The convulsions in Georgia are a response to a flagrant desire by the ruling party to retain power.

The situation in Georgia is rapidly deteriorating. Hundreds of thousands of protesters have turned out recently to admonish the Georgian Dream (GD) government for moving the country away from the EU. The opaque Georgian security services, clad in black, are attacking protestors and dragging citizens off the streets and into cars to be whisked away. Media figures, civil society leaders, and opposition members have been beaten in front of their offices and homes. The Ministry of Interior has announced that violent crackdowns will increase.

The protests were ignited by the government’s decision to pass a “foreign agents” law, modeled after similar Russian legislationBut this is just a symptom of a far deeper illness. GD has decided to embrace illiberalism, reject the West, and employ Russian tactics to destroy dissent.

The law is part of an effort to quash civil society and media, the only remaining checks on government. It complements strategies to attack the LGBTQ+ community, women, and other minorities. GD has already crafted a constitutional ban on “LGBTQ propaganda” and passed an offshore law to facilitate money laundering and hide illicit assets, conveniently protecting themselves from future sanctions.

The law is also another glaring signal that the government in Tbilisi has chosen its foreign policy course, and it is not westward. This is not driven by deeply held pro-Russian beliefs of an administration under the de facto rulership of oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili. It is, rather, motivated by a simple desire to stay in power. EU membership requires democratic reforms that would level the political playing field, endangering GD’s ability to retain control. Ivanishvili fears what would happen to him if a power shift occurred. 

The reluctance of US and EU leaders to see the obvious is dismaying, especially since GD officials have repeatedly made clear where they stand: Washington and Brussels are the enemies, the “global war party” that has fomented revolutions in Georgia, and “masters” of the opposition. The transatlantic partners still appear to still have naive hope for some breakthrough.

It is past time for them to move beyond their “deep concern” and sanction GD leaders and Ivanishvili. Time is of the essence, as the offshore law allows for evasion of financial sanctions. Also needed are travel bans for GD officials and their families (parents may embrace Russia’s tactics, but they do not send their children to study there), the lifting of EU visa-free travel, and the suspension of Georgia’s EU candidacy status. 

Western governments must show strength. The time for negotiation, begging for meetings with Ivanishvili, and providing off-ramps is over. GD is presenting this as a conflict between it and the West, which must not engage. The government is instead battling its own people, and they want democracy and alignment with the West. GD will need to negotiate with them as an October election approaches.