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13 March 2023

Has Georgia’s Russian drift come to an end?

Days of fierce protests in Tbilisi have defeated pro-Kremlin legislation.

By Ido Vock

Georgia has been brought back from the brink. A bill supported by the country’s increasingly autocratic government, which would have helped neuter independent media and critical NGOs, and brought the country closer to authoritarianism, has been withdrawn after days of fierce protests in Tbilisi, the capital.

The opposition accused the government of copying a 2012 “foreign agents” law passed by the Kremlin, dubbing the bill the “Russian law”. The proposal was fiercely criticised by Georgia‘s allies, including the US and EU. It would have all but ended Georgia’s aspirations to join the EU and Nato, an ignominious development in the story of a country that was once viewed as one of the post-Soviet bloc’s most promising young democracies.

Since coming to power in 2012, the country’s ruling party Georgian Dream has attempted to play off Russia and the West for its own benefit, by seeking closer ties with Russia while remaining formally committed to EU and Nato membership. But the Ukraine war upset that balance. Senior government officials regularly feuded with Ukraine, while Tbilisi refused to join in the Western sanctions imposed on Russia. The invasion of Ukraine had the absurd result of turning the previous neighbour that Russia fought a war with into one of Moscow’s closest allies.

[See also: Riot police crack down on Georgia’s anti-Russia protests]

It’s not yet clear to what extent Georgian Dream has given up on its ambitions to roll back the country’s democracy. Yet the government has at least been forced to recognise that its tilt towards Moscow will be met with furious backlash from the public.

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The withdrawal of the Georgian foreign agents law marks another defeat for Russian influence in the former Soviet Union. Across the region, from the South Caucasus to Central Asia, Moscow is losing sway over its former allies. “Vladimir Putin is losing what remains of his country’s imperial hegemony over post-Soviet Eurasia,” the Russia expert Mark Galeotti recently wrote. And it is not just Ukraine that Moscow seems to have lost.

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This article first appeared in the World Review newsletter. It comes out every Monday; subscribe here.

[See also: The EU must accelerate its next enlargement]

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