NGO Probe Finds Russia “Directly Influencing” Georgian Politics

Published: 01 September 2020

A recent report by the Dossier Centre found that AGP has hired Russian political strategists to orchestrate its campaign ahead of forthcoming parliamentary elections (Photo: Diego Delso, CC SA-BY 3.0) A recent report by the Dossier Centre found that AGP has hired Russian political strategists to orchestrate its campaign ahead of forthcoming parliamentary elections (Photo: Diego Delso, CC SA-BY 3.0)

By Will Neal

A recent investigation by an anti-corruption agency has revealed how Kremlin-linked actors are orchestrating the election campaign for one of Georgia’s conservative, pro-Russia opposition parties.

Documents published on Thursday by The Dossier Centre, an anti-Kremlin non-profit run by exiled former oil baron Mikhail Khodorkhovsky, suggest that leading members of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia (APG) have hired strategist Sergey Mikheev, along with Moscow-based firm POLITSECRETS, to promote the party ahead of parliamentary elections in October.

Mikheev himself, according to the NGO, has close ties to the Russian state security apparatus, specifically Federal Security Service (FSB) reserve colonel Valery Maksimov and Valery Chernyshov, an officer with the intelligence agency GRU.

Under the leadership of Irma Inashvili and David Tarkhan-Mouravi, the APG is highly critical of the current government’s engagement with NATO and its relationship with the United States, while at the same time pushing for closer ties with Russia.

The party, which holds seven seats in the country’s parliament, has already agreed upon a US$7 million dollar budget with Mikheev and POLITSECRETS, who have reportedly begun work on promotional videos for the campaign.

The Dossier Centre’s initial findings were followed by the publication of a second report on Monday, in which the non-profit revealed that several Georgian MPs had petitioned to remove APG from the forthcoming elections.

They also reportedly appealed for prosecutors to investigate the possibility of political donations being made to the party by Russian actors.

If evidence of Russian funds were uncovered, the party would be in direct violation of the country’s laws on electoral financing, which specifically prohibit the receipt of any kind of funding from foreign citizens, as well as anonymous sponsors.

APG co-chair Inashvili reportedly called the allegations “absurd”, but confirmed that the party had indeed hired Russian political strategists to manage its election campaign.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have been under considerable strain since the outbreak of a short-lived conflict between the two countries in 2008, with Russia continuing to occupy the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in violation of an internationally recognised ceasefire agreement brokered by then-president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Those tensions spilled over into mass protests in 2019 after Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov took the speaker’s seat in parliament to address an assembly of public officials from Orthodox Christian countries, as reported by the BBC.

Owner and founder of the Dossier Centre, Mikhail Khodorkhovsky, was jailed on charges of fraud in 2005 in the wake of what was denounced by many as a politically motivated trial.

Although pardoned by President Vladimir Putin in 2013, he remains one of the Kremlin’s most vocal and influential critics.

The publication of the Dossier Centre’s reports on interference in Georgia’s forthcoming parliamentary elections comes soon after the former oil baron’s fellow opposition figure Alexei Navalny was transferred to a hospital in Germany suffering symptoms consistent with poisoning, as reported by OCCRP.

He remains in a coma.

The Kremlin has drawn growing international scrutiny in recent weeks following reports of increasingly underhand dealings both at home and abroad.

Shortly before the controversial presidential election in Belarus, which saw incumbent Alexander Lukashenko secure 80% of the vote amid widespread allegations of ballot-tampering, authorities in Minsk detained more than 30 alleged Russian mercenaries suspected of preparing mass riots.

Meanwhile, police in the Russian province of Khabarovsk arrested governor Sergei Furgal earlier in July on murder charges, in what critics believe may be the first signs of a nascent wave of repression ahead of Russia’s own regional elections later this year.

Experts warn that Putin may have been emboldened by the outcome of a recent referendum lifting limits on presidential terms, which will allow him to serve as head of state until 2036, having already spent almost two separate two-term stints in office.