Letter From the Editors

This week, in a raucous hearing following equally raucous street protests, Georgia’s parliament overrode President Salome Zurabishvili’s veto of the controversial law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence.” As Izvestia explains, this law requires NGOs and media outlets that meet the definition of an “organization working in the interests of foreign forces” to register with the government. The Georgian Dream party, which initiated the law, sees it as a way to protect the country’s “independence and dignity.” The opposition, however, has dubbed it the “Russian law.”

So, what are the motivations behind the new law? Does Georgia truly want to give up its EU aspirations and develop closer ties with Russia? According to Aleksandr Zhelenin, Georgian Dream founder Bizdina Ivanishvili has pushed through the “foreign agents” law to guarantee a victory in Georgia’s parliamentary elections this fall “simply because, thanks to this tool, they will put some of their opponents in jail, force others to emigrate, and silence others.” But the answer also lies in “Byzantine politics” involving “endless behind-the-scenes deals with lots of compliments and assurances from the junior partner to the senior partner full of deference and respect.” And, Zhelenin says, one of these deals involves Georgia’s separatist republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Ivanishvili believed that if he could turn Georgia’s “foreign agent” bill into law, Putin could “drop some hints of a willingness to discuss the problems of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.” But, Zhelenin concludes, there’s little chance of that happening, especially given Japan’s experience negotiating with Putin on the “northern territories” Stalin once seized.

Putin, however, may have missed the news out of Georgia: When the veto was overturned, he was busy on a state visit to Uzbekistan, another former Soviet republic walking a fine line between Russia and the West. Judging from the visit, though, it feels like Uzbekistan, which gave Putin and his large delegation a warm welcome, is now tilting toward Russia. The two presidents signed a number of agreements on the usual topics of trade, energy and migration. One area that unexpectedly took center stage was the Russian language, with Putin thanking “Uzbekistan for fostering an attitude of care for the Russian language and Russian culture,” and announcing that Uzbek President Mirziyoyev had asked for more Russian teachers to be sent to the country.

For anyone following the war in Ukraine, this focus on the Russian language is ominous: After all, Russian has used Ukraine’s language law as a ground for its invasion the country. And, in fact, the topic of Ukraine did arise at a press conference Putin held right before departing for Moscow. As Andrei Kolesnikov explains, Putin used the time to expound on his thoughts on Ukrainian statehood. According to him, Zelensky’s presidency is illegitimate because under martial law, presidential powers are not extended, but transferred to the speaker of parliament. Putin referenced Art. 111 of the Ukrainian Constitution to support his argument, but, as Kolesnikov points out, Art. 111 is actually about impeachment. Was this a mistake? Or was Putin sending a message that, in Ukraine, “removing the president is not so difficult after all”?

After this in-depth explanation, Putin went on to threaten small NATO countries, saying they are “a factor that [European officials] must keep in mind before talking about striking deep into Russian territory.” This threat probably did not go unheard in Moldova, which received a visit from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week as part of a trip to show US support for countries that could face hostilities from Russia. And with a breakaway republic of its own, Moldova certainly falls into this category.

While Moldova does appear to be on a path toward Western integration, the pull of the Russian orbit is strong. Will former post-Soviet states be able to resist it, especially given Ukraine’s experience?