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The Republic of Georgia and Russia’s relationships have been tense ever since the 90s after the two countries fought a quick war in Abkhazia and then another one in 2008 in South Ossetia.
Despite the tense political relations, the two nations have been economic partners for quite a while now. Russia acts as one of the biggest markets for Georgian wine, as well as the tourism industry, and Russian businessmen have a very strong footing in the region, as well as numerous companies have tapped into the market and a large portion of the local real estate is owned by Russian citizens.
This all translates into a direct economic correlation between the two states that affect not only Russia’s economic outlook, but also Georgians as well.
Therefore, when there were rumors last week that Russia could potentially impose sanctions on the small Caucasus nation, all manner of political interference was taken not only from local politicians but EU-based authorities as well.
The spark that reignited the political tensions between the two countries happened on June 20, 2019, when a Russian Deputy, Sergei Gavrilov, attended a meeting between representatives of Orthodox countries. The spark happened when the Russian Deputy sat in the Parliament Chairperson’s armchair, which was perceived as a serious insult by the opposition and the general population of the country as well.
Soon enough, Gavrilov was removed from the parliament building and taken away from the country. Things didn’t end there as the population of Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, took to the streets to protest such an insult and demanded the resignation of those responsible for the meeting.
Unfortunately, the protest was then raided by the local Special Forces with allegations of it becoming violent in nature. Due to the raid, the protestors continued their activism on the streets of the capital and are still standing next to the parliament to this day.
Although this enticed Russia to ban flights to Georgia, which was a serious hit right before the tourist season, it wasn’t the primary part of potential Russian sanctions. The threats of serious sanctions came later when a news host on a popular Georgian news channel, Rustavi 2, started the broadcast by speaking in Russian and hurling insults at Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.
Outraged Russians and Georgians
Both Russians and Georgians were outraged at the host’s choice of words when addressing Putin, as they weren’t simple insults, they were quite serious. The host went as far as insulting the president’s deceased parents.
The broadcast was followed up by a new protest right in front of the TV channel’s office in Tbilisi, with people demanding that the host be fired or punished for his behavior, with similar demands from Russia as well.
Several Russian deputies suggested that transactions to and from Georgia be banned permanently as punishment against the nation that had nothing to do with the host’s behavior.
Due to the fact that Russia is the biggest export market for Georgians with the most amount of transfers from it, it would have been devastating for the local economy. The anticipation of the sanctions even caused the local currency, the Georgian Lari to depreciate significantly relative to the dollar, as much as 12% in just 24 hours.
Fortunately, though, the controversy has boiled down to a simmer, as the host’s show has been canceled until further notice, and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin refused to place sanctions on Georgia.
Regardless, though, this case is a great example of what words can actually do on the international political scene.
The thing is that Georgians are constantly hurling insults at Putin, as Russia is occupying 20% of Georgia’s territory. The man is definitely not popular in the Caucasus when it comes to ordinary people.
However, to have such insults directed at a political figure like the president of the Russian Federation, and that TV channel is one of the main ones of a country, is a serious diplomatic issue when we take a look at it directly.
The equivalent for the US would have been if Fox News’ Tucker Carlson had insulted Putin on air or something of a similar nature.