Up to and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, we all heard plenty about Russian interference. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his lackeys to plant false news stories, create faux hype, and generally confuse American voters.
And he is doing it again — this time in Georgia.
Georgia, which shares a contested border with Russia, is currently in the midst of its own presidential election. And Russia is back to its old tricks.
This election is vital. After an October 28 primary election among 25 candidates, the field narrowed to two finalists who face off in a Wednesday, November 28, run-off election.
It is clear who Russia wants to win: Grigol Vashadze, a former Soviet official who focused on aeronautics and nuclear weapons. During his presidential campaign, he publicly has said that he is proud of his service to the USSR. He denies ties to the brutal KGB. However, he most assuredly worked alongside the notorious secret police agency, which was strongly involved in the Cold War’s space race and nuclear arms buildups.
It is also clear who Russia wants to lose: Salome Zurabishvili has strong ties to the West — including the United States, which is Georgia’s powerful friend. She has performed in European diplomatic posts, served France’s Foreign Service, and recently was elected to Parliament.
Zurabishvili stands for everything Putin fears for Russia. She believes in Western values, democracy, civil rights, equality before the law, and personal freedom. She plans to strengthen Georgia’s diplomatic and military ties with European nations and America. She aspires to bolster Georgian traditions and culture, while ensuring that Tbilisi treats all Georgians with respect and heeds their needs. She has the skills and the drive to help Georgia join NATO and the European Union.
This last platform plank may worry Moscow the most. As an EU and NATO member, Georgia would be much better situated politically; a repeat of 2008’s Russo-Georgian War, in which Russia’s military illegally invaded Georgia, would not be permitted. Ten years later, Russia still occupies one-fifth of Georgia. A strong alliance with other European countries and America could go far toward reunifying Georgia and repelling the Russians.
And since the hostilities between Russia and Georgia are no secret, Russia has taken a rather amusing, yet sinister, approach to derail this election. Russia is trying to paint Zurabishvili as a Russian sympathizer, when the exact opposite is true. Zurabishvili has no ties to Russia. In fact, her family fled Georgia in the 1920s to escape Russian aggression. Zurabishvili does not want Georgia, a former Soviet satellite, to return to Russia’s orbit.
Vashadze’s background is the polar opposite. His family stayed and embraced Soviet culture. He rose to prominence in the Soviet Union. Even after the USSR fell, he maintained dual Georgian and Russian citizenship. Despite calls from his fellow Georgian politicians for him to renounce his Russian citizenship soon after Moscow’s incursion, Vashadze refused to do so until 2009, nearly a year after Russian troops marched in. Even after Russia invaded his country, sparking a war that displaced thousands, Vashadze failed to stand with Georgia against Russia.
Americans remain justifiably outraged over Vladimir Putin’s meddling in our elections. Now Putin is smearing an honest candidate who is wary of Russia and aiding a contender who is in Putin’s saddle bag.
As someone who cares for political integrity and democracy, I hope every registered Georgian will vote for Zurabishvili for president. Voters should show Russia that Georgia no longer is Moscow’s puppet and will not be controlled by its huge neighbor.
If the West does not want Vladimir Putin to claim that he has won yet another foreign election, let’s hope Salome Zurabishvili slices through his lies and wins Georgia’s presidency.