Russia’s political warfare strategy is to remove Western influence and reestablish Moscow’s hegemony in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. It’s attempting to do so by exploiting peoples’ fears that their identity and welfare are threatened. Key identity issues are minority group grievances, and religious and cultural values. Welfare issues are based on economic needs or threats to those needs. These fears are turned into narratives to convince people that the West is the source of their problems and that Russia and pro-Russian governments are the solution.


For millennia, Tbilisi has been the locus of competition between neighboring empires—Roman, Byzantine, Persian, Ottoman, and finally Russian. In the late 18th century, eastern Georgia was a vassal of Persia but developed economic and political ties with Russia culminating in an alliance in 1783. In retaliation, the Persians sacked Tbilisi in 1795 causing the last Georgian king in 1800 to seek full Russian protection. However, instead of a treaty of mutual assent, Tsar Alexander I unilaterally incorporated Georgia into his empire. When the Russian Empire fell, Georgia was independent for three years before being forcibly annexed into the Soviet Union in 1921. It regained independence in 1991 and was led by former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. He was ousted by Mikheil Saakashvili in 2003 during the Rose Revolution, which demanded a more democratic Georgia and an end to corruption. Because of its efforts to integrate into Euro-Atlantic institutions, the first two decades of Georgia’s regained independence were the heyday of its relationship with the West and particularly the United States. Georgia was a major recipient of foreign assistance and the frequent destination of high-level US delegations, while Georgian troops supported American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Georgia aspired to EU and NATO membership while slowly decoupling from its economic and political dependence on Moscow. Russia’s economic boycotts of Georgian products in 2006 and the war in 2008 reinforced this trend.

However, what was once a promising Western-oriented country is today increasingly authoritarian and pro-Russian. The State Department has criticized Georgia for helping Russia circumvent sanctions, and despite Western pleas for humanitarian release, Saakashvili languishes in a Georgian jail, possibly poisoned by his wardens.

Georgia’s current situation is the result of domestic backsliding from democratic norms and Russian subversion of Georgian sovereignty. Georgia, under the leadership of the Georgian Dream (GD) Party is an example of “competitive authoritarianism” where there seems to be competition but outcomes are predetermined because of state controls on the political and electoral systems. The war in Ukraine is part of Russia’s larger war against democracy extends to all of Europe as Russia tries to subvert democratic societies by exploiting economic weaknesses, corrupt officials, minority group tensions, and religious beliefs.

GD exploits the threat of a renewed war with Russia to justify its pro-Moscow foreign policy as well as attacks on the opposition whom it classifies as “foreign agents” trying to drag Georgia into war. This approach is supported by the Georgian Orthodox Church, which has also preached against foreign agents and influences. GD wants to exploit the church’s influence on society but not let it become an independent power. The Georgian Orthodox Church wields major political power in Georgia. In return for political loyalty, the church receives material benefits. Of concern is not just the church’s closeness to the government, but its closeness to Russia and the mirroring of Georgian government and church narratives regarding Ukraine with Moscow’s narratives.This is not a coincidence since many Georgian Orthodox priests are educated at the Moscow Theological Academy. Those Georgian Orthodox Church clergy trained in Greek or Romanian seminaries are less likely to espouse pro-Russian narratives.

Georgian government support for Russia cannot be unconditional due to public opinion. 80 percent of Georgian society supports entry into the EU/NATO and a Ukrainian victory over Russia. It is one of the reasons that Georgia has hundreds of volunteers fighting in Ukraine. While the government supported by the church uses conservative values and anti-Western rhetoric to justify its pro-Moscow foreign policy, this appeasement policy is not supported by most of the people. If the opposition, usually split but temporarily united in its support for Ukraine, can leverage this popular discontent, it may defeat GD in the 2024 parliamentary elections. However, international pressure is needed to prevent GD from again using bribery, coercion, intimidation, and fraud in the electoral process.

Georgia’s politics also face apathy and economic pressures. Russia is now Georgia’s second-largest customer for wine and a major importer of agricultural products. This is important for a country where agriculture employs approximately half the population. Additionally, financial remittances from Russia, thanks to the over 100,000 newly arrived Russian immigrants, equaled Georgia’s foreign direct investment in 2022.

By overturning a decades-old policy to leave Russia’s economic sphere, the government has made its pro-Russia policy essential to maintaining the country’s economic health. Therefore, many voters support GD not just as a political choice but as an economic necessity.

There also needs to be pushback against the Georgian government repeating Russia’s narrative that the war is Ukraine’s fault. The Georgian government attacks opposition leaders who support Ukraine as warmongers and claims that its policy is to not allow the West to drag it into the war. This narrative accomplishes two objectives. First, it garners electoral support by playing on fears of another war with Russia. Second, it depicts the opposition as wanting war at the behest of foreign powers and justifies actions against them as protecting Georgian sovereignty against foreign agents. This also echoes Russian narratives that domestic opposition is always the result of Western interference, foreign agents, or traitors.

There is reason to be optimistic about the 2024 parliamentary elections in Georgia. The government will be constrained from major electoral manipulation due to Georgia’s having been granted EU candidate status in December 2023. Therefore, the West has a unique chance to exert leverage on Georgia’s government regarding its assault on Georgia’s democratic institutions and pro-Russian stance.

Russia has skillfully exploited Joseph Stalin’s Georgian origins. Stalin, born Ioseb Dzhugashvili, was the world’s most famous Georgian and remains a subject of interest in his native land. Russian information operations use preexisting sympathies towards Stalin as a gateway to make Georgians receptive to other Russian narratives. The strategic, long-term project of Russian influence operations in Georgia is to cultivate an anti-Western, nativist strain of Georgian nationalism and Stalin is a natural part in this endeavor.

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