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Why the “Russian law” is so dangerous for Georgia

There is an apparent attempt to distance Georgia from the geopolitical area which is supported by the vast majority of Georgians and put this Eastern European country in isolation under the claws of Russia. The stakes could not be higher.

May 5, 2024 - Grigol Julukhidze Mariam Gubievi - Hot Topics

Georgian women protest on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi Photo: k_samurkas/Shutterstock

The ongoing protests of Georgian society under the slogan “Yes, to Europe, no to Russian law” have become massive and large-scale. Opposition to the draft bill introduced by the ruling Georgian Dream party was first voiced in March 2023. As a result of last year’s huge demonstrations and public unrest, the ruling party withdrew the so-called foreign agent law. The issue was assumed to be closed. Yet, on April 3rd 2024, the executive secretary of the ruling party, Mamuka Mdinaradze, stated that the draft law would be reintroduced and explained last year’s failure as “poor communication” with the Georgian society – the name of the bill was changed to the “transparency of foreign influence” law. 

The reaction of Georgia’s strategic partners – the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union – was immediate. The general context was as follows: if Tbilisi adopts this law, it will damage Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations and cause devastating consequences for its freedom and democracy. As a result, sanctions could even be applied to billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgian Dream MPs, and members of the government. 

What the law is about?

Many people are still asking why this draft law is dangerous for Georgia. We will try to explain briefly and simply.

Article 1: Purpose and Scope of the Law

The purpose of the law is the transparency of financing, which is a banal manipulation. There is already legislation in Georgia which regulates the manner of disposal of grants, the transparency of spending and finances: the law “On Grants” and the law “On Lobbying Activities”. If the real goal of the Georgian Dream was transparency, it would have introduced minor changes to the above-mentioned laws.

Article 2: Agent of Foreign Influence

An “organization carrying out the interests of a foreign power” is defined as any media outlet or non-entrepreneurial legal entity that receives more than 20 per cent of its annual income from abroad. This does not matter what you do or where your funding comes from. (Of course, Russian “black money” reaches Georgia not through bank transfers but through cash exchanges, which make them untraceable). It is also manipulative to compare the Georgian bill with the American Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. For example, the Russian propaganda television (RT) has an obligation to register in the US federal register because Russia is a hostile state for America, and the British one (BBC) does not as the UK is not hostile. There is no similar red line in Georgia. For example, a non-governmental organization which helps persons affected by blindness in Akhaltsikhe City and receives funding from Belgium is obliged to register as a “carrier of influence of a foreign country”.

Article 4: Registration of the Entity as an Agent of Foreign Influence

No self-respecting person wants to wear this dreaded label (“agent of foreign influence”). In cases of voluntary registration refusal, the draft law requires compulsory registration. This means that such non-governmental organizations must either cease to operate or continue to work under the label of “foreign agent”.

Article 8: Monitoring

A letter (even anonymous) submitted by a citizen to the ministry of Justice which contains a proper reference (denunciation) to a specific organization that might be carrying out the interests of a foreign power can lead to the definition of this entity as a foreign agent. The law gives the Ministry of Justice the authority, without any warrant or evidence, based on the “denunciation” of any person, to obtain the necessary information, including personal data”.

As Ted Jonas analyzes in his article titled “US FARA vs. Georgian Foreign Agents Law: Three Major Differences”, the US FARA exempts from the definition of foreign agent all the following persons and organizations:

  • Humanitarian aid organizations;
  • Persons and organizations engaged in the following activities: Religious, Scholastic, Academic, Scientific, Fine Arts;
  • Media organizations with foreign ownership whose policies are not directed by a foreign power;
  • Allies of the United States
  • Lawyers representing clients in legal proceedings.

The Georgian law does not exempt any of these persons or activities. Accordingly, under the Georgian law, unlike in the United States, the following are considered “foreign agents”:

  • Georgian organizations which receive funding from allies of Georgia, like the US, the EU, Japan, and many other friendly countries;
  • Humanitarian aid organizations who provide help to the 650,000 Georgians who live below the country’s poverty line;
  • Georgian scientific, academic and artistic organizations which receive foreign funding;
  • Georgian religious organizations which receive foreign funding;
  • Media organizations that receive foreign funding, even if their policies are not directed by a foreign power;
  • Non-profit entities with foreign funding representing clients in Georgian court and administrative proceedings.

Current situation

Following the first passage of the contentious “foreign influence” bill by parliament, which Brussels and Washington have warned will undermine Tbilisi’s long-standing European aspirations, tens of thousands of Georgians staged a protest. By a vote of 83 to 23, the measure passed its second reading in parliament on May 1st. The day before, police had forcibly dispersed a protest against it, assaulting and arresting numerous people while using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. Ursula von der Leyen denounced the violence and urged Georgia to continue its path towards Europe.

Von der Leyen posted on X, saying, “I am following the situation in Georgia with great concern and condemn the violence on the streets of Tbilisi.”

Later in the evening, hundreds of protestors attempted to block the side entrance to the legislature, and police responded by using water cannons, pepper spray and tear gas from inside the parliament building’s courtyard. In a statement, the parliament stated that the attack on the facility had “activated the red level of security due to the parliament building, which poses a threat to the lives and health” of people within. According to the interior ministry, police employed “special means provided by the law – pepper spray and water cannons – in order to restore law and order”.

According to Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, western politicians and diplomats have been “slandering” the measure, which aims to “boost transparency of NGO’s foreign funding in accordance with European values”. He charged Georgian civic organizations with attempting to utilize western funds “at least twice in the last three years” to launch revolutions.

What’s at stake?

At a sizable pro-government gathering in Tbilisi on April 30th, billionaire founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, delivered a conspiracy theory-laden speech. In front of tens of thousands of spectators outside the parliament on Monday night, Ivanishvili made the suggestion that the Georgian government was effectively opposing a covert worldwide plot that was led by western nations. He denounced the “global party of war,” claiming it was to blame for the August 2008 war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He also proposed that a “foreign agency” had chosen Georgia’s leaders between 2004 and 2012.

He went on to say that the reelected government would “be able to deliver a strict political and legal verdict to the collective National Movement” following the legislative elections in October. In recent years, Georgian Dream has labeled almost all of its opponents as enemies of the state, ranging from prominent democratic watchdog organizations to opposition MPs and political parties. The main task for Ivanishvili was to portray the West and NGOs as the main sources of instability. He repeated almost all the narratives from the Kremlin playbook. From Ivanishvili’s speech and the actions of the ruling party, we can assume that the Georgian Dream is going “all in” and no longer interested in the country’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Relations with the West will become more and more precarious while “cooperation” with Russia more intense.

The stakes could not be higher. There is an apparent attempt to distance Georgia from the geopolitical area which is supported by the vast majority of Georgians and put this Eastern European country in geopolitical isolation under the claws of Russia. The draft law has already left the margins of “controversial legislative initiative” and serves as a cursor for the country’s future. The final reading and passage of the law is scheduled for May 17th. If the law is fully adopted and implemented, the fate of Georgia will become closely attached to Russia. If not, Tbilisi can hope for a brighter future closer to the EU.


Grigol Julukhidze is the director of the Foreign Policy Council, a think tank in Tbilisi. He specializes in security studies and propaganda research. He is also a lecturer at Ilia State University.

Mariam Gubievi is a junior researcher at the Foreign Policy Council in Tbilisi.

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