Georgia claims US contributes funds to coup preparations
Two weeks ago, the Georgian government said a coup was being plotted for this fall. Now it claims the U.S. is helping fund it.
Taking its fears of an imminent coup to the next level, the Georgian government is now accusing the United States of sponsoring a DIY revolution workshop in Tbilisi.
USAID, the international aid arm of the US government, and its Serbia-based partner organization that organized the workshop have dismissed the claim as false and absurd. The US Embassy in Tbilisi assailed the Georgian claims, saying they “fundamentally mischaracterize” the goals of US assistance to the country. Domestic critics contend that the government’s accusations are politically motivated, intended to kneecap opposition elements as Georgia gears up for parliamentary elections in 2024.
Despite the vehement denials by the United States, top officials in the ruling Georgian Dream Party seem ready to pick a fight with Washington, employing rhetoric designed to divide American public opinion. “This is a dark day in the history of American assistance to Georgia,” claimed Georgian Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili on October 2. “It seems the American people’s money is being used to foment revolution, to train people in staging unrest and acts of violence.”
Earlier that day, Georgia's State Security Service claimed that a crash course in the art of staging revolutions was held in Tbilisi in the last week of September. Serbian revolution experts were brought in, the security service said, to “coach civilian activists and representatives of non-profit groups – one large group in particular – who will play a crucial role in an attempt to bring down the government by force.”
The accusations relate to a September 25 training session organized by the East-West Management Institute, a program sponsored by USAID. The session was openly advertised as a workshop in civilian activism meant to help a small group of poets and writers learn about ways they can organize peaceful, issue-based public campaigns.
Just about 20 people, mostly literati, attended the lecture held by Belgrade-based group CANVAS, the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies. Drawing upon Serbian experience in resistance to the Slobodan Milošević regime (1997-2000), the center educates activists around the world on ways to peacefully fight for democracy and human rights.
But Georgia security services claimed that the workshop and subsequent meetings were specifically geared toward preparing for a revolution that – the authorities insist – is coming to Georgia this fall, sometime between late October and early December.
In its briefing, the security service strongly suggested that the three visiting Serbian coaches were under criminal investigation, but said they were nevertheless allowed to leave the country.
It said that during an interrogation on September 29, the trainers “attempted to disguise their real reasons for being in Georgia in order to avoid anticipated criminal responsibility. It should be pointed out that their statements were inconsistent with evidence found by the investigation and in several details contradicted each other. Siniša Šikman, Jelena Stojsić, and Slobodan Djinović left Georgia for Belgrade on September 30.”
In a bid to produce evidence of the alleged pernicious goal of their visit, the security service published heavily edited video recordings of the lectures, where the coaches speak of their experience in resisting the Milošević regime.
CANVAS called the accusations absurd. “Allegations made by the Georgian government against CANVAS are false and are entirely unrelated to CANVAS’s work in the country,” the center said in a statement. “Over the past two years, CANVAS has been implementing a USAID program in cooperation with the East-West Management Institute to support civil society organizations in Georgia to better equip them with tools and knowledge on community organization and advocating for positive social changes.”
The center said that their training curriculum is publicly available online and has been taught in over 50 countries. USAID also rejected the accusations.
The US Embassy statement noted that USAID had worked with CANVAS over the past two years on a variety of projects, including programs that delivered “training to mothers advocating for better cancer treatments for children, and to people advocating for the rights of elderly citizens in their communities.”
Characterizing the government’s claims as “unwarranted attacks,” the embassy statement asserted that the United States would continue to support civil society development in Georgia, providing assistance to “Georgian organizations who support people to secure the future they determine and deserve, and to secure their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Georgian constitution.”
Accusations against the US assistance program appear to fit with the trend toward increasingly snappish relations between Georgia and the U.S. Prior to pointing the finger at USAID, the Georgian government engaged in an exchange with Washington over the sanctioning of the former prosecutor general of Georgia over his role in promoting the Kremlin’s interests and collaborating with Russian security services.
The talk of the coup is also directly related to Georgia’s troubled European Union accession efforts. The Georgian Dream government ostensibly supports the country’s membership bid, but its embrace of illiberal policies, including a failed attempted to adopt legislation to rein in the NGO sector earlier in 2023, is at odds with Brussels’ accession requirements. Georgian government officials first voiced coup concerns on September 18, claiming without supplying substantiating evidence that domestic and international forces are preparing to stage Euromaidan-style unrest in Tbilisi if the EU declines Georgia’s bid to advance toward membership in the bloc.
Brussels is expected to make the much-anticipated decision on granting Georgia the status of membership candidate later this fall. The Georgian government and political opposition accuse one another of attempts to sabotage Georgia’s progress toward European integration. Government detractors are saying that by talking of a coup attempt the government is trying to preempt protests that are likely to erupt if the EU takes a rain check on Georgia’s bid.
Updated throughout with additional information.