Georgia Unrest: Protests over Russian lawmaker’s visit
Russia increases pressure on Georgia amid protests
Protests in Georgia show outrage at Russian interference in Tbilisi’s attempts to get closer to Europe
TBILISI – More than a month has passed since Georgians began to take to the streets to protest their government’s actions, which they see as being compliant to Russia, whose troops occupied 20 percent of Georgian territory 11 years ago.
The explosion of public outrage erupted after the Georgian authorities invited the deputy of the Russian State Duma, the communist Andrei Gavrilov to speak in front of the Georgian parliament..
The first demonstrations were violently dispersed by police, and Moscow imposed sanctions on Georgia, saying the protests were meant to provoke Russia..
For more than a month, Georgians have taken to the streets of Tbilisi to protest the invitation of the Russian communist legislator to speak in the national parliament. The first protests were suppressed by the police.
“The main goal of the protest was to demand the resignation of the speaker of parliament, but after the government used excessive force against the protesters, we demand the resignation of those involved, primarily the Minister of Internal Affairs,” said Tako Salakvelidze, one of the demonstrators.
Protests spark new diplomatic crisis between Tbilisi and Moscow.
The Kremlin has banned direct flights between the two countries and has called on its citizens to return to Russia for security reasons. According to analysts, this move will deal a serious blow to the Georgian economy, which is heavily dependent on Russian tourists..
“According to the calculations of the National Bank of Georgia, that is, the Central Bank, Georgia will lose 400 million US dollars a year,” said Vladimir Papava, former Minister of Economy of Georgia..
A new surge of tension occurred against the backdrop of the acute topic of the Russian occupation of the separatist regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – since 2008. Only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru recognized them as independent states.
“We do not believe that with these protests we will return Ossetia and Abkhazia, but we demand that our government take action,” said Tako Savakshishvili, another demonstrator..
Demonstrator Nikolai Lavshits, for his part, stressed the importance of resolving the issue of separatist territories.
“We intend to talk about the most important thing for Georgians, which many Russians do not understand,” he said. – Twenty percent of Georgia is occupied by Russia. This is an indisputable fact “.
Observers say Russia is putting pressure on Georgia to stay out of NATO. For some, abandoning the plan could calm Moscow..
“There are not many examples in history where Russia simply retreated,” said Nino Burjanadze, the former acting president of Georgia. “But if we try to negotiate with Russia so that Russia would take its bases from Georgian territory, and Georgia does not join any military blocs, including NATO, then maybe it will be more or less acceptable.”.
But for those seeking closer ties with Europe, rejection of the NATO membership application is unacceptable..
“When we talk about independent sovereign states, be it Georgia, Spain or Bangladesh, you must respect their sovereign decisions,” stressed Tedo Japaridze, former Georgian ambassador to the United States. “They cannot tell you whether you can join NATO or the EU, or you cannot. My message to our Russian friends is that we Georgians want to live with Russians, but not in Russia. “.
But with Georgia already feeling the economic consequences of Russian sanctions against its tourism industry, many fear that it will be difficult for this small country to prevail in this struggle..