At the beginning of March, a wave of observations covered Tbilisi – using the visa-free regime, visiting Georgia as a temporary or regular refuge for a Russian. This is not the first, but the most massive in recent years, the influx of Russians into a country that considers Russia an occupier of 20% of its territory. The BBC talks about how Georgia is debating the consequences of the “open door” policy.
Eighteen-year-old Roman Pern holds a white-blue-white flag, a symbol of Russian anti-war protest. In Russia, where anti-war slogans are equated with fakes about a “special operation”, he would most likely be detained, but here in Georgia, one can openly attack the war in Ukraine.
The action takes place in the building of the embassy in Tbilisi, where the section of Russian interests is located – there is no Russian embassy in Georgia. Following the 2008 Russo-Georgian war and Moscow’s recognition of the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Tbilisi severed its reaffirmation of relations with Russia.
The participants of the action – the share of Russians and Belarusians – demand the proceeds of Russian troops from both Ukraine and Abkhazia and South Ossetia. They operate in front of the presence of a large Ukrainian flag. Protesters in a sign of support are signaled by passing cars.
Roman says that from the age of 14 he went to the rallies of Alexei Navalny. In Russia – as long as Vladimir Putin is in power – he and his wife do not look forward to the future. The president’s announcement about the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine was the last straw.
“Cause [решения уехать из России] First of all, there was the question of our security, and, in itself, participation in the aggressor country is extremely unpleasant. I don’t want a penny for the bombs that kill people in Ukraine,” Roman said.
The next day they bought a ticket to Tbilisi via Istanbul, taking with them from St. Petersburg, where Roman was born and raised, only the most necessary things and the red and white cat Banana.
“We chose Georgia here, which is safe here, it’s pretty easy to get in because of the liberal legislation and there are a lot of people here who improve our feelings about communication today in Ukraine,” he lowered.
By data The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, only in the first three and a half weeks since the beginning of the war, more than 35 thousand Russian citizens entered Georgia – more than 14 thousand of them remained. How many of them intend to live in Georgia permanently is still unclear: Russian citizens can stay here without visas for a year.
European country at an affordable price
IT specialist Ilya Pushkin, like many Russians living in Georgia, has the flag of Ukraine on his profile picture on Facebook. In Batumi – a city on the Black Sea coast of Georgia – Ilya moved from Moscow six years ago. His decision was also related to the war in Ukraine – the one that began in 2014.
“I realized that I wanted to leave Russia, because I saw how people reacted to this and rejoiced at all this during the action. I had a choice between Georgia and Ukraine. That Georgia is better in terms of reform here, I decided to go,” he says.
By the time he moved, many Russians already lived here. Despite the modest scale of the local market and economy, many have opened their own business here – cafes, beauty salons and travel companies. Someone worked remotely from Georgia. Ilya himself registered an individual entrepreneurship and continues to work here in his specialty.
“Georgia, it seems to me, first of all attracted Russians to freedom,” he says. “In Russia, they either live in complete fear or in complete ignorance.” […] It is difficult for Russians to leave for Europe, and Georgia is like a kind of European country at an affordable price.”
The ranks of large immigrants were replenished after the recognition of the structure of Alexei Navalny extremist organizations in Russia and the number of “foreign agents”. Russian opposition activists, human rights activists and journalists rushed here, fearing persecution by the authorities.
Not everyone was accepted: at the end of August 2021, in Georgia, for example, Lyubov Sobol, an associate of Alexei Navalny, was not allowed through. She then tied up this is due to the unwillingness of the Georgian authorities to spoil relations with Moscow.
These suspicions – that the Georgian authorities are not going to start Vladimir Putin out of fear of angering the Kremlin – are also expressed by some of the Georgian opposition and human rights activists. The Georgian government denies this.
“I can’t imagine that in any country there would be a border guard who would ask – excuse me, are you from the opposition or a position?” declared Minister of the Interior Vakhtang Gomelauri in parliament, answering a question about the denial of entry to Russians, including journalist Mikhail Fishman. Former Minister declaredwhich has rules for this.
“I like that the Georgian authorities write that all refusals are accepted on the spot by border guards. They called somewhere for 14 hours, shrugged their shoulders and sometimes even apologized that they themselves did not know and were waiting for an answer from somewhere above. , but out of pity they let me on the couch,” wrote on March 10 on Twitter the journalist of Mediazona (recognized in Russia as a media-foreign agent) David Frenkel, another one of those who were not allowed into Georgia.
Obama journalists were heading to Georgia in early March, amid a massive wave of surveillance of Russia itself in Georgia in recent years.
Politics, sanctions, visas
Journalists are waiting for arriving patients at the Tbilisi airport. Some postcards they say that they oppose the invasion of Ukraine and left because of the fear of infection. But some refuse to answer questions about the war with Georgia and “politics.”
“My top tip [россиянам, которые едут в Грузию] this is so that they, first of all, understand the pain of Georgia. They abandoned the phrase: “I’m out of politics” because that’s exactly what we’re seeing now. In politics, you need to be one way or another, because literally everything depends on politics. When you come to a foreign country, you need to understand how this country lives” – Ilya Pushkin.
Among Georgians, there is no consensus on the need to allow the country to enter the quantity. The opposition talks about the risks of such a policy – and demand to tighten control at the border.
The European Georgia party assures that some of the Russians who are traveling or already living in the country are hostile to Georgia and suffer from terrorism. In confirmation in the conduct screenshots from various Russian-speaking groups on social networks, where some users write offensive comments about Georgia and Georgia in conversations about problems with renting housing or bank requirements.
The influx of Russian emigrants is also causing concern among some residents. While many hotels, guest houses and ordinary people are ready to provide refugees from Ukraine free of charge, some landlords and real estate agencies refuse on principle to rent housing to Russian citizens, recalling the war and the occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Due to exceptions due to the situation with the situation around Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Social networks called for the airport to be closed to Russians; More than 15,000 people signed an online petition demanding the abolition of the visa-free regime for them. Many are dissatisfied with the position of the Georgian authorities, accuse them of insufficient support for Ukraine and are trying to please the Kremlin.
The government says that they are meeting Ukraine, but they will not join Western sanctions against Russia, as this will harm the population and the interests of the country. Tbilisi’s position on the sanctions was one of the reasons for the recall of the Ukrainian ambassador from Georgia.
The same position, critics fear, is transferred to the fact that the arriving Russians are turning into a “black hole” for bypassing. On April 4, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry announced that Russian agents had established channels for smuggling sanctioned goods through Georgia. At the same time, according to the department, the Georgian special services received instructions to obtain information about the activities of smugglers.
The Ministry of Finance of Georgia declared these statements absurd and groundless, the State Security Service (SSS) ordered to respond to individual cases, while calling on Ukraine to exclude them. Otherwise, the State Security Service warned, such statements are considered disinformation and an “extremely unfriendly step” to provoke internal threats in Georgia.
Some human rights activists and experts are also calling for the influx of Russians to be handled with caution. One of the most popular NGOs in Georgia, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), suggests that the government consider introducing visas.
In the organisation remindthat Georgian citizens need visas to come to Russia, so the principle of reciprocity is justified from preferences for Russians.
“The introduction of a visa regime would give the public security services more opportunities and time to decide whether a particular person is traveling to Georgia for tourism purposes or may carry the danger of spreading the public interests of Georgia,” says GYLA representative Giorgi Antadze.
At the same time, human rights activists call on the authorities not to create for those who persecute the Russian government, and warn that unrest in society over surveillance from Russia should not develop into xenophobia.
Ilya Pushkin, who arrived from Moscow, says that most of the Russians who left the country for the war in Ukraine really had little interest in what was happening around them and lived in their homeland in an information vacuum. When they left Russia, the Georgians are suspected of their suspicion, he said.
“If you immediately cut down with your head and say why you came and do not overthrow Putin in Russia, this is absurd, because when you live in the DPRK – and Russia is already actually the DPRK, there is no point in protesting against this government. They will simply destroy you, – says Ilya.
The Georgian government has little concern about surveillance of residents and is in no hurry to introduce visas for them.
Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Levan Davitashvili said that Georgia is one of the rare islands of freedom in the region, which is of interest to many citizens, including the growth of countries.
“If people really run away from the regime and do business in a free environment, regardless of national […]we must enable people to do business correctly, legally and in accordance with the law,” he said.
St. Petersburger Roman Pern calls for the introduction of visas for Russians with understanding, but agrees that this will only help speed up the structure in pursuing dissent.
He saw negative comments about Russians in social networks, but in real life, according to his statement, he never encountered aggression or hostility.
“On the contrary, there are enough of us here, because again it’s right that Vladimir Putin harms not only other countries, but also his own nature, the population in his country,” says Roman. and Ukraine in 2014 and now, but also victims of his regime.”
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