The War in Ukraine: A View from Georgia
I’ve had some recent correspondence from a friend in Georgia (the former Soviet Republic, not the home of the Bulldogs) who had some interesting observations on how Russians have reacted to the war and how it has affected Georgia.
Putin’s aggression against former Soviet Republics traces back to Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia. Russian troops still occupy parts of Georgia, which likely gave Putin confidence for his successful invasion of Crimea in 2014, which in turn set the stage for his invasion of Ukraine. Putin saw that nobody stopped those earlier invasions, leading him to be overconfident about this one.
The Ukraine war has had a substantial impact on Georgia, according to my correspondent. Tens of thousands of Russians have relocated to Georgia, a country whose own population is under four million. They have bought apartments in Georgia, moved their businesses there, and brought their money with them. One result has been double-digit economic growth, but it has also brought traffic congestion and the potential for political instability.
Russians have come to Georgia to escape the effects of the war, including the possibility of being drafted into the military, but my correspondent tells me the Russians are not critical of the invasion or Putin. They just want to avoid any personal harm. My correspondent is concerned that they might incite an uprising in Georgia, not in support of Putin but against the Georgian government.
Meanwhile, in Russia, the military, desperate for recruits, is circulating propaganda videos on social media to try to drum up enlistees. My correspondent tells me that Russian wives are happy to send their “permanently drunk husbands” to war. That’s a way for them to make some money and get compensation if they are killed.
He also tells me that many young men are getting married prior to going to war. Young Russian women see an opportunity to receive compensation should their new husbands die in the war.
As the war drags on, my Georgian friend says he hears an increasing amount of Russian spoken on the streets (Georgia has its own native language) and is understandably concerned about the long-run impact of the many Russians moving to Georgia. The economic clout they bring with them also could bring political unrest.
Meanwhile, with Russian troops still occupying parts of Georgia as a result of the 2008 Russian invasion and the Russian economy suffering due to western sanctions and the costs of the ongoing war, the inflow of Russians into Georgia is likely to continue. The economic upturn fueled by Russian money is likely to be temporary. Still, the effects of an increased Russian presence threaten to be more permanent.