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Pro-Russian Victory in 2016 Elections Would End Georgian Statehood

Following its laborious path from failed state to successful reforms, Georgia is currently at a historical crossroads. Should it preserve independence and join the European family? Or reject its Western aspirations and become Russia’s subordinate nation in the Caucasus?

Some say that Russia, in order to pursue its goals in Georgia, widely utilizes  hybrid warfare strategies which aim to destroy Georgia’s state institutions and the country’s image at both domestic and international levels. Moreover, some claim it is in Russia’s declared interest to keep Georgia unstable and undeveloped.

For a more detailed analysis, Georgia Today sat down with Salome Samadashvili, former Head of Georgia’s Mission to the EU, Visiting Fellow at the Wilfried Martens Center for European Studies and Executive Director at the Center for Strategic Communication and Democracy.

Q: Russians utilize diverse methods of informational war in Georgia. What is the correlation between Russia’s hybrid and informational war?

A: Informational war is an essential part of Russia’s hybrid warfare in Georgia – these two terms are inseparable. Hybrid warfare appears to be a general military concept and informational war is a tactic of this doctrine. If one analyses Russian approaches to this topic, they [Russians] don’t even hide that informational warfare is much more profitable for them compared to a conventional one. Additionally, hybrid warfare involves different non-state actors and groups, directed to create a fog of reality.

Q: What do you think are Russia’s major means and capabilities in this informational warfare to achieve [their] goals against Georgia and her friends such as Ukraine and Moldova?

A: Russia not only wages this sort of activity against these [above-mentioned] countries, but fights the West in a broader sense. In particular, what we need to take into account is that in Russian informational and hybrid warfare, including her informal actors in the process is part of a highly integrated system with a very clear chain of command. As for the means, firstly, there are quite solid broadcasters and TV channels, such as Russia Today (RT), which is formally being renamed. That said, it should be taken into account that some Western citizens watch this media source without understanding its ethos. RT not only distorts information, but also frequently fabricates it and extensively utilizes a number of Western ultra-right or ultra-leftist politicians and analysts to increase its legitimacy in the West. Furthermore, the internet plays one of the core roles for Russia- online journals, newspapers, blogs, etc.- which makes it quite complicated for the reader to distinguish the derivation of these social media sources. In my study “Muzzling the Bear”, I have included the fact that one of the Kremlin-financed online outlets was even awarded in the West for innovations as they were apparently unaware of the official involvement.

In addition, Russia spends colossal amounts of money on its PR and propaganda campaigns and directly ‘buys’ influence in Europe. An illustration of this is Brussels, where Gazprom [Russian state gas company] as a single entity has contracted a number of consulting and lobbyist companies including some former senior EU representatives and politicians - they have permeated entire EU structures. Relatively, they not only receive operative information from leading EU bodies, but are also able to seed their information within the EU system through their networks.

Finally, yet importantly, the Russian side has effectively used the trolling system for attacking negative statements from many analysts, scholars and NGO representatives. In fact, a colleague of mine from the Brussels-based Martens Center was threatened for making speeches against Russia.

Q: How significant is cyber war in this hybrid warfare?

A: Russia now appears to be well prepared with regards to cyber warfare, which we [meaning Georgia] experienced in 2008 and the Russo-Georgia war. Over recent years Russia has advanced considerably in this regard. Yet the West underestimates this.

Surprisingly, not only Georgians but also the Baltic States, with their continuous claims around Russia’s activities in the area, are frequently ignored by representatives of some Western countries who pass it off and claim Baltic countries are “traumatized by their past.” 

Russia-Europe economic relations play a nontrivial role in complicating the decision-making process for the EU against Russia. In particular, Germany and France, the leading EU countries, have close economic ties with Russia, which unfortunately affects the EU politics regarding Russia. Fortunately, the US is not dependent on Russia’s economic or oil spheres, which enables it to be more pragmatic and stronger when dealing with them [Russia].

Q: What about Russia’s Fifth Column and Soft Power implementation against Georgia?

A: Russia has mastered Western information technologies and knows how to make effective use of them. They [Russians] realize that tanks and boots alone are not what they need to pursue their goals. As for the situation in Georgia, it is clearly mirrored by Ukrainian developments. The West has become afraid of Russia’s aberrant nature in which it seeks to increase the risk of loss. The above has multiple effects on Georgia, leading one to be less inclined to expect that a new breakthrough will happen to lead Georgia to swift Western integration.

Moreover, Russia has understood that the only way to reverse Georgia’s Western course is through elections at the hands of the Georgian people. Assuming that Georgia’s Western integration rules out any Russian perspectives in the country, Russians have activated their Fifth Column and some soft power elements here. And as the majority of Georgian citizens are not sufficiently informed about the EU and NATO integration, Russian forces can easily misinform them. In this regard, I believe even the previous government should have done more to educate its citizens about the country’s course, Western integration perspectives and benefits. In these troubled waters, Russia finds our citizens vulnerable to such simple manipulation.

Likewise, Russia has stimulated cultural, religious or economic factors against Georgia’s statehood, and if we don’t counter these attacks, I assume even at the 2016 elections we will face some serious problems. As I know, Georgia Today is widely read by foreign diplomats in Georgia and it is important to draw the right conclusions from the process and send clear messages to their governments. I believe that the West misleads itself when it assumes Georgia’s Western course is taken for granted, as the country needs wider international support and actual instruments to keep itself safe from Russian aggression.

Public opinion changes over time, particularly in Georgia when Russia’s informational propaganda is at its height. However, the essential thing is for the West to assist us to offer Georgian society something valuable and to destroy the hypothetical wall built by Russian forces which at times present the West as a “depraved monster.”

Q: What should Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova do to increase their international support and reduce Russian influence on their own lands?

A: The core issues these three countries need to solve are penetration of Russian money and mass media, which directly work against these countries’ sovereignty. In this regard, the very first priority is for them to take defense measures in terms of limiting and discouraging those Russian media sources which profoundly act to revive religious discord and hate speech, intolerance and anti-state disinformation within their societies. Secondly, they need to have a clear strategy of action to counter the attacks coming from Russia. For instance, each should launch awareness campaigns represented by respectable members of their societies to demonstrate that, for the majority of citizens, Europe is a value-based, civilized family oreiented toward welfare which cannot be altered by Russia. Thirdly, the governments of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine must act jointly to raise awareness of their problems on international platforms. At present, Georgia has almost disappeared from the international stage and this is the ‘achievement’ of the government of the Georgian Dream.

Q: Finally, do you think the Russian Federation will activate more of its resources in Georgia for 2016 to help pro-Russian forces win the elections, or at least hinder the democratic process?

A: Unlike many others, I believe that Russians will only be satisfied when Georgia is no longer an independent country and becomes instead a subordinated part of Russia. Georgia’s northern neighbor will celebrate its victory in Georgia when this country not only rejects EU and NATO integration, but also joins the Eurasian Union. In fact, I assume that if the ongoing international sanctions do not exhaust Russia economically and militarily, Russia will utilize most of its resources in Georgia at least to influence a newly elected parliament to do so [initiate rejection of the Association Agreement and start negotiations about the Eurasian Union].

Unfortunately, the current government is not only incompetent and unsuccessful, but also discredits Georgia’s Western integration. Moreover, this causes a growing apathy in Georgian society about the country’s path to the EU and NATO. For this reason, the sole solution for me appears to be the creation of pro-Western forces as an alliance with a broad spectrum of public support and strong, pragmatic vision. Otherwise, 2016 will see the end of Georgia’s statehood.

Zviad Adzinbaia

20 August 2015 19:46