Investigation alleges Russian money behind political party in neighboring Georgia
The Kremlin is directly financing and handling the election campaign of Georgia’s most Russia-friendly political party, according to a new investigation by the Dossier Center — a London-based organization owned by the exiled former oil baron Mikhail Khodorkhovsky.
Since 2016, when it won its first six seats in the Georgian parliament, the Alliance of Patriots has been accused of working on Russia’s behalf in Georgia. Documents published by the Dossier Center last week allege that Russian security services are crafting a $8 million election campaign for the party in the run-up to a parliamentary vote in October.
Relations between Russia and Georgia have been tense since the outbreak of the Russo-Georgian war of 2008. Georgia remains extremely sensitive to Russian interference in its affairs. In June 2019, thousands of Georgians took to the streets of Tbilisi to express their anger at a Russian politician’s address to the nation’s parliament.
Nino Evgenidze, the executive director of the Tbilisi-based think tank the Economic Policy Research Center, said Kremlin meddling in its neighbors’ elections is motivated by a fear of democratic examples emerging to inspire domestic discontent. “We’re talking about Russia’s neighbors, like Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia or Belarus. If these countries defeat Russian influence, then the next stop is Russia itself,” she said in a phone interview.
Irma Inashvili, head of the Alliance of Patriots, has called the allegations of Russian financing “a lie from start to finish.” Inashvili gained attention last fall when she brought thousands of protestors to the gates of the American Embassy in Tbilisi to demand that two former US diplomats be made persona non grata in Georgia.
The Dossier Center reports that consultants from a Moscow-based company named Politsecrets produced campaign videos and formulated political messages for the Alliance of Patriots, with the intention of stirring up fear of a collapsing economy among the electorate. Several examples were published in the Dossier report:
“If we don’t change the political system, then by the New Year we will see a round of unemployment and an outflow of the population. Georgians will again become illegal migrants to the EU,” read instructions to the Alliance of Patriots from Vera Blashenkova, director of Politsecrets.
The Dossier Center says its documents include itemized budgets for the months leading up to the October election and volumes of correspondence. The organization also reports that the Georgian language edition of Sputnik, a Russian state-controlled news agency, was tasked with providing media support for the Alliance of Patriots .
Khodorkhovsky, the Dossier Center’s owner, is widely regarded as one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent foes. He was jailed for fraud in 2005 in what many observers viewed to be a politically motivated trial. Although he was pardoned by Putin in 2013, their relationship remains adversarial.
Evgenidze, of the Economic Policy Research Center, said the Dossier Center is a credible source of leaked documents in Russia, adding that the disclosures “should at least prompt the Georgian government to start investigating.”
On August 25, Georgian opposition groups demanded that the Alliance of Patriots be barred from the parliamentary election and have appealed to the General Prosecutor’s office to begin an investigation.
“A huge storm and attack is planned against us,” Inashvili warned the next day in an interview on Georgian TV.
Inashvili was a subject of Coda Story’s documentary series “Clash of Narratives,” when she first campaigned for parliament in 2016. “Russian propaganda? It’s really ridiculous,” Inashvili said in an interview for the project. “There’s practically no threat of Russian propaganda in Georgia.”
Photo by Robin Forestier-Walker
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