“The foreign influence law in Georgia is part of Russia’s hybrid war”: interview with Teona Akubardia, Member of the Parliament from the opposition party

In spite of Georgia’s President decision to impose the veto on the third version of the Foreign Influence Law, the ruling party Georgian Dream seems to have the majority in the Parliament, opening the road to the final adoption of the law which has caused social unrest and massive protests over the last months. What can be thus the role of opposition parties? Can the passing of the law be a game-changer for Georgia-Western relations? Will people experience a drastic end of their covet and yearned accession to the EU? And most importantly, are Russia’s geostrategic aims benefitting from a weaker anti-democratic Georgia? In the mid of weeks of protests, we discussed these aspects with Teona Akubardia, Member of the opposition party in the Parliament of Georgia from bloc Giorgi Vashadze – Strategy Aghmashenebeli and former Deputy Secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council.


Last week the Georgian Parliament approved the third version of the Law on Foreign Influences, making its entry into force increasingly tangible. Will the Law become part of the Georgian normative body in spite of the veto imposed by President Zourabichvili?
Firstly, this law is not happening only in Georgia. There are similar legislations in Kirghizstan, Bosnia Herzegovina, Respublika Srpska, and it is planned to be adopted also in Serbia. To me, this represents Russian’s attempt to regain its influence through the mapping of countries that can be under its power as an effect of the full-scale war in Ukraine. We are facing a civilization clash of Russian’s revisionist foreign policy against the sovereignty of countries who have gained independence after the collapse of USSR. Therefore, the Kremlin’s attempt to increase its influence is not just over Georgia, but it extends to the whole South Caucasus. Take Armenia as an example: Yerevan is pushing more toward the West, and it will not be able to do anything by herself if Georgia is under the Kremlin’s influence. The issue is also about the EU Middle Corridor project: Russia is attempting to gain influence over transportation routes and all the corridor initiatives, which will give Russia more power and economic influence. This would also provide a picture to the West that Georgia – which was the first target of Russian aggression – by its own will is going back to Kremlin, pushing back the West.

Thus, what will be the implications of the approval of the law on Georgia’s path toward the EU?
The implications would be disastrous. The door toward NATO and EU will be closed, our democracy will turn into autocracy and the whole region will be under Kremlin’s influence.

In Europe, media presented an opposition between the “pro-European square” and the “pro-Russian government”. Can we affirm that this picture is true, or the situation is more nuanced?
There is not any kind of perception. The fact is that Georgian Dream went out from the Constitution which is saying that Georgia should be democratic and should join NATO.  The unrest of the population also demonstrates that. This law will not give the ground for free and fair elections, which will be held in October. If you listen to Ivanishvili’s statement of 29th April, he did not talk about transparency, but the West as an obstacle of its maintenance of power. The whole idea is that the West has organized some kind of “colour revolution” in Georgia, pushing the country into war. Russia has not been mentioned as an aggressor, and the foreign influence law gives him the power to stay in power forever. With this picture, it is probable that elections will not fair. But we need to go to elections and try to win.
As concerns political parties, the opposition is pro-Western, but it is fragmented. There is no unity of the opposition in general. We are trying to make attempts to unite for Georgia’s sovereignty, but this does not mean that there will be only just one-party list. Political parties in any case should do something to make people believe that they can change the government. This is however another stage that we will face in a future moment.

Do you believe that this law could be a breaking point for Georgia – Western relations? The United States, for instance, mentioned the possibility of introducing individual sanctions…
Actually, there were more than ten statements of US State Department and two statements of the Advisor for National Security Council, as well as one Congressman who initiated the Georgian Support Act (better known as the “Megobari” Act) and a Senate discussion for another bill that mentioned sanctions, not only targeting the ruling party. The strategic partnership of course will not be the same, and it will hit also the security support, which is massive from the United States. Impacts will also concern the economy, direct investments and the budget. If our strategic ally will not the US anymore, it means that there will be room for the Kremlin, which will isolate Georgia from the West and leave the country alone with the question of aggression.

Will that depend also on how the Ukraine war will develop and eventually result? It is going simultaneously. One thing is the result of the war in Ukraine, another thing is the hybrid war Russia is bringing forward in Georgia and also in Central Asia. I would see this not only in the perspective of domestic politics, but also in the broader picture of Russia’s geopolitics. It is pretty understandable why the United States is supporting Georgia in this manner: it is not only losing Georgia, but also the idea of democracy. The US has supported Georgia’s democracy for over thirty years. Russia would be stronger if democracy is lost. Elections in this sense are the last option.

Could the Middle Corridor, transportation lines and Georgia’s strong partnership with Azerbaijan somehow balance Russian influence in the country?
Definitely. The Middle Corridor not only involves China, but especially the European Union. Caspian resources go through Georgia in Türkiye, which is Europe. Russia is trying to take the corridor under control, as the Northern corridor is closed after the invasion of Ukraine. The Middle Corridor is the alternative. However, I do not exclude also another scenario: our border with Abkhazia is closed now, but it is not completely impossible that new railways and roads could be opened in that area to connect with Russia. If the permission to bring money from offshore will be given, we will not pay any money for the budget and the “black dirty” money which is under investigation in Panama (even Ivanishvili was mentioned in Panama papers and confirmed that to the media) will also allow Russian money to enter the country. This will not only have an impact on Georgia – EU integration process, but also on the population, which will find itself under financial sanctions. This is a consequence of Русский мир (Russkiy mir), that is why we shall continue to fight.

Walking aroung Tbilisi, I was captured by the fact that many Russian people left their country after the invasion of Ukraine and are now living in Georgia which on the contrary has shown great support to Kiev’s cause.
This is a controversial issue. Citizens entering in Georgia are divided into two: one is ethnic Georgians that have lived in Russia or Abkhazia for many years. They do not speak any Georgian, nor have any citizenship. The main purpose of coming to Georgia is that of finding a safe place and escape the mobilization. At the same time, there are also Russian citizens. Ivanishvili spurred for increasing direct flights from Russia, lifting the visa regime and giving the opportunity of economic dependence on Russian market, and these facts can be included in the economic dimension of Russia’s hybrid war against Georgia. Indeed, trade with the West has been reduced drastically, and this can be treated as evidence.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are working to be able to sing a peace treaty (hopefully) before COP 29, which will be held in Baku in November. Could Georgia have had a greater role as mediator during peace talks? And despite this, what will be the benefits of peace between Baku and Yerevan at a regional level?
Georgia has always had an important role in the conflict, as it was the only alternative road for the transit of goods from Armenia. However, since things have been changed, the interest of Georgia is that of having long-term peace in the region. The renewal of the conflict was certainly a threat for the countries’ security. The development of the region in economic terms is therefore a priority: the region itself is very complicated in terms of foreign policy priorities. Armenia for instance is trying to leave the Russian sphere of influence; Azerbaijan is in the middle and not so attracted to the West, but has good relations with Russia and is the strategic partner of Türkiye; Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are part of a sort of “geopolitical triad”, not only on the political side but also on the economic and military one. Against this background, alongside peace the interest of Georgia is that of having Russia being pushed out from the region through the leverage of solving what has been since now a “frozen conflict” from which Russia was always gaining at the geopolitical level. Increasing the regional actors’ capabilities and involving for instance Türkyie (or other global actors like the EU) instead of Russia is fundamental for Georgia, especially when we refer to the Middle Corridor and the possibility to connect with Central Asia. We have also to tackle Iran (which is another complicated issue) and different standards of democracy in the region. However, many interests are uniting our countries, which is not only energy but also trade and peace. It depends on how the situation will develop: at the moment there is no agreement on the Zangezur corridor, but only conversations on the demarcation of the borders. In my opinion, Russia will do whatever it can to maintain the leverage, and here the scenario that is happening in Georgia is another gain for the Kremlin. Notwithstanding, if the issue of corridors is managed and Türkiye and Armenia start to negotiate too, this will also be beneficial for Georgia. My country is an allied of the West, and it gives the possibility to use its territory for transportation, which is beneficial for all South Caucasus.

From the picture you presented, I have to ask you whether you have the feeling that the ruling party has pushed for the adoption of the law due to an external pressure from Russia. Could Russia have proposed something in exchange?
The bigger problem when I receive this question is that it is not about the pressure from the Kremlin, which is always present as a behaviour toward Georgia. There is pressure through occupation, militarization, killing of our people. We see that democracy is in decline and hostile language toward our people, our friends and allies is increasing. Russia is trying to polarize people to the level that we cannot speak, and this is beneficial only for Russia’s geostrategic strategy. Georgia’s weakness is only beneficial for Russia. I do not therefore exclude that there is something behind, but the policies of polarization, enmity and disinformation are only favouring one country.

Photo: Parliament Hall Tbilisi @OpinioJuris