Oct 29, 2018

Russian threat haunts daily life in Georgia

Dave Lawler, author of World

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."

Go deeper

In photos: Protests over George Floyd's death grip Minneapolis

The Third Police Precinct burns in Minneapolis on Thursday night. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Demonstrators demanding justice burned a Minneapolis police station and took control of the streets around it last night, heaving wood onto the flames, kicking down poles with surveillance cameras and torching surrounding stores.

What's happening: The crowd was protesting the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man whose life was snuffed out Tuesday by a white Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for about eight minutes.

Minneapolis mayor to Trump: “Weakness is pointing your finger” during a crisis

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey fired back at President Trump on Friday, after the president accused the mayor of weak leadership amid violence sparked by the killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.

Driving the news: Trump made his accusations in a pair of tweets early Friday, saying he would bring the national guard into Minneapolis if Frey couldn't “bring the City under control.” 

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 a.m. ET: 5,844,499 — Total deaths: 361,066 — Total recoveries — 2,439,310Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 a.m. ET: 1,721,926 — Total deaths: 101,621 — Total recoveries: 399,991 — Total tested: 15,646,041Map.
  3. Public health: Hydroxychloroquine prescription fills exploded in March —How the U.S. might distribute a coronavirus vaccine once we have one.
  4. Business: Many poor and minority families can't afford food or rent.
  5. 2020: Trump courts Asian American vote amid coronavirus — The RNC issued proposed safety guidelines for its planned convention in Charlotte.
  6. ⚽️ Sports: European soccer's push to return.
  7. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.