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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Kremlin purportedly had no hand in the promulgation of the law on foreign agents in Georgia.

The Kremlin has nothing to do with the Foreign Influence Transparency Bill, which was submitted to the Georgian parliament and then withdrawn amid protests. This was stated by the press secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov, his words transmits Mayak radio station telegram channel.

“No, nothing was inspired by the Kremlin there, and the Kremlin had absolutely nothing to do with it. <…> One version of the (Georgian) bill, as we understand it, was very similar to a similar (foreign agent) law in the United States. The second option was less similar to the law in the United States, was much more flexible in nature. Of course, we have nothing to do with either,” Peskov said.

He also noted that the Kremlin has “not the slightest desire to comment or interfere” one way or another in the events unfolding in Georgia. At the same time, Peskov recommended Russian citizens who are in Georgia “to be extremely careful” and to “refrain from staying in areas” where protests are taking place.

On March 7, the majority of deputies in the Georgian parliament passed the law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence” (“Foreign Agents”), which stipulates that non-governmental organizations and the media, whose share of foreign funding is more than 20%, must be registered in a special register as “agents of foreign influence” and declare their income. In the event of refusal or evasion of registration, “foreign agents” expose themselves to a fine of up to 25,000 lari (about 9,500 dollars). At the same time, the law does not require to publicly indicate its “foreign agency”.

The Georgian authorities were also considering a second law, “On Registration of Foreign Agents”, which applies not only to non-governmental organizations and the media, but also to all natural and legal persons. This version, according to the Power of the People movement, is similar to the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and, unlike the first version of the law, provides criminal penalties for violators. It was due to be considered in Parliament on March 9, but subsequently the readings canceled.

The opposition has compared the ‘foreign agents’ law being passed with its Russian counterpart, despite authorities insisting that it is American. On the day the law passed its first reading, protests against the passage of this law began to take place in several cities in Georgia.

The largest rallies took place in Tbilisi near the parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue, which lasted until the morning of March 9. On them, protesters clashed with security forces, who used tear gas, water cannons and sound sirens against the activists. According to the Georgian Interior Ministry, more than 130 people were arrested and more than 10 security guards were injured during the two days of protests.

On the morning of March 9, the ruling Georgian Dream party announced that the Foreign Agents Bill had been withdrawn from parliament, as authorities had concluded that the document was “causing discord in society”. At the same time, Georgian Dream promised to “better explain to the public” why the “foreign agents” bill was passed after “the emotional background subsided”.

Part of the opposition was skeptical of the Georgian Dream statements and called for further protests demanding the release of those detained at the rallies, while explaining exactly how the bill would be withdrawn.

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