10,000 people have attempted to storm into Georgia’s parliamentary building in Tbilisi this week, outraged by the presence of a Russian legislator. Police attempted to control protesters using tear gas and rubber bullets, resulting in over 240 people being hurt, 80 of which were police, reported Georgian officials. More than 100 people were still in hospital receiving treatment several days after the riots, with two people having lost an eye. Protesters carried EU flags, and placards reading “Russia is an occupier,” reported the BBC. Georgian Prime Minister, a member of the Georgian Dream party, denies these reports, stating that the police “never used and is not going to use rubber bullets or gas against peaceful protesters.”
Sergey Gavrilov, a Russian legislator, was in parliament taking part in the Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, set up in 1993 to develop relationships between lawmakers of the Christian Orthodox faith. Georgian opposition MPs were outraged by Gavrilov’s decision to deliver his speech from the speaker’s seat, and his decision to deliver his address to delegates in Russian. His support for the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has also caused wariness of Gavrilov amongst Georgian leaders. Gavrilov attributed the riots to “fake news” in which he says he was falsely accused of fighting against Georgia in the early 1990s.
Georgian President Salome condemned the actions of Gavrilov, after cutting short a trip to Belarus in order to deal with the protests in Tbilisi. Rioters also called for the resignation of speaker Irakli Kobkhidze after Gavrilov’s address, as well as the interior minister and state security service chief. Al Jazeera reported opposition member of parliament Elene Khoshtaria stating, “Georgian Dream has brought the Russian occupiers in and let them sit in this chair,” and that these actions were “a slap in the face to recent Georgian history.” Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze has attributed the riot to efforts of opposition forces; Russia has suggested this crisis is an attempt by opposition forces to prevent the relationship between the two nations from improving.
The volatile relationship between Georgia and Russia came about in 1991, after Georgia became independent from the Soviet Union. The result of this separation was the eruption of conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia tried to reclaim South Ossetia in 2008, however Russian troops arrived and begun to occupy large areas of territory, as well as dropping bombs on the region. They eventually forced Georgian military out, continuing to maintain a military presence after a ceasefire had been declared. Georgia and its allies in the west have declared Russia’s actions to be an illegal military operation. The two nations have not held a diplomatic relationship since this conflict, or since Tbilisi attempted to join NATO and the EU, to Russia’s disdain.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin has expressed the outrage felt in Moscow by events in Tbilisi, describing them as “radical Georgian political forces” and accusing them of propagating anti-Russian sentiment, reports the Guardian. Since the protests, Putin has put a temporary ban on Georgian airlines from flying into Russia, reports BBC. The results of this protest will likely have a detrimental effect on the bilateral trade and tourism growth between the two nations in recent years.