative for Armenia. Yet the danger now is as Russia demands greater support and more open loyalty from Armenia after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, any sense of diplomatic balance may be lost, threatening to push Armenia into a vulnerable and isolated position on the wrong side of history.
Beyond possible Russian demands for more overt signals of Armenian loyalty, Armenia facing a real risk of an even more assertive Russian policy that would seek to limit sovereign choices and strategic options of each of its neighbors. This likely Russian efforts to tighten the control over the “near abroad,” as a Russian-dominated “sphere of influence,” may only impose new limits and invoke greater demands on Armenia’s developing ties to the West, while also threatening to overturn hard-fought gains in Armenian democracy.
This report is prepared within the framework of the Border Zone project.
Director of the project: Mr. Egor Kuroptev,
director of Free Russia Foundation in South Caucasus.
 Richard Giragosian, David G. Lewis and Graeme P. Herd, “Russian Crisis Behavior, Nagorno-Karabakh and Turkey?” Marshall Center Security Perspectives, no. 19, January 2021. https://www.marshallcenter.org/en/publications/perspectives/russian-crisis-behavior-nagorno-karabakh-and-turkey-0
 Giragosian, Richard, “Armenia’s transition: The challenges of geography, geopolitics and multipolarity,” in Broers, Laurence and Anna Ohanyan, Editors, Armenia’s Velvet Revolution. Authoritarian Decline and Civil Resistance in a Multipolar World (I.B. Tauris, September 2020).
 For more, see: Avetisyan, Ani, “Armenia stands alone in support for Russia in Council of Europe,” OC Media, 26 February 2022. https://oc-media.org/armenia-stands-alone-in-support-for-russia-in-council-of-europe/
 Nalbandian, Naira, “Yerevan Defends Opposition to Council of Europe Action against Russia,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Armenian Service, 1 March 2022. https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31730695.html
Report is prepared as part of the Border Zone project
August 8, 2008 and February 22, 2022 were the dates when the Russian Federation redrew the borders of Georgia and Ukraine by force in violation of the fundamental principles of international law. Those acts of aggression were not used only to stomp out Georgia’s and Ukraine’s NATO membership aspirations, but to alter the existing world order, revise European security architecture, reassert Brezhnev’s principle of “limited sovereignty”, as well as to legitimize spheres of influence.
Prior to February 22, 2022, when Vladimir Putin recognized the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent, western leaders tended to view the aggression against Ukraine as a continuation of the aggression against Georgia and spoke of using a similar playbook of hybrid toolkits in both states by the Kremlin.
On January 21, parallels were drawn between Ukraine and Georgia by the UK Secretary of Defense in the House of Commons while speaking about the Russian threat against Ukraine. “We have observed hardening Russian rhetoric, heightened cyber activity, and widespread disinformation that could serve to provide a false pretext for Russian military intervention. False narratives are very much part of the Kremlin’s playbook. They were used in 2008, before Russia’s invasion of Georgia; and in Ukraine in 2014. False narratives are being peddled again today.” 
The US Embassy in Kyiv compared the current events in Ukraine with the situation that developed in Georgia in 2008 and declared that the world would no longer be fooled by lies. “Russia’s execution of transparent, hackneyed plots to justify an invasion would be laughable if they weren’t so destructive and dangerous. False flag operations, disinformation, and now its own proxies “requesting” protection. It’s all straight from the Georgia playbook, and the world is no longer fooled by the lies,” reads the Embassy’s Twitter statement.
It is clear that in 2008, western countries did not realize Russia’s true intentions and the revisionist nature of a policy implemented through war and occupation. Although, two months prior to the 2008 war, President Dmitry Medvedev had offered a Pan-European security pact to the West.
Therefore, the overt military aggression launched by the Kremlin against Ukraine has proved once again that Russian hybrid warfare does not shy away from using direct military force to reach political goals. Moreover, Western leaders have publicly stated that Georgia and Moldova are Russia’s likely next targets. Thus, unity of not only the West, but also that of Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova have become more vital than ever to protect the sovereignty, the way of life, and joint European aspirations.
So far, Georgia has failed to demonstrate firm solidarity and support to Ukraine. Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili’s clear-cut rejection of joining international sanctions against Russia and alleged obstruction of Georgian volunteer fighter efforts in support of Ukraine are the controversies that have ignited massive pro-Ukraine protests in Georgia. In response, President Zelensky has recalled the Ukrainian Ambassador from Tbilisi for consultations. Georgian government has attracted widespread criticism for what many — both at home and abroad — regard as half-hearted stance during Russian aggression against Ukraine. Therefore, the ruling party has been forced to take into consideration domestic pressure coming from ordinary people, politicians, as well as President of Georgia and openly announce that Georgia will officially send the request to join the EU.
This article examines the increased use of Russian hybrid warfare tactics in Georgia in light of the Kremlin’s use of military-political leverage against Ukraine and the occupied Donbas and Luhansk regions’ declaration of independence. In particular, it describes the goals and tactics that define this unique instrument of Russian Hybrid warfare, namely creeping annexation of Georgia’s occupied regions and the “illegal borderization” process, which is used as leverage against Georgia’s national interests.
Using hybrid tactics against Georgia in tandem with intensifying the military threat against Ukraine at this particular time aims to:
• raise the threat posed by the creeping occupation and to influence the Georgian government
• weaken national resilience in Georgia and disrupt the possibility of unity in securing the declared national interests of the country.
• erode support for European and Euro-Atlantic integration within the country by strengthening disinformation and propaganda messages.
Illegal Borderization, as a unique instrument of Russian hybrid tactics
Whereas the Kremlin’s use of hybrid warfare against Ukraine and Georgia, as well as certain western countries, has been well-documented, the Kremlin applies a unique weapon from its arsenal against Georgia: Borderization. The Borderization process involves installation of artificial barriers, fences, barbed wires, so-called border demarcation banners, and excavation of trenches along the occupation line.
The process dates back to approximately 2011 and is, in effect, extending the 2008 Russian occupation. In addition to its impact on the landscape, the borderization process directly affects the citizens living near the occupation line, whose gardens and houses have artificial barriers, and has a negative impact on the population of the whole country.
What are the Goals of the illegal Borderization tactics?
Borderization goals were officially defined by the State Security Service in its 2020 annual report.
Levan Kakhishvili, a research fellow at the Georgian Policy Institute, describes the goals of borderization as follows: “Borderization is a tactic in Russia’s strategy to make occupation not a condition but a process. This tactic can have several purposes, but there are two that are most important: cutting off the population living in the occupied territories from the rest of the population of Georgia, and causing a wave of dissatisfaction throughout society, targeted regularly against the Georgian government, NATO and the EU.”
According to the State Security Service’s 2020 Parliamentary Report, occupation forces and de facto regimes view hybrid warfare as one tool in the information warfare toolkit, deployed in order to intimidate the local population and create a pervasive sense of insecurity. The State Security Service also highlights the increased pressure these intimidation campaigns place on the central government: “Fixing the border, stirring up public protests and increasing pressure on the central government.”
According to the official data provided by the State Security Service, the length of the occupation line is about 149 km in the direction of occupied Abkhazia, and more than 350 km in the direction of the occupied Tskhinvali region. The Russian occupation regime periodically carries out illegal borderization campaigns in both directions and they are often linked to specific events. Every year, the State Security Service disseminates general information on instances of borderization, as well as the number of Georgian citizens who have been detained. However, specific details regarding these detentions are not made public, nor have any official maps of the ongoing borderization process been released.
According to the information provided by the State Security Service, in the direction of occupied Abkhazia, 192 people were detained on charges of illegal border crossing in 2012, 393 people in 2013, 375 in 2014, 336 in 2015, 193 in 2016, 52 in 2017, 28 in 2018, 27 in 2019 and 13 in 2020.
As for the occupied Tskhinvali region, 108 persons were illegally detained in 2012 on charges of illegal border crossing, 139 in 2013, 142 in 2014, 163 in 2015, 134 in 2016, 126 in 2017, 100 in 2018, 86 in 2019, and 64 in 2020.
In 2021, tens of hectares of land were occupied. Georgian citizens were again detained illegally near the occupation line. According to data provided by the State Security Service on December 24, 2021, 11 citizens were detained in the direction of Abkhazia, and 67 in the occupied Tskhinvali region. It should be noted that these figures are probably incomplete because, according to the State Security Service, there may have been other cases about which the Georgian government does not have information. Since 2019, the occupation regime has also further aggravated the situation faced by vulnerable populations in the region. In addition to kidnapping people from the occupation lines and demanding ransom money, they have begun sentencing Georgian citizens to many years of illegal detention. Currently, six people are illegally jailed in the occupied Tskhinvali region.
In 2019, the Occupy regime of Tskhinvali region kidnapped Gennady Bestaev, a resident of the village of Zardiantkari, and Zaza Gakheladze, a resident of the village of Kvemo Chala of the Kaspi district. Their illegal long-term imprisonment are examples of this increasingly hardline policy. Gennady Bestaev, who was kidnapped from his own house, was handed over to the Georgian government after 2 years in Tskhinvali prison as his health had dangerously deteriorated; he died soon after. Zaza Gakheladze was released after one year of jail. His family staged protests against the Georgian government on the basis of a written appeal from the Patriarch of Georgia to the Russian Patriarch.
Consequently, there are tough attitudes toward kidnapped citizens which the Kremlin uses, on one hand, to pressure the Georgian government, on the other to discredit Western efforts, and lastly to sow fear in the Georgian population, which in turn has a negative impact on national resilience in the face of Russian hybrid warfare.
Instances of illegal detentions have been used as fodder for disinformation and propaganda campaigns as well. The case of Khvicha Mghebrishvili — a resident of the village of Mejvriskhevi, who was detained for 86 days in 2019, was used by the occupant regime for an anti-US disinformation campaign. In a confession video released by the de facto security committee, Mghebrishvili said he had arrived in an Ossetian village to obtain bat shells, which were in a Red List, because Americans were offering $ 5,000 to $ 10,000 for the shells, in order to use them for laboratory testing. Mghebrishvili, who was released after 86 days in prison, says he was forced to say this. This was part of the anti-West disinformation campaign launched in the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and obviously, the US was the target.
Cases of illegal borderization and increasing pressure have continued in 2022. It is important to highlight what possible impact these processes had on political decision-making given the adoption of a resolution in support of Ukraine in the Georgian Parliament as well as the government’s statements or actions in this regard. On January 19, the occupation forces marked new areas in the village of Kirbali. On January 27, Formula TV reported that the Tskhinvali occupation regime had carried out an illegal marking process [e.g., physically altered the landscape in preparation for annexation] near the village of Mejvriskhevi in Gori Municipality, and the village of Jariasheni. On January 28, this fact was confirmed by the State Security Service. This process of illegal borderization coincided with a debate in the Georgian Parliament on the pro-Ukraine resolution between the parliamentary opposition and the ruling party, which ended with the ruling party avoiding any mention of the Russian Federation in the text of the resolution. The opposition refused to vote for this resolution given its wording and subtext and so, as a demonstration of unity, this effort was considered a failure. At the time of this writing, no visits have been made to Kyiv on an official level by Georgian government representatives. The ruling party explained the omission of any reference to Russia in the pro-Ukraine resolution in an interview with RFE / RL: “When asked why Russian aggression was not included in the text of the resolution, Mr. Mamuka Mdinaradze, (MP) explained that every word in the text of the resolution was weighted and “devoid of provocative rhetoric.” It can be assumed that the borderization process influenced the decision of the authorities not to mention even the name of the country posing a threat of war in its resolution in support of Ukraine.
New realities in the South Caucasus and 3+3 format
Russia continues to push Georgia to discuss the so-called 3+3 format. The 3+3 format was initiated at the beginning of 2021, by Turkey and Iran. The initiative originally envisaged forming a cooperation format between all the countries of the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia) and three regional neighboring powers (Iran, Russia, Turkey). 3+3 was once again offered in the aftermath of the Karabakh war and actively supported by Russia towards the goal of finally excluding the West from influencing the South Caucasus Region. Despite the fact that the Georgian government officially rejected participation in the 3+3 format, citing the fact that Russia, one of the member countries, is illegally occupying 20% of Georgian territory, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as Grigory Karasin, Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, continues to call on Georgia to adopt the format.
Annexation Process of the Occupied Regions of Georgia and Additional Territorial Claims of the De-Facto Representatives of the Occupied Regions
In. the aftermath of the war and occupation in August 2008, has Russia recognized the so-called independence of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, illegally deployed Russian military bases and made the first steps toward annexation. The Russian Federation signed so-called agreements with the de facto leaders of the occupied Tskhinvali and Abkhazia. In 2021, the Parliament of Georgia adopted a new resolution, which described these actions on the part of the Russian government as concrete steps towards annexation.
“In May 2021, the Russian Federation officially formalized the annexation of the village of Aibga, which is part of occupied Abkhazia, but beyond de facto control. The area is marked as part of the Adler district of the Krasnodar region, more specifically, as one of the villages in the Kvemo Shilovka community. According to the Democracy Research Institute statement, the village of Aibga was entrusted to the supervision of the governor of Russia’s Krasnodar region, “so that it can be said that the territory of Abkhazia has become part of Russia.” It should be noted that the issue of this village has been a topic of discussion for years. It was assessed as illegal by the resolution of the Parliament of Georgia on August 5, 2021.
In parallel with the growing Russian threat against Ukraine, threatening rhetoric against Georgia has intensified, as evidenced by the de facto leader of the occupied Tskhinvali region, Anatoly Bibilov, as well as by Russian leaders. On February 7, 2022, Anatoly Bibilov announced the program “Five Steps to Russia” to enter the Russian Federation. It should be noted that Tskhinvali has repeatedly made statements about joining Russia, often timed to coincide with Russia’s military-political activities against Ukraine and aimed to use it as leverage against Georgia.
Additional territorial claims made by Tskhinvali de-facto leaders are another threat to Georgia. This is not just empty rhetoric and is usually followed by the marking of additional territories for future annexation, as well as the use of disinformation, propaganda, and history falsification techniques.
In December of 2021, statements by de facto leaders regarding territorial claims intensified again. These claims regarded so-called “historic” lands, which were not occupied as a result of the August war and were never part of the former Autonomous District according to any official map. In particular, this refers to the territorial claims on Truso and Kobi gorge, which belong to the Mtskheta-Tianeti region of Georgia and are located near the Georgian-Russian border. Still, in 2018, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the de facto Republic of South Ossetia, Dimitry Medoev, confirmed to Georgian newspaper “Netgazeti” that in the last round of international discussions in Geneva, the Ossetian side made claims on the Georgian side in the Truso and Kobi valleys. Historical “lectures” are usually followed by the physical marking of territory that typically precedes annexation, a process documented closely by the Georgian community-based movement “Power is in Unity”. According to the representative of this movement, David Katsarava, a total of 209 square kilometers have been marked. It is impossible to predict in advance where the next instance of borderization will take place. This creates an additional threat for Georgia and emphasizes need for a renewed strategy against it.
The West is already talking openly about the repeated use of Russian disinformation techniques against Ukraine, especially in the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. If we compare Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Georgia, the strategy the Kremlin applies in both cases not only serves as an “excuse” to start a war (based on Georgian lessons) but also to justify its actions by falsifying history.
On January 29, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke about RFE / RL journalist Goga Aptsiauri at a press conference where the main topic was Ukraine. He discussed in detail a story published by Euronews, about Russian aggression and recent instances of borderization. Goga Aptsiauri, one of the subjects of this story, spoke about the difficulties of people living in the conflict zone.
“I watched the story about the village of Dvani. Journalist Goga talks about how he has been working in the villages near the conflict zone for years. I specifically wrote down what he said. He said that 14 years have passed since the war that forced people to live in difficult conditions. And so on,” said Sergei Lavrov. He is dissatisfied with the fact that while speaking about separatism, the presenter did not tell the “truth” about “how Zviad Gamsakhurdia treated Abkhazians chauvinistically and never considered Ossetians as people in general.” This fact should be discussed through the prism of Russian information warfare, particularly falsification of the history, which Russia widely uses both against Georgia and Ukraine. This informational assault should be deterred by factual and historical evidence reported by journalists, but it should also be part of a broader strategic communication effort, which unfortunately doesn’t exist in Georgia.
The day after the occupied regions of Donbas had been illegally declared as independent, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, questioned whether Ukraine had a right to sovereignty because, as he said, the government in Kyiv did not represent the country’s constituent parts. Russia first initiates conflicts by using hybrid warfare tools, then it occupies the region, and later openly questions the principle of sovereignty.
The transatlantic community should not tolerate Russian hybrid tactics, as it is clear that it is used not only against Georgia, Ukraine, or Moldova but against the entirety of the rules-based international order. Thus, in a current security context, when Russia is at war not only against Ukraine but against the civilized world, granting Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova the EU candidate status is one of the significant ways to deter Russia’s further aggressive actions and support the people of Georgia, who, according to President Zelenksy, are better than their Government. Teona Akubardia, Georgian MP, Deputy Chairperson of the Defense and Security Committee
This report is prepared within the framework of the Border Zone project.
Director of the project: Mr. Egor Kuroptev, director of Free Russia Foundation in South Caucasus.
 Statement by the Defense Secretary in the House of Commons, 17 January 2022 (Gov.uk)
 It’s all straight from the Georgia playbook, and the world is no longer fooled by the lies, 21 February 2022 (Interpressnews)
 Borderization in Georgia, December 24, 2021 (Radio Liberty) https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/%E1%83%91%E1%83%9D%E1%83%A0%E1%83%93%E1%83%94%E1%83%A0%E1%83%98%E1%83%96%E1%83%90%E1%83%AA%E1%83%98%E1%83%90-%E1%83%93%E1%83%90-%E1%83%93%E1%83%90%E1%83%99%E1%83%90%E1%83%95%E1%83%94%E1%83%91%E1%83%94%E1%83%91%E1%83%98-%E1%83%A1%E1%83%90%E1%83%9D%E1%83%99%E1%83%A3%E1%83%9E%E1%83%90%E1%83%AA%E1%83%98%E1%83%9D-%E1%83%AE%E1%83%90%E1%83%96%E1%83%97%E1%83%90%E1%83%9C-2021/31634672.html
 Detained on occupation lines in Georgia, 2020 (Radio Liberty) https://www.radiotavisupleba.ge/a/%E1%83%93%E1%83%90%E1%83%99%E1%83%90%E1%83%95%E1%83%94%E1%83%91%E1%83%94%E1%83%91%E1%83%98-%E1%83%A1%E1%83%90%E1%83%9D%E1%83%99%E1%83%A3%E1%83%9E%E1%83%90%E1%83%AA%E1%83%98%E1%83%9D-%E1%83%92%E1%83%90%E1%83%9B%E1%83%A7%E1%83%9D%E1%83%A4-%E1%83%AE%E1%83%90%E1%83%96%E1%83%97%E1%83%90%E1%83%9C-2020/31024813.html
 Georgia officially rejects 3+3 format, December 10, 2021 (Georgian Journal)
 On de-occupation and Russia-Georgia conflict’s peaceful solvation, August 5, 2021 (Parliament)
 5 steps towards Russia program, February 7, 2022 (Interpressnews) https://www.interpressnews.ge/ka/article/694662-anatoli-bibilovi-programa-xuti-nabiji-rusetisken-sachiroa-imistvis-rom-sheikmnas-garemoebebi-rusetis-shemadgenlobashi-samxret-osetis-shesasvlelad
 New territories for South Ossetia? February 16, 2022 (VoA) https://www.amerikiskhma.com/a/teritorial-integrity-south-osetia-abl-russia-occupation-georgia/6440526.html?fbclid=IwAR247Jut14_39HwLYD8G8W6-MUTdPcLYlqrkmKrztxyctRoY9fKtd4FaYdw
 Russian FM says Ukraine doesn’t have a right to sovereignty, February 22, 2022
Report is prepared in the framework of the Border Zone project
With the unexpected Armenian military defeat in the 2020 war for Nagorno Karabakh, Russia has been able to significantly expand and consolidate its power and influence in Armenia. Faced with an Armenian government endowed with a rare degree of legitimacy, stemming from the re-election of its democratically-elected leader, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Moscow has been careful to avoid and direct interference or intervention in domestic Armenian politics, however. Instead, Russian power projection has focused on Armenia’s dependence on Russian security and military ties, with the unilateral peacekeeping deployment of Russian forces into Nagorno Karabakh representing the most visible display of this dependence. At the same time, Russia also relies on consolidating its leverage over Armenia from Russian-owned and -controlled sectors of the Armenian economy, as well as the application of pressure on Armenia’s limited room to maneuver and less options in conducting its foreign policy. Thus, for post-war Armenia, despite gains in democracy and reform, the outlook remains challenging, as each step increasing Russian power and influence results in a corresponding erosion of Armenian independence and sovereignty.
Of the various states of the former Soviet Union, Armenia has long been seen as the most loyal, and perhaps most subservient, to Russia. For Russia, its leverage over Armenia has depended on a “3G” approach, consisting of a combination of Guns and discounted weapons, below market Gas supplies, and Goods, as both a major trading partner and as the dominant force of the Eurasian Economic Union. And for Armenia, the alliance with Russia is acutely defended as a “strategic partnership,” it is more accurately defined by a dangerous Armenian over-dependence on Russia. Driven by an imperative of threat perception over the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and the internet promise of a security guarantee, Russia has long represented Armenia’s priority partner. And over time, Armenian-Russian relations have steadily devolved as Armenia has mortgaged its own independence.
Russia & Armenian Political Developments
For Russia, Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution,” which ushered in a sweeping change in leadership and heralded the onset of a more democratic and accountable government, was an important test. As a model that only undermines the authority of the authoritarian regimes throughout much of the post-Soviet landscape, it also stood out as a rather unacceptable challenge to the Russian preference for subservient states and co-opted elites. Yet Russia’s response to developments in Armenia was surprisingly and uncharacteristically passive and permissive, largely due to several factors. First, from a broader perspective, Moscow has been especially wary over the past year of how it deals with Armenia. That wariness stems from a belated recognition of the need to address what has become a deepening crisis in relations between Armenia and Russia, which peaked afterthe April 2016 fighting over Nagorno Karabakh, in the most serious fighting since the 1990s and that was a rare victory for Azerbaijan.
A second serious driver for a softer Russian policy is rooted in the Russian recognition of a dynamic and unpredictable situation on the ground in Armenia, where demonstrators posed a combustible situation that Moscow was ill-equipped to understand, let alone to counter. At the same time, with no demonstrable role of either the United States or the European Union on the ground, there seems to be a related decision by Moscow to not unnecessarily prompt or provoke a Western response by adopting a more direct policy of engagement on the Armenian street.
Nevertheless, by virtue of the very success of the “Velvet Revolution,” Armenia stands out as a still vulnerable exception to the traditional Russian preference for compliant partners. As a dangerous model of potential inspiration for other opposition forces in other counties, Moscow will clearly be closely watching developments in Armenia while waiting for any danger signs of discord in its authoritarian post-Soviet partners and client states.
More recently, Russian pressure on Armenia has continued. Despite the reelection of the Pashinyan government the June 2021 early parliamentary election, Moscow benefited from several disturbing trends in Armenian domestic politics, with growing concern over the implementation of democratic reforms. These trends include three main areas of vulnerability:
- A Prolonged “State of War.” Armenian society has been unable to overcome the shock from the unexpected military defeat in the war for Karabakh that ended in November 2020. While this was exacerbated by the Armenian government’s failure to prepare public opinion for the scale and severity of the military defeat in the 44-day war, it was also due to the prolonged “state of war” as a result of Azerbaijan’s failure to release a sizable number of Armenian military prisoners of war and civilian hostages.
- Post-War Uncertainty & Insecurity. A second factor contributing to the escalation of the post- war crisis has been the uncertainty and insecurity in the new post-war reality. With a delay in the resumption of diplomatic negotiations, this uncertainty stems from the vague and incomplete terms of the Russian-imposed agreement that ended the war in November 2021. Although that agreement resulted in an important cessation of hostilities that allowed for the deployment of a Russian peacekeeping force to Karabakh, it fell far short of either a peace deal or a negotiated resolution to the conflict itself. Moreover, the Russian-crafted agreement deferred the status of Karabakh to a later stage of diplomatic negotiations and left several important issues unanswered. At the same time, this uncertainty was compounded by insecurity, which stemmed from blatant border incursions by Azerbaijani military units along the south-eastern border of Armenia.
- Lack of Accountability & State Paralysis. And the third driver of this political crisis is rooted in the general perception of a lack of accountability for the military losses and political decisions through the war. From a broader perspective, this lack of accountability is related to the fact that the Karabakh conflict predates Armenian independence, which places the Pashinyan government in politically uncharted territory, as the only Armenian leadership to have “lost” Karabakh. But more specifically, the response of the government to the unexpected loss in the war has been both inadequate and insufficient.
More broadly, the Armenian government’s demonstrable failure to adjust and adapt to the new post-war reality, as evident in the absence of a new diplomatic strategy and a failure to alter or adjust the country’s military posture or defense reform, only contributes to a continuing “state of denial.” And despite achieving hard-fought democratic gains since coming to power, thegovernment’s inadequate response to the demands of the post-war crisis has only fostered a perception of state paralysis.
Post-War Security: The Regional Context
Drivers of Post-War Instability. Despite the acceptance of the Russian-imposed ceasefire agreement in November 2020 that ended the 44-day war for Nagorno Karabakh, post-war stability and security have been undermined by three factors. First, and more broadly, the absence of diplomatic negotiations and the very limited engagement between Armenia and Azerbaijan have fostered an environment of insecurity and uncertainty. The failure to resume diplomatic negotiations also exacerbates the fragility of the Russian-imposed ceasefire agreement and poses a significant obstacle to the transformation of the ceasefire into a more lasting and durable peace agreement. In turn, this only compounded the underlying uncertainty that stems from the vague and incomplete terms of the ceasefire that is neither a peace deal nor a resolution to the conflict.
A second factor contributing to post-war instability is the tenuous position of Nagorno Karabakh and the physical security of the Armenian population of Karabakh, which is overwhelmingly dependent on the presence of Russian peacekeepers. The lack of a diplomatic process focusing on the Karabakh conflict and a delay in the resumption of mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group also compound the inherent vulnerability and insecurity of Karabakh. Moreover, this reliance on the presence of the Russian peacekeeping force in Karabakh is tenuous, especially given Russia’s self- imposed five-year deadline for its peacekeeping deployment.
The third factor of instability stems from the lingering burden of Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) and civilian hostages still in Azerbaijani captivity. Despite the November 2020 ceasefire agreement’s provision calling for the exchange of all POWs and prisoners, Azerbaijan has repeatedly resisted, offering only one-time partial releases of small numbers of Armenians. These transactional moves were largely attempts to extract concessions from the Armenian government.
Escalating Confrontation & Insecurity. Against that backdrop of post-war instability, there is also a more recent crisis of insecurity. This crisis was triggered in May 2021 with an escalating confrontation between Azerbaijan and Armenia consisting of border disputes and a series of border incursions by Azerbaijani units into Armenian territory (see graphic below).
This crisis also triggered a Russian military buildup in southern Armenia and at strategic points along the Armenian side of the border with Azerbaijan. Although separate and distinct from the Russian peacekeeping operation in Nagorno Karabakh, this expansion of a Russian military presence secures the Russian role to control and manage the potential restoration of regional trade and transport links, including the planned establishment of road and railway links between Azerbaijan and its exclave Nakhichevan through southern Armenia.
In addition, the recent Russian military buildup also suggests a subsequent acquisition of the Armenian border with Azerbaijan by Russian border guards, a development with strategic implications, as an inherent threat to Armenian sovereignty and independence given existing Russian control over two of Armenia’s four external borders: complete control over the Armenian- Turkish border and supervisory control and oversight of Armenia’s border with Iran.
Recent Developments: Two Areas of Progress
A Return to Diplomacy. Despite the several months of post-war tension and insecurity, there were two important recent breakthroughs. The first of these breakthroughs came in September 2021 with a meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. With the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen, this meeting marked an important return to diplomacy between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This resumption of diplomacy, which includes a planned visit to the region by the OSCE Minsk Group, is further crucial to widen post-war security in the wake of border tension and Azerbaijani incursions since May 2021.
Such diplomatic re-engagement also offers more than a reliance on negotiations over force of arms but lessens the risk of resumed hostilities and paves the way for a resumption of the return of Armenian prisoners from Azerbaijani captivity . The latter issue is especially important, as Azerbaijan’s failure to return all Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) and non-combatants is an emotional element contributing into the Armenian perspective of an ongoing war. This issue is also a case of Azerbaijan’s open defiance of the terms of the Russian-imposed ceasefire agreement in November 2020, thereby adding to an atmosphere of mistrust, especially as the Armenian side returned all Azerbaijani prisoners immediately after accepting the ceasefire agreement.
The Restoration of Regional Trade and Transport. A second breakthrough came in the resumption of the meetings of the tripartite working group on regional trade and transport. After a suspension of meetings by the Armenian side in response to Azerbaijani border incursions in May and due to Baku’s intransigence over the return of prisoners, Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan reported significant progress in these talks. More specifically, the working group’s negotiations resulted in an important preliminary agreement that reiterated and reaffirmed Armenian sovereignty over any and all road and railway links between Azerbaijan and its exclave Nakhichevan through southern Armenia. It also confirmed unilateral Russian control and supervision of road and rail traffic, including legal provisions for customs control and access. The successful agreement over the restoration of regional trade and transport is limited to the links between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan as the first stage, however, with the planned reconstruction of the Soviet-era railway link and the construction of a highway (see map below).
The broader second stage of regional trade and transport encompasses a more expansive (and significantly more expensive) strategy that includes the reopening of the closed border between Turkey and Armenia, and the restoration of the Soviet-era railway line between Kars and Gyumri, as well as the eventual extension of the Azerbaijani railway network to allow Armenian rolling stock from southern Armenia in a north-eastern direction through Baku and on to southern Russian (see maps below).
Discussions in this tripartite working group also include a Russian pledge to provide a new gas pipeline “spur” running through Azerbaijan to provide Russian natural gas to Armenia, in part as an alternative to Armenian dependence on the sole gas pipeline from Russian through Georgia.
Russian Limits & Leverage over Armenian Foreign Policy
Russia has also limited and exerted leverage over Armenian foreign policy, while also countering Western attempt to re-engage in the post-war region. This was most recently evident in a much- needed return to diplomacy after the most serious violation of the fragile ceasefire of November 2020, when Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev met in Sochi on 26 November for an important “mini-summit” convened by Russian President Putin.
The Significance of the Sochi Summit: Three Factors
The 26 November meeting in Sochi was significant several reasons, in terms of both what the meeting represents as well as what it does not. First, the meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders offered an essential return to diplomacy over force of arms.
A second significant aspect of the Sochi meeting was the value for Russian President Putin in convening the “mini-summit” prior to the 15 December Brussels meeting, which was organized first by the European Union. In this context, Putin sought to preempt the EU and used Sochi to reassert Russia’s role as the dominant actor in the South Caucasus. Yet this does not exclude Western engagement. Rather, the return of the OSCE Minsk Group offers Moscow a rare endowment of legitimacy for their unilateral deployment of peacekeepers to Nagorno Karabakh.
And a third important detail in the significance of this Sochi meeting stems from what it was not. This was an exercise in diplomatic engagement focusing on verbal commitments, and there was never any expectation for the signing of any document. This is part of a longer and more complex process, although the meeting in itself was a success, especially after recent attacks by Azerbaijan and due to the return of two Armenian POWs, freed from captivity by the Azerbaijani side.
What to Expect Next
In this context of a seeming climbdown by Azerbaijan, with a reluctant yet important resumption of diplomacy, there are two main expectations in the coming months.
First, largely driven by pronounced Russian frustration, there is a justified expectation for a coming agreement on the implementation of the first stage of the restoration of road and railway links from Azerbaijan to its exclave Nakhichevan. This is of particular importance to Azerbaijan, both as an important post-war victory and as a fulfillment of the most important component of the larger plan for restoring regional trade and transport.
But it is also very important to Russia, especially in the wake of the failed Russian attempt to convene an online meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to endorse this new breakthrough agreement that was to be timed with the anniversary of the 2020 Russian-imposed ceasefire. Although this issue was on the agenda for the Sochi meeting.
The second expectation to come soon centers on the issue of border demarcation. While the “unblocking” of road and rail links to Nakhichevan are more of a propriety for Azerbaijan, border demarcation is a critical priority for Armenia. More specifically, this expectation consists of two likely scenarios or options: the formation of a trilateral “working group” empowered to negotiate the delineation and demarcation of the Armenian-Azerbaijan border, or instead, the incorporation of this work into the existing working group on trade and transport. Regardless of the precise model, either option would provide an essential legal and institutional framework for border demarcation, thereby contributing to a critical de-escalation of addressing border disputes by force and through armed incursion, as Azerbaijan has done since May 2021.
The Broader Context
Finally, both the Sochi and Brussels meetings are part of a broader context, with Azerbaijan following a post-war strategy comprised of three specific elements. First, from the refusal to release Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) and non-combatants from captivity to its May 2021 military incursions into Armenian territory, Azerbaijan has adopted a relatively successful “transactional” approach designed to extract as many concessions from Armenia as possible. In this way, the constant and consistent application of pressure on Armenia not only seeks to weaken the Armenian government, but also to strengthen its position both diplomatically and militarily. And using the POWs as diplomatic currency and as a political commodity, Baku is only likely to continue to rely on incremental partial prisoner releases over a long and drawn-out timeframe.
The second element of this new Azerbaijani post-war strategy is rooted in an ambitious and rather bold move to challenge Russia, openly defying Moscow by refusing to implement the terms of the Russian-imposed ceasefire of November 2020. This has been matched by a potentially dangerous and reckless pattern of attacks along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border that undermines the planned expansion of the Russian military presence in southern Armenia and along the border, while also exposing the operational impotence of security guarantees from both Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
And a third component of this strategy stems from internal considerations of domestic Azerbaijani politics, based on the reality that for the longer-term survival of the Aliyev regime, the “victory” of the war for Nagorno Karabakh in 2020 was neither clear nor convincing enough. Moreover, the military outcome of the war did not force the “settlement” of the Karabakh conflict and for Azerbaijan, the war failed to deliver a total victory. In fact, without the political utility of using the Karabakh conflict to justify the lack of democratic reform and to distract from the entrenched corruption of the Aliyev family, there is a looming and lingering challenge to the stability of Azerbaijan and to the security of the Azerbaijani leadership.
Thus, the border tension and attacks offer Aliyev with an important short-term way to continue to bolster his popularity and to prolong a “state of war” with Armenia (and Karabakh) that provides critical political dividends. Yet, this is a limited short-term strategy that is unsustainable for the Aliyev government, especially in the face of dangerously high expectations and demands for a more convincing and complete victory.
 According to Armenian government sources, Azerbaijan has returned 114 Armenian POWs and civilian non-combatants to date, but still holds 62 Armenian POWs in captivity
 These legal provisions reportedly consist of some 300 documents derived from the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS) Legal Framework and the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU).
 The rather ambitious terms of the agreement envision road construction and railway restoration over a
period of 2-2.5 years, with an additional lack of clarity over financing.
In the past few years, Russia has intensified its influence operations targeting Georgia. Since the election of the Georgian Dream party in 2012, its leaders have pursued the so-called ‘balanced policy’ vis-à-vis Russia. The policy shift has resulted in the restoration of economic and trade relations between the two countries, leading to the increase in Russian tourism to Georgia, and other economic developments.
The government of Georgia has come under criticism for allowing pro-Russian security forces to operate freely in Georgia; for not countering Russia’s disinformation campaigns; and for increasing Georgia’s dependence on Russia, subsequently removing Georgia from the agenda of discussions between the Kremlin and the West. The Kremlin has used these opportunities to enhance its propaganda and disinformation narratives targeting Georgia’s relations with the West.
The night of June 20, 2019 became a seminal point in Russo-Georgian relations when the Georgian Dream Government violently dispersed a rally against the Russian occupation of Abkhazia and Samachablo. The rally itself had been precipitated by a scandal involving Russian Duma member Sergey Gavrilov, who attempted to sit on the seat of the Parliamentary Chairman and conduct a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Orthodoxy. This affront took place against the backdrop of Russia’s aggressive propaganda against Georgia’s Western aspirations, instrumentalization of Church and minority groups and imposing on Georgia the narrative that West is immoral, and Russia is strong.
This report attempts to delineate major milestones and vectors of Russia’s malign influence campaign targeting Georgia between August-November 2021.
3+3 and an Invitation to RSVP
After the Nagorno-Karabakh war and the agreement to start the reopening of borders and allow transit through Armenia and Azerbaijan, the idea of a new regional platform – 3+3 (Turkey, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia) has reemerged. Initially the format was proposed by Turkey and was wholeheartedly supported by Azerbaijan and Russia, whose Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov openly called on Georgia to join the platform.
During the months of October and November of 2021, the Russian Foreign Minister addressed the format thrice in his public statements.
Prior to the Karabakh war of 2020, Russia had sought to deploy its peacekeepers in Azerbaijan in addition to its military bases in Armenia and throughout the occupied territories of Georgia. Once Russia stationed its troops in Karabakh, it set out to shape “new regional realities” in the region, sidelining the West completely. The Kremlin has also promoted the idea that the OSCE Minsk group may be useful for humanitarian issues, not political ones.
In October 2021, Georgia’s Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani did not outright reject the participation of Georgia in the 3+3 forum, despite the threat of South Caucasus being turned into Russia’s backyard (potentially shared with Turkey), and where the West had no oversight or influence. Zalkaliani instead has chosen a more careful approach, stating that Tbilisi finds it “very hard” to join the 3+3 platform, but that Georgia “must not lag behind the regional processes.” Zalkaliani’s statement caused an outcry among Georgian experts, civil society representatives, and Georgia’s western allies, who asserted that participation of Georgia in any Russia-led formats is unacceptable. Meanwhile, the Russian propaganda promoted the narrative that they are “hearing contradictory statements from Tbilisi concerning its participation in this consultative platform,” as sounded by Maria Zakharova,
the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry.
During his visit to Georgia, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin remarked that Georgia cannot be cleared to join such a format, calling on Russia to first implement the August 12, 2008 ceasefire agreement and withdraw its forces from Georgian territory. This remark clearly parlayed the American reluctance to see 3+3 materialize. It is logical that neither the EU, nor the U.S. want to see the region get closed off to the West, which is exactly what Russia is attempting to do.
Georgia’s participation in the 3+3 regional format would send a bad message to its increasingly apprehensive Western partners. When the Abashidze-Karasin bilateral dialogue format was initiated in 2012, the West and its interests were left out of the talks entirely. The 3+3 format will do just that, except now the West will be left out of discussions not just between two countries, but those related to the entire South Caucasus region. The Pro-Russian forces in Georgia (Alliance of Patriots, Primakov Georgia-Russian Public Center, Alt-Info TV and Obieqtivi TV) often advocate precisely for this approach: that the bilateral dialogue and regional formats should be prioritized over wider Western participation and international formats.
In November 2021, Georgia’s FM Zalkaliani finally announced that Georgia will not take part in the 3+3 platform. However, Russia’s representative Karasin once again mentioned this format during the call with his Georgia’s counterpart Zurab Abashidze the same month. While it is clearly against Georgia’s strategic interests to face the occupying power alone (or potentially with Turkey and Iran but without its Western partners), Moscow’s propaganda and its local allies’ message box is clearly the opposite.
Agreement on Cooperation with the Belarusian KGB
On August 1, 2021, an agreement of cooperation between the Georgian State Security Service (SSSG) and State Security Committee (KGB) of Belarus entered into force. The deal, signed on August 2016, envisages the parties exchanging information on matters of state security, as well as cooperating on fighting the crime against the constitutional order, sovereignty, territorial integrity, transnational organized crime, terrorism, cyber terrorism, and illegal circulation of weapons.
When the deal went into force in 2021, it coincided with the US and EU considerations of sanctions on the Lukashenka regime in response to the fraudulent August 2020 Presidential elections and crackdown on free media and opposition. On June 21, Washington identified the Belarusian KGB as the main culprit in undermining democracy in Belarus. Meanwhile, Russia’s’ Foreign Intelligence Service Chief Sergey Naryshkin held a meeting with the Belarusian KGB, and underlined that the two agencies would “work jointly to counter the destructive activities of the West”.
The treaty has been met with heavy criticism due to the ongoing crackdown on human rights activists and political opposition in Minsk, with hundreds of Belarusians seeking refuge from the Lukashenka regime in Georgia. It has raised serious concerns among the Belarusian and Russian exiles about relocating to Georgia, as they fear that even in Georgia they will be under threat. This fear, too, has been exploited by the Kremlin.
In August of 2021, rumors began to spread that Vladislav Pozdnyakov, a well-known provocateur and leader of the Russian extremist movement “Men’s State”, arrived in Georgia. “Men’s State” organization is notorious for its ties to Russian special forces. The group initiates public bullying and hate campaigns against minorities, and launch petitions demanding to imprison political activists.
During his August visit, Pozdnyakov publicly announced that his plans to launch a branch office of his organization in Georgia. By the end of his visit, he posted pictures of well-known Russian exiles in Georgia, suggesting his allies to find them in Tbilisi— in a message of direct intimidation. Later, his Telegram channel, which was very popular among radical groups, was banned by Telegram. Pozdnyakov launched a new version of the channel which now has 68000 subscribers.
Representatives of Russian propaganda media outlet Ren TV visited Georgia the same month. Their goal was to hunt down Russian exiles in Georgia and produce discrediting materials, painting Russian political activists in Georgia as Russia’s enemies bankrolled by the West. Representatives of the Ren TV ambushed activists near their rented apartments in Tbilisi with cameras (it is still not clear how they had found the addresses of exiles newly relocated to Georgia), visiting bars, restaurants and public places, where activists usually spend time and interact. Ren TV journalists brought lists of Russian activists exiled to Georgia to staff in restaurants, inquiring on their whereabouts and sources of funding.
This Kremlin-orchestrated campaign—including publication of the agreement between KGB of Belarus with Georgia’s State Security, provocative posts and incitement to hatred on behalf of Vladislav Pozdnyakov, activities of the Ren TV representatives —has sought to discredit Georgia and make Russian and Belarusian activists afraid of staying in the country.
Saakashvili’s Return and Arrest
The return and subsequent arrest of the third President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili before the local elections of October 2, 2021 has dominated the Russian anti-Georgian narrative in recent weeks. Saakashvili is portrayedby Russian press as a warmonger, a Western stooge justly imprisoned by the Georgian Government.A TV show on the Russian state channel dedicated to Saakashvili’s arrest and hunger strike prominently featured a Georgian flag on the floor of the studio with the TV anchors walking on it. Main line of Russian propagandais that the return of Saakashvili’s party to power would change the balance of power in the region and weaken Russian interests.
The official line of the Georgian government, unfortunately, coincides with that of Moscow – insinuations that Saakashvili is attempting to foment unrest, he is a criminal, started a 2008 war and needs to remain locked up in jail. Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has hinted that the Georgian Dream Government will keep Saakashvili in prison and might even add some years, if he “does not behave”
Reluctance of the European Union and the United States to intervene in the domestic political crisis of Georgia aids Russia’s propaganda narrative. The West has failed to mediate in the post-2020 elections political crisis, despite the high-level engagement from the European Council President Charles Michel. The document signed by Michel, Georgian Government and political opposition effectively ended the parliamentary boycott of the opposition, however failed to resolve the underlying political crisis, since the 2021 local elections were held with similar or even graver violations than October 2020 Parliamentary elections.
According to the observers, “irregularities identified by the local and international observation missions during the pre-election period and in the process of voting and vote counting on Election Day have had an unequivocally negative impact on the expression of voters’ free will and public confidence in the electoral process and election results. Given a small margin of victory in some of the municipalities, these irregularities may have affected the results.” However, Russian state-owned media outlet Sputnik has declared that local elections in Georgia were held quietly and in an organized manner. 
Protracted standoff between Georgian Dream and the EU
Ties with the EU and NATO are the major targets of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns in Georgia. That is why it is critical to promote Georgia’s Western aspirations and widely distribute unbiased information. When the Russian propaganda machine declares that the EU failed Georgian people, that European values undermine Georgian traditions, it is crucial to strike back‚ enhancing Georgia- EU / NATO relations and highlight this cooperation in public statements.
The current political crisis in Georgia creates countless new opportunities for the Kremlin to manipulate Georgian society, which is now highly polarized and vulnerable due to domestic developments. Unfortunately, in the past few months, the Kremlin had no need to fabricate ruses on Georgia’s relations with the EU or NATO, because Georgian authorities and officials have frequently contradicted, attacked, and demonized the European Union, EU officials, and leading politicians from the EU countries. Now, the Kremlin can simply stick with disseminating the anti-Western statements made by Georgian authorities.
As political crises erupt, or whenever GD is criticized for not living up to the democratic standards, including the EU Association Agreement commitments, GD leaders snap back at the EU without hesitation. The repertoire of critical remarks includes such keywords as “uninformed”, “lobbyists and stooges of the opposition”, “corrupt”, or even “crazy”. On September 27, the Minister of Defence, when asked about the increasing criticism from the EU, promptly dismissed the journalist with a counter-question – “Who is the EU?”. On October 20, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said “neither [MEP Anna] Fotyga nor [MEP Andrius] Kubilius, nor anyone else, represent anything for myself or our country,” commenting on multiple MEPs calls for the release of Saakashvili.
In July 2021, when Georgian Dream withdrew from the Charles Michel agreement, the EU responded forcefully, by withholding 75 million euros— the second tranche of a 150 million loan designed to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. This loan was linked, among other conditions, to the judicial reforms and the GD’s withdrawal from the Charles Michel agreement was a clear indication that the reforms were not planned. In August 2021, the acting head of the EU Delegation to Georgia, Julien Cramp, made it clear that Georgia will no longer receive money that “should have been used for the welfare of Georgian citizens”.
This reaction from the EU was countered by the Georgian Government with an official refusal of the EU loan – music to Moscow’s ears which was immediately used by propaganda machine. The justification was comical— Georgia all of a sudden decided to start reducing its foreign debt. For a country whose debts are close to 60% of the GDP (up from just over 30% in 2012), and which has recently received another loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), such an excuse was quite a stretch. EU officials caught this discrepancy quite easily. MEP Viola von Cramon tweeted – “You can’t decline what you were not eligible for” and that “EU will need to reconsider its relations with the Georgian Government”.
This has led to yet another confrontation with the EU. The Prime Minister made it clear that he couldn’t care less about the criticism. “MEPs are not my bosses” – snapped Garibashvili when asked. Who the real boss is, though, is quite clear. To quote former US Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer Mr. Ivanishvili, “no longer an elected official, no longer a party official… seems to be pulling all the strings behind the scene.”
Such confrontations with the West fit neatly into Moscow’s narrative that the West is imposing itself on Russia and its neighbours and that such encroachment and intervention into the domestic affairs needs to be countered. As Putin says, Russia, far from pursuing a militaristic policy, has been the victim of a Western scheme to contain and hobble the country. “They attack Russia here and there without any reason,” Mr. Putin said. He cited Rudyard Kipling’s novel “Jungle Book” with a comparison of the United States to Shere Khan, a villainous tiger, nipping at Russia. 
The Church Files
The State Security Service of Georgia found itself in another trouble in September, manifesting an outrageous level of Russian infiltration into Georgian society. It turned out that the SSSG has been eavesdropping on representatives of the government and the opposition, clergy, members of the diplomatic corps, and even ordinary people of interest.
Over 25 gigabytes of files and 3000 pages of chat log leaked on September 12 revealed that the special “3rd unit” within the State Security Service, focused on the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) and listened to everyone connected, related to, dealing with, or of interest to the Church. Agents recorded priests, bishops, archbishops, theologians, businessmen, journalists, NGO representatives, political leaders and then reported their findings to their boss in the chat (probably WhatsApp, or Signal).
Most of the leaked records are related to the clergy and the patriarchate. Records mainly include the details of personal lives of the clergy. Most importantly, the Church files have revealed that Russian connections to the GOC are pervasive. The files include a list of 15 clerics, among them high-ranking GOC members, who have either close ties to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) or connections to Russian businessmen and Russian intelligence services. Church files also show that Patriarch’s locum tenens Shio Mujiri maintain ties with Moscow, even though the head of the public relations unit of the GOC has denied it.
The files included report that many GOC clerics believed that the Patriarch Ilia II appointed Metropolitan Shio Mujiri as Locum Tenens in violation of the canonical law, as a result of the pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church and lobbying from his friend Levan Vasadze, a founder of the xenophobic and pro-Russian political party Eri, who is linked with Moscow and one of the main ideologists of Kremlin Alexander Dugin.
Church files have also revealed that Shio Mujiri back in 2019 fired an altar boy because of the criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Facebook.
This leak shows that the State Security Service has been listening to the foreign diplomats as well. Intelligence briefs contain summaries of the discussions between the embassy staff members and the ambassadors, including EU Ambassador Carl Hartzell and Israeli Ambassador Ran Gidor.
Double Standards for Russian Visitors
Public attacks and attempts to intimidate Russian and Belarusian exiles in Georgia have taken place in recent months. In the aftermath of uprising repressions in Russia and Belarus, the Kremlin initiated a new strategy to discredit Georgia as a country where Kremlin’s and Lukashenka’s critics may find safety and security. Moscow doesn’t like the fact that so many opposition representatives are based in a country bordering Russia and that is why it sends journalists and provocateurs to prepare discrediting materials or initiate bullying campaigns against exiles.
Within this context, hostile actions by the Georgian side toward Russian and Ukrainian activists and journalists are especially troublesome.
The same month when representatives of the Russian REN TV channel and Men’s State organization visited Georgia, one of the leaders of Navalny’s movement Lyubov Sobol was turned away at the border by the Georgian side. On October 29, Lyubov Sobol posted on Twitter: “I was denied entry to Georgia. Without explaining the reason. I can only guess that they did not want to spoil relations with Putin.” Sobol tried to enter Georgia by land from Armenia to then fly to another country. As she noted there was no reason to be banned from the border crossing. Sobol never visited occupied Abkhazia before and had never taken any action against Georgia that prompted the Georgian government to make such a decision.
By contrast, the leading Georgian Dream MP and Head of the ruling party Irakli Kobakhidze reacted to Journalist Vladimir Pozner’s entrance into Georgia in an extremely friendly manner. He lectured opposition politicians and activists on Georgian tradition of hospitality to both friend and foe, even citing a Georgian classic poet. A high-profile English-speaking veteran face of the Soviet and then Russian governments – Vladimir Pozner, director of Russian propagandistic news agency TASS – Sergei Mikhailov, David Davidovich – a key partner of Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Kusnerovich – a close friend of Dmitry Medvedev were all freely allowed to enter the country early in 2021. To remind, in 2019 Russian communist MP Sergey Gavrilov also freely entered the Georgian territory and instigated famous events of June 20.
In addition, in August 2021, InformNapalm, a popular volunteer platform countering the Russian hybrid war in Ukraine reported that one of the members of the Kremlin supported mercenary group – Wagner Corporation was conducting business in Georgia under a fake name. GRU-linked (Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation) Kirill Krivko has been revealed to be previously involved in running businesses in Georgia and Kazakhstan under a fake name. State Security Service of Georgia (SSSG) denied the report, however agreed that Krivko did in fact cross the border of Georgia in 2019.
The case of Anaklia Port
When analyzing Russia’s influence in Georgia for the last few months, it becomes apparent that certain decisions made by the Georgian Government often suit Russia’s interests in the region. Take the deep sea port of Anaklia, a project that was tanked by the Georgian Dream Government almost two years ago. It now turned out that Bidzina Ivanishvili put his personal business interests ahead of the country’s strategic interest to have a deep sea port on the Black Sea imminently. On October 4, 2021 the Pandora Papers revealed the hidden interests of Ivanishvili, in sinking the Anaklia deep sea project. Ivanishvili apparently owns shares in the company that through the subsidiaries manages Poti Free Industrial Zone (FIZ) – a direct competitor to the Anaklia deep sea project.
Anaklia deep sea port project was torpedoed by the Georgian Government almost two years ago. In 2020 GD Government discontinued the contract with the Anaklia Development Consortium (ADC), led by the TBC Holding founders – Georgian businessmen Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, who are now in the opposition Lelo for Georgia party. ADC also attracted major investors – Conti Group, SSA Marine, Van Oord, Wondernet Express LLP, TBC Holding, the Asia Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Reasons for “killing” the port remained obscure, ranging from the fear to anger Russia, who has its own deep sea port ambitions on Black Sea, to Ivanishvili’s unwillingness to empower already rich and powerful Khazaradze and Japaridze, and the alleged business interests of Ivanishvili in the competitor Poti port. Now the latter is all but confirmed. The agreement on the construction of Anaklia Port was signed by the Government of Georgia with the ADC, which won the international tender in 2016. The Anaklia Deepwater Port project was widely believed to be of great importance for the long-term security and economic interests of Georgia and to the detriment of Russia’s commercial and strategic interests in the Black Sea region. The port project was to acquire a strategic geographical function for Georgia on the East-West trade map, potentially rerouting trade that is taking place, or could have gone through Russia. Commercially, even the most pessimistic calculations predicted that by 2025 the Anaklia port could handle cargo with a capacity of 600,000 TEU (twenty foot equivalent unit) and receive 10,000 container vessels. These types of vessels currently cannot enter Georgian ports of Batumi and Poti and if Anaklia materialized would have been the largest vessels to pass through the Bosporus Strait.
On February 14, 2019 the Economist wrote that the Anaklia port was a bridge connecting Georgia with Europe and an attractive strategic object for Europe, which could have facilitated Georgia’s accession to the European Union and NATO. Additional flavor was given to the Anaklia deep sea port because of its proximity to the Russian occupied Abkhazia region. Georgia’s new Black Sea port would have created an alternative corridor for Europe to the east-west land trade currently taking place through Russia. Anaklia port was supposed to be a third major infrastructure project in Georgia after the East-west motorcade (currently still under construction) and Baku-Akhalkalaki-Karsi railway (currently very much behind the schedule, but almost finalized).
In an official statement, effectively ending the Anaklia saga, the Georgian government cited the failure of the Anaklia Development Consortium (ADC) to fulfil its contractual obligations as a reason for terminating the contract, though in public messaging the Government often spoke of the inability of ADC to raise investments and about the importance of Poti port, which, of course, discouraged foreign investors. Mamuka Khazaradze, a co-founder of ADC publicly slammed Ivanishvili and the Government, remembering their encounter, during which Ivanishvili clearly referred to the Russian interests in not allowing the port to materialize.
 Russia offers 3+3 format Caucasus platform. Daily Sabah
 Steve Gutterman. The end of something is the south Caucasus. RFERL
 Lavrov’s Georgian advocates against Kelly Degnan. Mythdetector
 Steven Erlanger. Belarus faces expanded sanctions. NY Times
 Belarus Designations. U.S. Department of the treasury
 Georgia-Belarus security cooperation. OC Media https://globalvoices.org/2021/09/02/georgian-belarusian-security-cooperation-deal-worries-political-emigres-in-georgia/
 Anastasia Mgaloblishvili. Fears over Georgia-Belarus agreement.
Institute War and Peace Reporting https://iwpr.net/global-voices/fears-over-georgia-belarus-security-agreement
 Men’s State calls to mark TV Rain as a foreign agent. Znak
Men’s state leader says he is behind the arrest of Russian blogger https://www.gazeta.ru/culture/news/2021/06/10/n_16088168.shtml
 Kremlin’s propaganda in Tbilisi. Main TV Channel https://mtavari.tv/news/54570-kremlis-propagandistebi-tbilisshi-ra-inpormatsias
 Saakashvili wants to organize a coup. Russian newspaper
Saakashvili orchestrates revolution from the prison. Independent newspaper https://www.ng.ru/cis/2021-11-09/5_8296_georgia.html
 Saakashvilis arrival to Georgia was initiated by the U.S.
 Local elections in Georgia. OSCE https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/georgia/499471
 Georgian NGO’s Joint Statement. ISFED https://isfed.ge/eng/gantskhadebebi/211101013221arasamtavrobo-organizatsiebis-ertoblivi-gantskhadeba-munitsipalur-archevnebtan-dakavshirebit-
 “Free and well-organized” – international observers evaluate elections. Sputnik
 This election is not related to snap elections. IPN
 Remarks by EU Charge d’Affaires. Delegation of the EU to Georgia https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/georgia/103556/node/103556_en
 Why Georgia declined pittance of the EU? EaDaily
 Viola Von Cramon. EU’s 150 million assistance to Georgia. Twitter https://twitter.com/violavoncramon/status/1432755951141101579?lang=en
 2021 elections in Georgia. Margaret Thatcher Centre https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?ref=watch_permalink&v=1062519634575106
 Andrew Kramer. Putin warns of a Russian red line. NY Times.
 Andria Dzhagmaidze. Two-three examples does not mean broad connections with Russia. IMEDI https://imedinews.ge/ge/sazogadoeba/220597/andria-jagmaidze-eklesiashi-3-atasi-sasuliero-piria-da-aqedan-23-magalitis-mokvana-ar-nishnavs-rom-aq-aris-gamalebuli-kavshirebi-rusettan
 Sobol. “I was banned from entering Georgia”. Twitter https://twitter.com/SobolLubov/status/1454142908765024264
 Kobakhidze. “National Movement says hospitality is for friends, not for enemies”. Facebook https://www.facebook.com/KobakhidzeOfficial/posts/3557621131128864
 Igor Guskov. UCAS informed Georgia and Kazakhstan on a Russian war criminal. Informnapalm
 Poti Free Industrial Zone. Free Trade Zone https://www.freetradezone.ge/poti-free-industrial-zone
 Was the Anaklia port project torpedoed in the name of a free zone in Poti? Ports Europe
 Zurab Maisashvili. Major reason of the Anaklia port failure. Factcheck
 The contract with Anaklia Development Consortium is annulled. Ministry of regional development of Georgia https://mrdi.gov.ge/ka/press-center/%E1%83%A1%E1%83%98%E1%83%90%E1%83%AE%E1%83%9A%E1%83%94%E1%83%94%E1%83%91%E1%83%98%20&%20%E1%83%A6%E1%83%9D%E1%83%9C%E1%83%98%E1%83%A1%E1%83%AB%E1%83%98%E1%83%94%E1%83%91%E1%83%94%E1%83%91%E1%83%98/%E1%83%90%E1%83%9C%E1%83%90%E1%83%99%E1%83%9A%E1%83%98%E1%83%98%E1%83%A1-%E1%83%92%E1%83%90%E1%83%9C%E1%83%95%E1%83%98%E1%83%97%E1%83%90%E1%83%A0%E1%83%94%E1%83%91%E1%83%98%E1%83%A1-%E1%83%99%E1%83%9D%E1%83%9C%E1%83%A1%E1%83%9D%E1%83%A0%E1%83%AA%E1%83%98.html