Amid strong calls on the Georgian government to join international sanctions against Russia, the violent, pro-Russian extremist group Alt Info announced its intent to hold meetings in Moscow to ‘settle Georgian-Russian relations’.
On Monday, Konstantine Morgoshia, the founder of Alt Info, told Georgian TV channel Pirveli that their party, the Conservative Movement, planned to hold meetings in Russia ‘in the nearest future’.
Morgoshia did not specify who they were meeting in Russia, saying that they would hold talks with ‘political circles’ that were ‘able to settle Georgian-Russian relations’.
Leaders of Alt Info faced questions after their party chair, Zurab Makharadze, announced in a Facebook video address on Sunday that he would be absent from Georgia and the group’s namesake TV channel ‘for a month or two’ to ‘deal with the business from the ground’.
Makharadze’s vague statement raised suspicions among critics that the chair of the newly launched party that advocated for ‘direct talks with Russia’ might be going to Russia to secure financial backing in Moscow.
While Morgoshia denied his party chair was in Russia, the editor of online media outlet Qronika+, Eliso Kiladze, hinted that Makharadze’s absence could be related to the ‘frozen [bank] accounts’ of Russian lawmaker Kazbeg Taysayev as a result of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Taysayev is a Russian Communist Party MP and the First Deputy Chair of the State Duma for Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs — the Russian-led post-Soviet regional organisation that Georgia left following the 2008 August War.
Alt Info’s Conservative Movement similarly did not disclose whom they were meeting in Moscow earlier this year. Eliso Kiladze, who suggested she was familiar with a ‘one-hour recording’ of the Georgian-Russian ‘round table’ at the State Duma, claimed on 31 January that they were hosted by Taysayev.
OC Media has reached out to Taysayev for comment.
Alleged hacking attack amid growing national backlash
On Sunday night, Alt Info’s website became unavailable. While an anonymous account on Twitter claimed responsibility for hacking the group, OC Media has not been able to independently verify the claim. However, Alt Info’s website remained unreachable as of Monday.
[Read more about the latest from a series of Facebook clampdowns on Alt Info: Facebook takes down pages tied to Georgian pro-Russia extremists]
Alt Info faced criticism soon after their inception, especially for their homophobic campaigns in recent years that culminated in mass violence against activists and journalists last July in Tbilisi.
However, they faced an even larger backlash after setting up their political party, Conservative Georgia last November, quickly followed by opening dozens of regional offices throughout the country this year.
In February and March, their new offices caused public outcry in the central Georgian town of Gori, in the municipalities of Ambrolauri and Ozurgeti, Svaneti’s Mestia and Akhaltskikhe, as well as in Kobuleti, Khulo, and Shuakhevi in Adjara.
Protesters there either vandalised offices Alt Info had rented or convinced local landlords to oust them.
[Read more on OC Media: Svaneti residents attempt to oust pro-Russian extremist group from their town]
After actively spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic and voicing opinions against women’s rights, migrants, and in favour of domestic violence against children, Alt Info has primarily focused on pro-Russian messages and disinformation around Ukraine since late February.
‘Either Georgia is going to end up in a large-scale war or a dozen people should be neutralised and someone may think that we are very strict, but in the interests of Georgia, the traitors of our homeland should be taken care of’, he said.
This was followed by unsuccessful calls to ban the political party, have their financing properly studied, and regulate their mouthpiece channel. But unlike some big tech companies with their intermittent crackdown on Alt Info, Georgian regulators have been relatively lenient to the extremist group.
[Read more on OC Media: Extremist group behind Tbilisi Pride violence granted 'national broadcaster' status]
‘[T]he entire narrative of Alt-Info’s broadcasting is to exculpate Russia’s crimes against humanity by using Ukraine’s pro-Western course as a supporting argument for such actions’, the Tbilisi-based Georgian Democracy Initiative said on 4 March, unsuccessfully calling on the Georgian National Communications Commission to impose sanctions on Alt Info for breaching Georgia’s broadcasting laws.
‘Besides international humanitarian law, Russia’s actions are a crime under Georgia’s Criminal Code articles 404-413, which concern crimes against international peace, security, and international humanitarian law’, the group said.