So protesters have stormed the Georgian Parliament in Tbilisi after a protest over Russian MP Sergey Gavrilov being allowed to address an international assembly of Orthodox Christian MPs there.
The local svidomy came out with placards demanding that “Russian occupiers” go home. And soon after Georgia’s President Salome Zurabishvili has called Russia an “enemy and an occupant.”
The idea that post-Saakashvili Georgia had come to its senses with respect to relations with Russia is an appealing and not entirely inaccurate one. Georgian culture and cuisine has managed to extend its influence from cultural sovoks to the new generation of SWPL Moscow hipsters, for whom weekend flights to Tbilisi are not something out of the ordinary. Though in two weeks time, they will no longer be able to take Russian airlines there.
But as I have pointed out, this comes amidst a geopolitical cleft that is almost certainly permanent. The Georgian elites have a bipartisan Atlanticist orientation, and NATO integration enjoys much greater support than even in the Ukraine, where attitudes towards it are 50/50. Leonid Bershidsky has called this a “NATO of the mind.” So even as these Moscow hipsters flooded into Georgia – Russians provided it with 1.3 million tourists in 2017, or more an order of magnitude more than any single Western country – it was recently discovered that Georgian border control were supplying their passport details to the United States (as well as extraditing at least one Russian who fell afoul of America extraterritorial laws on “espionage”).
The BBC says the protests were spontaneous. The word “spontaneous” is used four times in their article. But according to Matt Forney, who is based in Tbilisi, the protest outside Parliament was “tiny”, and was not accompanied by protests anywhere else in the city. It appeared strongly astroturfed. Coincidentally, he points out, there is a gay pride march planned for tomorrow, and the gays aren’t happy that they won’t be receiving much in the way of special protection from the nationalists and Orthodox activists who have vowed to disrupt their festivities. While they may not much like Russia, they like GloboHomo even less. Meanwhile, which institution has been rather local about pushing that LGBT agenda on Georgia? Why, the US Embassy.
So from what I can make out things look something like this. While the current government is solidly Atlanticist, it still wants to sell overpriced saperavi wine to Russia, fleece Russian hipsters, and make money from offshore banking services. Have the tanks on call to take back Abkhazia should Russia collapse or something, but play it cool otherwise. Meanwhile, accommodate the local svidomy, the LGBT-USG, and the Orthodox/nationalists to the extent possible. Very reasonable strategy, certainly more effective than the national radicalism of Saakashvili (or Gamsakhurdia). However, managing the clashes amongst those groups was always going to be challenging – and is going to come to a head in the following days. In this situation, it is the relationship with Russia that was the most expendable.