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To Safeguard Georgia’s Sovereignty: Sanctioning Russian Puppets is Imperative

Bidzina Ivanishvili (Credits: Emerging Europe)

Georgian billionaire and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who wields significant influence over the ruling party Georgian Dream, delivered a provocative speech on Monday, effectively declaring war on Western assistance to Georgian civil society organizations.

This move has sparked concerns among Western governments, which should respond swiftly and decisively. Over the years, the Georgian government’s illiberal actions have accumulated, culminating in a proposed law, On Transparency of Foreign Influence, which mirrors Russian President Vladimir Putin’s controversial legislation.

This law would force non-governmental organizations receiving aid from Europe and the United States to register as foreign agents.

Georgian billionaire ex-PM Ivanishvili (Credits: JAMnews)

Ivanishvili’s speech was a response to recent protests, where over 100,000 Georgians took to the streets to voice their opposition to the proposed law.

Despite a recent poll showing nearly 80% of Georgians support joining the EU and NATO, the Georgian government has moved in the opposite direction, adopting rhetoric and legislative tools reminiscent of Putin’s Russia.

Ivanishvili vowed to destroy opposition parties and prosecute his critics, abandoning any pretense of building a pluralistic, Western-oriented system.

In his speech, Ivanishvili accused the West of funding a “pseudo-elite” who “hate Georgia” and have “no homeland,” aiming to bring back an “inhuman and sadistic dictatorship.” Georgian Dream officials have launched unprecedented attacks on American and EU ambassadors, which has gone unchecked by Western capitals. This lack of response has emboldened Ivanishvili and his allies.

Last December, the European Union offered Georgia candidacy status, a step toward eventual membership. Ivanishvili had hoped for rejection, allowing him to blame Europe for pushing Georgia toward Moscow. Instead, he announced his return to politics, and his loyalists launched a campaign against the LGBTQ+ community and proposed the controversial On Transparency of Foreign Influence legislation.

Ivanishvili’s actions have made it clear that he is responsible for Georgia’s trajectory. Western governments must act swiftly to prevent the NGO legislation from becoming law. They should target Ivanishvili and his allies with sanctions, warning Georgian parliamentarians that supporting this legislation will have consequences.

Bidzina Ivanishvili (Credits: Civil Georgia)

The United States has significant influence in Georgia, having provided over $6 billion in assistance over the past three decades. However, its lack of attention and pushback against Putin-like behavior has contributed to the current crisis.

Stern statements from the State Department and Congress have been helpful, but words must be followed by actions. Western governments have been too passive for too long, allowing Georgian Dream to move the country in a nondemocratic direction. Real costs must be imposed to stop Georgia’s slide into authoritarianism.

The United States and European Union should immediately impose sanctions on those responsible for threats and violence against pro-democracy activists. Starting with Ivanishvili, they must hold accountable those thwarting the Georgian people’s aspirations to join the democratic West. The West must respond decisively to Ivanishvili’s challenge, or risk losing Georgia to authoritarianism.

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