By undermining Georgia’s fiber optics connectivity with the world, the Georgian government is playing to Russia and to domestic cronyism.
In July, the parliament in Tbilisi passed a brainchild of the Kremlin-sympathetic ruling Georgian Dream party, legislation allowing the government to appoint special overseers to telecommunications companies. The government claims the overseers are necessary to ensure that critical infrastructure is protected and the rule of law upheld. The reality is that these overseers are designed to ensure that only those sympathetic to the government’s interests can operate. It’s part of a broader pattern. Funded and secretly led by the James Bond villain figure of Georgian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Georgian Dream party has pared back the young democracy’s improving relations with the West. Instead, Ivanishvili has moved to consolidate power, defer to Russia, and destroy dissenting voices.
The oligarch’s latest strike against democracy came this week, when his government used its July legislation to appoint a special overseer to the company Caucasus Online. That company earned Ivanishvili’s ire with its 2019 sale of a 49% share of ownership to a foreign multinational investment firm. That sale had excited Western observers, who saw it as an opportunity for Georgia to expand its attractiveness to international investors and Western governments. But the government has sought to reverse the sale.
The overseer’s appointment appears particularly designed to kill off Caucasus Online’s attempt to extend a transnational fiber optic cable network. Already operating a 1,200-kilometer cable running across the Black Sea from Georgia to Bulgaria, the company wants to expand that footprint. If, however, the overseer obstructs the company from securing necessary investors, Georgia will have to rely on Russian cables for its high-speed internet connectivity. That dependence on Russia for an increasingly critical element of economic and security infrastructure would give Vladimir Putin enormous long-term influence over Tbilisi’s decisions.
This blackmail influence is something that Ivanishvili is apparently quite comfortable with. Ivanishvili’s government has been supplicant in the face of even the worst Russian excesses. Earlier this year, for example, Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov was caught sending assassins into Georgia to execute journalists. Tbilisi’s response to Putin’s favorite strongman was far from resolute. Oh, and Putin is now meddling in the upcoming Georgian elections, naturally.
The secondary effects of the government’s crackdown here will also be catastrophic. After all, if foreign investors see that their billions might easily end up lost thanks to laws rushed through parliament, they’re going to be less inclined to take risks on Georgia. This, of course, might be just what Ivanishvili wants. In the absence of foreign competitors, his personal cronyist power over the economy will only grow.
In short, this is a sad week for Georgia and for those who seek its more prosperous and democratic future.
Tags: Opinion, Beltway Confidential, Foreign Policy, Republic of Georgia, Communications, Internet, Russia
Original Author: Tom Rogan
Original Location: Georgian government kowtows to Russia by trying to kill off fiber optic cables