Russia on Friday presented as an “attempt” of a Western coup the massive demonstrations in Georgia which forced the government to abandon a bill compared by its detractors to repressive Russian legislation.
After three days of demonstrations that brought together tens of thousands of people, the Georgian Parliament finally revoked this bill on Friday, as the government had promised the day before.
Hundreds of people gathered near Parliament on Friday to rejoice in their victory, waving Georgian flags and “We are Europe” signs.
This protest movement illustrates the political crisis that has been agitating Georgia for several years, a Caucasian country candidate for the European Union where part of the population fears an authoritarian drift on the Russian model.
The demonstrators also compared the abandoned bill to a text in force in Russia on “foreign agents” and used to silence NGOs, the media and opponents of the Kremlin.
But the Russian presidency considered that this decried bill was only a pretext, seeing in the protest movement in Georgia “the hand” of the United States trying to provoke “an anti-Russian feeling”.
The head of Russian diplomacy Sergey Lavrov considered that the demonstrations were “orchestrated from abroad”, comparing them to the 2014 revolution in Ukraine, which Moscow considers a coup d’etat fomented by the West.
The goal is to obtain a “regime change by force”, he assured, without however substantiating his accusations.
Concretely, the text revoked on Friday planned to classify as “foreign agents” NGOs and media receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad, under penalty of fines.
The Georgian opposition accused the government of voting for this text to stifle any critical voice, as the Kremlin does, and, more broadly, of undermining the pro-European aspirations of a large segment of the population.
– “Victoire” –
After the rejection of the bill by Parliament, nearly 300 demonstrators, according to an AFP correspondent, gathered peacefully in front of Parliament on Friday, with a light police presence.
“It’s a victory, we won because we were united!”, rejoiced Irina Chourgaïa, a 21-year-old student, in the midst of demonstrators brandishing signs “We are Europe”.
“The whole world has seen that Georgians are united and determined to be members of the European family,” she told AFP.
On Thursday, President Salomé Zourabichvili, a pro-Western critic of the government but whose powers are limited, hailed the announcement of the withdrawal of the text as a “victory”, speaking from New York.
This was not lost on Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who stressed on Friday that Ms Zurabishvili “is speaking to her people not from Georgia, but from America”.
It is therefore a sign that “someone’s clearly visible hand is trying to provoke anti-Russian sentiment”, added Mr. Peskov, in an accusation clearly aimed at Washington.
The announcement of the withdrawal of the controversial bill was welcomed Thursday by Washington and the European Union.
After this announcement and against a backdrop of distrust of the government, tens of thousands of people gathered in the evening in Tbilisi, the capital, for a third consecutive evening of demonstrations.
The first two nights of protests were marked by clashes between police and demonstrators as well as dozens of arrests.
Georgia, a former Soviet republic defeated in a short war against Russia in 2008, officially aims to join the European Union and NATO.
This orientation had been taken after the “rose revolution” of 2003 which had raised to power the pro-Western Mikheïl Saakashvili.
But Mr Saakashvili’s imprisonment in late 2021 and several recent controversial moves by the ruling party have cast doubt on his pro-Western aspirations.