RONDELI BLOG

On the “Russian Culture Center” in Georgia

2019 / 12 / 07

By David Batashvili, Research Fellow at Rondeli Foundation  

After his last meeting with the Special Representative of Georgia’s Prime Minister, Zurab Abashidze, the Russian representative, Grigory Karasin, said: “The Russian Language and Culture Center that will be opened in Tbilisi in mid-December will play an undoubtedly important role in the development of relations between Russia and Georgia.”

The intention to open this center should not be viewed as a separate event but rather needs to be put into a more general context. Here is the context in question:

The interests of Georgia and of the Russian ruling regime are fundamentally irreconcilable at the present historic stage. This regime is working, actively and consistently, to defeat us as a nation-state. Everything that the Russian Federation is doing here in Georgia serves its objectives and, therefore, is directed against our security, prosperity and national sovereignty.

Beyond this general principle, there is also enough information specifically about what is, in the present age, a “Russian culture center” as a phenomenon. Here are just a few recent examples:

- April 2018: “Oleg Zhiganov, the [Russian Cultural] Center's latest director, was among 60 Russian officials to receive an expulsion order from the Trump administration last week… all 60 of those booted from the U.S. were intelligence operatives.”

- Also April 2018: “According to leaked documents from the Macedonian security service UBK, the Russian embassy and intelligence structures (often working out of Serbia) have not just covertly supported paramilitaries there, they have also established some 30 Macedonia-Russia ‘friendship associations’ as well as opening a Russian cultural centre in Skopje”.

- March 2018: “A Russian culture and language centre in the northern Polish city of Słupsk is financed by a Kremlin-run propaganda foundation headed by a former top KGB official.”

- A Warsaw Institute report from March 2019: “The Kremlin provides diplomatic and military support to the Bosnian Serbs. The Russians are also involved in training police staff and paramilitary militia in the Republika Srpska… Paramilitary branches are trained in “cultural centers” run jointly by Russia and Serbia.”

- A NATO-supported publication on information warfare, 2017: “The Russian side is projecting its influence via Russian culture centres where Baltic citizens are offered free Russian language classes and such cultural activities as free concerts of Russian performers. As a result, the participants are exposed to Kremlin’s indoctrination.”

Presently, Russia is actively pursuing its geopolitical goals. In this effort, it employs various types of instruments, including: military, covert/subversive, diplomatic, economic and informational. It is quite clear that the “Russian culture centers” beyond Russia’s borders are among the instruments serving the covert/subversive and informational components of the Russian strategic activities. These centers are routinely used to spread Russian geopolitical influence.

The objectives of the regime in the Kremlin and the vital needs of Georgia are so irreconcilable that the only reasonable approach on our part is the resolute one. We need to resist any new step, big or small, directed towards the growth of Russian influence in Georgia. We should have an immune system that meets the permanent pressure of this influence with a resistance that is just as permanent.

Normally, the state fulfills this role with its capabilities financed by our taxes – this is among the primary functions of the state as an institution. However, when the state cannot or will not perform this function, it is society itself that needs to do so.

The opening of the “culture center” announced by Karasin is precisely the kind of Russian action that warrants resistance. But it is only a single example. Whatever is the ultimate fate of the specific intention to open this center, the principle we should follow as a society is to hinder the growth of Russian influence in Georgia – at every step, in every direction, in all matters big or small. As long as the Russian state remains Georgia’s adversary, we need this to protect our freedom and sovereignty.

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