February 23, 2019

Putin Is Perfecting His Border Plan

“While the Western media were focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s violent escalation of his conflict with Ukraine, another nation on Russia’s border, Georgia, voted in a run-off presidential election on Wednesday that will help determine its own geopolitical direction: Moscow, or the West.

Though the Georgian election got far less attention, both events were critical tests of the Russian leader’s relentless efforts to resurrect, as best he can, a sphere of influence over the former Soviet republics—and with a dazzling array of methods such as creeping annexation, stealthy assassination, and digitally undermining democracy everywhere.

In the case of Georgia, which is already doing Putin’s bidding by and large, those methods have included outright coercion, bribery and vote-buying, hate-speech, and voter fraud, according to Transparency International and other nongovernmental organizations. These efforts are intended to wrangle support for the Russia-favored candidate, Salome Zurabishvili, and weaken her opponent, Grigol Vashadze, the heir to the exiled pro-Western former president Mikheil Saakashvili.

In effect, Putin is trying to do more successfully in Georgia what he ultimately failed to do in Ukraine: rigging the electoral system to install a Moscow-friendly government. He appears perfectly willing to use violence when necessary, as he did by invading parts of Georgia in 2008 and in annexing Crimea after his Ukrainian stooge, President Viktor Yanukovych, fled in the face an anti-government uprising in 2014.”

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