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Soviet-era apartment buildings in Rustavi. Photo: Dave Lawler/Axios

TBILISI and RUSTAVI, Georgia — An enormous winged insect buzzed through the room, causing continual disruptions and hovering close to the conversation. Parliamentary Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, who had been addressing us in a low monotone about constitutional reform, deadpanned: "It's Russian."

Russia is ever-present in Georgian politics. Kremlin propaganda and misinformation are rife, and the rise of far-right groups — which aren't explicitly pro-Russian but instead anti-Western — can be linked directly to Russia.

  • Given the dynamics surrounding oligarchs who made or hope to keep their fortunes in Vladimir Putin's Russia, it's also not entirely clear whether Ivanishvili is outside of Moscow's gravitational pull.

It's not just politics. Many priests and members of the Georgian Orthodox Church hierarchy trained in Russia. Some almost certainly had (or have) links to Russian intelligence. The church tends to be closer to socially conservative Russia, and more suspicious of Europe, than the population at large.

  • The church is the most trusted institution in Georgian society, and Patriarch Ilia II is one of the most influential figures. He tends to reflect the pro-Europe views of the country as a whole. He's also 85 and in ill health. His successor is likely to have a different view.
  • The Georgian church hasn't taken a position on the granting of independence to the Ukrainian church, a dramatic split that infuriated Moscow. There's concern in Tbilisi that if Georgia backs Ukraine, Russia could support independent churches in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Meanwhile, exports to Russia have been gradually rising. Zurab Kachkachishvili, director of the International Chamber of Commerce, says Russia is viewed as "a savior" by some in the agricultural sector, but he's urging them to diversify.

  • Moscow wants Georgia to be reliant on the trading relationship, he says, to increase the pain when it cuts back.

The bottom line: David Usupashvili, a presidential candidate who ultimately finished fifth, put it this way: "The fragmentation of society is reaching a very dangerous level. And there is Mr. Putin. And he is waiting."

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Wall Street is digging in for a potentially rocky period as Election Day gets closer.

Why it matters: Investors are facing a "three-headed monster," Brian Belski, chief investment strategist at BMO Capital Markets, tells Axios — a worsening pandemic, an economic stimulus package in limbo, and an imminent election.

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2 hours ago - World

How Biden might tackle the Iran deal

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Four more years of President Trump would almost certainly kill the Iran nuclear deal — but the election of Joe Biden wouldn’t necessarily save it.

The big picture: Rescuing the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is near the top of Biden's foreign policy priority list. He says he'd re-enter the deal once Iran returns to compliance, and use it as the basis on which to negotiate a broader and longer-lasting deal with Iran.

Kamala Harris, the new left's insider

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images     

Progressive leaders see Sen. Kamala Harris, if she's elected vice president, as their conduit to a post-Biden Democratic Party where the power will be in younger, more diverse and more liberal hands.

  • Why it matters: The party's rising left sees Harris as the best hope for penetrating Joe Biden's older, largely white inner circle.

If Biden wins, Harris will become the first woman, first Black American and first Indian American to serve as a U.S. vice president — and would instantly be seen as the first in line for the presidency should Biden decide against seeking a second term.