Georgia’s State Security Service and leading members of the ruling Georgian Dream party have accused America’s state aid agency of ‘inspiring riots’ in the country and training groups that planned riots and intended to provoke violence.
The accusations were first aired on Monday at a briefing by a representative of Georgia’s State Security Service (SSG), Khvicha Begiashvili, before being repeated by Georgia’s prime minister, ruling party chair, and parliamentary speaker.
Begiashvili said that members of a Serbian activist group brought to Georgia at the invitation of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had connections to the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, as well as ‘similar processes’ in Serbia, Ukraine, and other states.
Serbian citizens Sinisa Sikman, Jelena Stojsic and Slobodan Djinovic, who reportedly visited Georgia between 26–29 September, visited as representatives of Canvas, a Belgrade-based group which, according to their website, works to ‘advocate for the use of nonviolent resistance in the promotion of human rights and democracy’.
The SSG also highlighted that Sikman and Djinovic are former members of ‘Otpor!’ (Resistance!), a group famous for their role in toppling the government of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia in 2000. Canvas’ website also describes Djinovic as one of the founders of Otpor!, which ceased to exist in 2004.
Begiashvili claimed that while the official reason for the group’s presence in Georgia was to conduct training on ‘strategic non-violent struggle’ for groups working in the field of culture, an SSG investigation had established that that was ‘not the only’ purpose of their visit. He stated that USAID had financed training on ‘revolutionary scenarios’.
Approximately 8 minutes of the 12-minute briefing focused on footage of what appears to be a training session in which the speakers are, according to the SSG caption, Djinovic and Sikman. The speakers discuss protests and political change in Serbia, as well as strategies for implementing effective protests.
On Monday, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili expressed ‘concern’ at a government session, stating that he would not allow ‘disturbance and destabilisation’ in Georgia by ‘non-entity, destructive radical forces’.
Speaking to journalists, Shalva Papuashvili, Georgia’s parliamentary chair, described the events as ‘a black day in the history of American aid to Georgia’, and claimed the US training aimed to bring about ‘the collapse of the state’.
‘We see that it seems that the money of the American people has been used here to plan revolutionary processes, to deliberately prepare people for disorder and to provoke violence’, said Papuashvili.
‘[They should] explain why American people and taxpayers’ money goes to another country to inspire riots or train groups to plan riots and incite violence’, he said.
Ruling party chair Irakli Kobakhidze similarly demanded ‘clarifications’ at a public briefing.
‘We will need explanations in this regard — why USAID funded training, the direct purpose of which was to prepare for a revolution in Georgia,’ said Kobakhidze.
The Social Justice Centre, a Georgian rights group, criticised the ruling party’s statements, stating that the SSG’s policy was aimed not at protecting state security, but at limiting public protest spaces and intimidating people who participate in civil activism.
USAID’s declared mission in Georgia is to partner with the government and civil society to ‘strengthen democratic institutions, catalyse economic growth and promote the rule of law’, having reportedly provided Georgia with $1.9 billion in aid since 1992.
It also states that it aims to ‘[help] Georgia build resilience against malign Kremlin influence and advance its Euro-Atlantic integration’.
In a statement on Monday afternoon, the US Embassy in Georgia said the SSG and ruling party’s allegations were false, and ‘fundamentally’ mischaracterised the goals of their assistance to Georgia.
‘As always, our assistance is transparent, and we welcome any opportunities to discuss any concerns the government may have’.
The statement added that USAID had been collaborating with Canvas for over two years to help people ‘to speak up for the issues that matter to their families and communities’.
‘Despite these unwarranted attacks, we will continue to support Georgian organisations who support people to secure the future they determine and deserve and to secure their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Georgian constitution’.
USAID reshared the statement shortly afterwards.
Ukrainians, Serbs, and the Georgian Legion ‘conspiring’ for revolution
In September, the SSG similarly claimed that ‘certain groups in and outside Georgia’ were conspiring to violently topple the government in October–December through public uproar generated by accusing the government of being pro-Russian.
The EU is expected to announce its decision on Georgia’s candidate status before the end of the year. The bloc’s decision to deny Georgia candidate status in June 2022 led to protests among the largest in the country’s history.
At the 18 September briefing, the SSG spokesperson claimed that the ‘authors’ of the alleged revolutionary plan included Ukraine’s deputy director of counterintelligence, a former bodyguard of Mikheil Saakashvili, and the Georgian legion, a primarily Georgian volunteer unit fighting against the Russian army in Ukraine.
At Monday’s briefing, Begiashvili stated that Sikman, Stojsic, and Djinovic were interviewed on 29 September.
The SSG spokesperson stated that the three individuals had conducted training for civil activists and representatives of non-governmental organisations at a hotel in Tbilisi from 26–29 September, and claimed that at least one of the training sessions focused on the ‘preparation and implementation of the processes of overthrowing the government by violent means’.
On Monday, Canvas’ Georgian wing published a statement calling for international human rights organisations and ‘supporters of democracy and human rights in Georgia’ to ‘communicate’ the issue to Georgian public and private institutions.
‘We believe that such support will significantly aid the activists working to strengthen democracy in Georgia’.
Opposition MP Teona Akubardia stated at a session of the Government Bureau that the government’s talk of conspiracies and coups had gone beyond domestic politics and taken the form of a ‘powerful’ anti-American propaganda campaign.
Nine years of alleged coups
Under Georgian Dream, Georgian law enforcement agencies, including the SSG, have frequently claimed to be investigating attempted coups. Unsubstantiated claims regarding attempted coups were also frequently made by the previous United National Movement government, which was in power from 2004 to 2012.
In 2014, the Georgian Dream government first alleged that there were plans to execute a ‘Euromaidan’-style uprising in Georgia, in reference to a wave of protests that displaced Ukraine’s government in 2013.
[Read on OC Media: Georgian Security Service accuses Georgian Legion and others of plotting coup]
In October 2015, the SSG announced a probe into an alleged planned coup after a discussion reportedly involving former Prime Minister Mikheil Saakashvili, then-governor of Ukraine’s Odesa Oblast, was published online.
In September of the following year, the SSG said they were investigating a planned coup after another conversation, allegedly between President Saakashvili and several leaders of his party, was published on YouTube.
Three years later, shortly after mass anti-government protests in June 2019, following which then-Parliamentary Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze resigned, the Prosecutor’s Office announced an investigation into a coup they claimed would have occurred if protesters had successfully stormed the Parliament in Tbilisi.
In 2020, the SSG announced it was investigating the plan of ‘certain individuals’ to overthrow the government using violence in the event of ‘unfavourable results’ in that year’s parliamentary elections.
A year later, in November 2021, the SSG issued a public warning against ‘frequent appeals for revolution and coups’, while noting that the act was a crime punishable by up to three years in prison under Article 317 of the Criminal Code.
In the same month, amidst street protests demanding the release of Saakashvili, the SSG claimed that Saakashvili and the UNM had been ‘considering assassinating one of the opposition leaders’ in order to incite civil turmoil and a coup.