‘He should never be allowed behind a keyboard after having one too many vodkas.’
That comment from a Georgian official is directed towards former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chair of Russia’s security council, who has never been a friend to the former Soviet republic that has its eyes on both EU and Nato memberships.
Exactly 15 years ago, Medvedev read out a decree recognising the independence of the ‘breakaway provinces’ of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – representing 20% of the territory of the Georgian nation.
But the response from Georgia’s ruling party was almost deafening in its silence.
Alexandre Crevaux-Asatiani, deputy director for foreign affairs at opposition party United National Movement (UNM), told Metro.co.uk that this would be the equivalent of threatening to seize Wales from the United Kingdom.
‘Just one MP from Georgian Dream responded on behalf of the government,’ Mr Crevaux-Asatiani says.
‘We are talking about a huge threat to Georgia’s national security – about 20% of of the country being annexed by Russia.’
Ultimately, he described Medvedev’s warning as ’empty threats’ against Georgia’s people – just like when he says he will unleash a nuclear missile on a Nato member.
Russia recognises Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, but the majority of UN members refuse to do so.
If formal annexation does take place – just like the 2014 annexation of Crimea that led to the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 – the Kremlin will consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of its territory.
A frustrated Mr Crevaux-Asatiani stressed that the pro-Russian Georgian Dream party has not made any diplomatic steps in recent years to ensure that more countries do not follow suit.
He said: ‘There is no way that the people who still live in the occupied territories would be okay with annexation.
‘Even though Russia has engaged in ethnic cleansing in both regions for decades now, whoever is left is still extremely against formal annexation.
‘We saw this last year when the military annexed part of the town of Gagra, there were large protests.
‘Russia will always be a threat to Georgia. It is an imperialistic country that equals its strength to square miles of territory.
‘Our only real defence would be to join the EU and Nato. We need to integrate in Europe.
‘Medvedev’s threats will remain empty as long as the international community is strongly backing Georgia’s territory integrity.
‘But you have to actually have a government that fights for this each and every single day.’
The lack of control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has compromised its national identity, and the inaction of the ruling party has allowed the Kremlin to tighten its grip.
This comes against a backdrop of recurring pro-Europe and anti-Russian protests that have gripped Georgia for months.
In the months after the war in Ukraine started, tens of thousands of ‘wealthy and middle-class’ Russians crossed the border and settled, leaving Georgians to feel like ‘second-class citizens’.
Mr Crevaux-Asatiani fears more Russians will relocate – and more Georgians will move abroad in search of jobs – if formal annexation takes place.
He said: ‘Russians coming in are middle-class to wealthy from Saint Petersburg or Moscow, not Siberian peasants.
‘They are much better off financially than the average Georgian, as our economy has not progressed in the last 10 years.
‘There have been more Russian businesses registered in the country in the past 12 months than in the previous 30 years combined.
‘Russians are then hiring Russians because there is no citizenship requirement for labour contracts, so if you want to work you can work. That is it.
‘So you go to these Russian cafes and restaurants where they have only Russians working, and the prices have become so unaffordable.’
Like the Freddo chocolate bar index in the UK, used to measure inflation, Georgia uses twisted dumplings called Khinkali to remark on just how quickly prices are rising.
One now costs three times what it used to be only a year ago.
Average rent in the capital Tbilisi has also skyrocketed to $1,400 a month when people earn three times less than that.
‘If you were not a homeowner when all the Russians arrived, you are now either homeless or have been forced to leave the country,’ Mr Crevaux-Asatiani said, painting a dire picture.
‘Last year, 100,000 Georgians left, while up to 200,000 people from Russia moved in permanently.
‘An MP from Georgian Dream recently said that Georgians should feel humble in front of Russians. Life here starts to feel like all the horror stories we grew up with.
‘Georgians are extremely forgiving and we would be more than happy to have friendly relations with Russians, but they refuse to call the war in Ukraine a war, admit that Vladimir Putin is a dictator and call the occupied territories occupied.
‘It is frustrating and upsetting.’
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