Zelenskyy meets troops defending Bakhmut in December 2022: Russia took the city in May 2023

Unholy trinity continues to push

Thanks to the US, Nato and the EU, the Ukraine fallout is spreading, writes Daniel Lazare - not least in Georgia and Slovakia

War is no fun, especially when you are losing. This is what the capitalist west is discovering as the fallout from the deepening disaster in Ukraine continues to spread.

The effects are most dramatic in Slovakia, Ukraine’s neighbour to the west, where a gunman shot and severely wounded prime minister Robert Fico on May 15. Fico is a nationalist who combines vaguely leftish economic and welfare policies with hostility to immigration, liberalism and the military conflict raging on his doorstep. Blaming the war on “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists”, he campaigned last fall on a slogan of “Not a single round” for the Kiev government - and won.1

The international capitalist class was not pleased. Fico’s would-be assassin is a 71-year-old poet and writer named Juraj Cintula, who was spotted chanting “Long live Ukraine” at a demonstration on April 24 and was reportedly incensed when Fico cut off aid to the Kiev regime in January.2 So it is a case of bullets flying a bit farther afield than expected.

But the results are hardly less extreme some 1,400 miles to the southeast, where tens of thousands of people in ex-Soviet Georgia have taken the streets in nightly protests against a ‘Russia law’ requiring non-governmental organisations to register if 20% of their funding comes from foreign sources. The pretexts are different, but otherwise the situations are so similar that it is as if the two countries were next-door neighbours. A hypertrophied NGO sector is one factor they have in common, while another is the Ukraine war, which both governments oppose, but opponents support. A third is gay rights, which conservative nationalists see as something the European Union is trying to ram down their throats. A fourth is a deepening split between a pro-EU, pro-Nato capital and a poorer and more conservative countryside - a fissure that runs through Slovak and Georgian politics equally.

In Slovakia, Fico all but predicted his own attempted assassination a month ago, when in a recorded statement he accused the pro-Nato press of going out of its way to “insult government politicians on the street”. Anti-government rhetoric was so feverish, he went on, that he was “just waiting for it to lead to the murder of a leading government politician. And I am not exaggerating in the slightest.”3 With Fico’s forecast proving all too accurate, his minister of the interior, a lawyer named Matus Sutaj Estok, says the country is now “on the doorstep of a civil war”.4

In Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, was equally apocalyptic in warning last month that his country was the victim of a “global war party” that “only sees Georgia and Ukraine as cannon fodder” and that “non-transparent funding of NGOs is the main tool with which you [ie, Nato and the EU] can appoint the authorities of Georgia from abroad”.

Georgians “know the value of one’s homeland, its independence and sovereignty”, he told a pro-government rally. “Therefore, it is impossible for the ... NGOs to bring about a change of government in Georgia today.”5 The upshot, Ivanishvili said, is not just ordinary political pressure, but a growing push for a coup d’état.

An exaggeration? Hardly, since protestors are themselves making comparisons to the Euromaidan uprising that toppled an elected government in Ukraine in February 2014 and sent the president fleeing for his life. With one opposition MP predicting, “Believe me, there will be a colour revolution in Georgia”, the government is taking such threats to heart.6

Still, it is hard to see how long the government can hold out, as the Biden administration threatens to impose sanctions and travel restrictions and the EU vows to freeze Georgia’s membership application if the NGO registration bill goes through. When imperial policy clashes with local democracy, it is not difficult to figure out who wins.

Pivoting away

Press coverage has meanwhile been rock-solid in its support for the pro-war side. The Guardian - ever attuned to Nato needs - complained last week that the “eccentric” Ivanishvili laces his speech “with anti-western sentiments and conspiracy theories, underscoring the extent the small Caucasian country has pivoted away from the west under Ivanishvili’s guidance”.7 ‘Pivoting away from the west’ can be a capital offence, as Ukrainian events have shown.

After accusing the Georgian police of using “heavy-handed tactics” against protestors, The New York Times said that the registration law “mimics a similar measure in Russia” that “quickly developed into a heavy-handed tool to stifle and stigmatize anti-Kremlin advocacy groups and media organizations”.8

“Heavy-handed”? That is one way of looking at it. Another is to note that just a few weeks after cackling in glee over the death of Muammar Gaddafi - “We came, we saw, he died”9 - then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton issued an ominous warning to a group of foreign ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania, to the effect that the United States had “serious concern about the conduct of the elections” that had just taken place for the Russian Duma and that a “full investigation” into reports of fraud and intimidation was warranted.

“The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted,” Clinton said. “And that means they deserve free, fair, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them.”

Did that mean that leaders who are not accountable in Washington’s view would face a Gaddafi-like demise? Two years later, under-secretary of state Victoria Nuland, a Clinton protégé, would tell a Washington gathering:

Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians, as they build democratic skills and institutions, as they promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations. We’ve invested over $5 billion to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine.10

With the US investing billions in Russian regime-change, Putin was not being the least bit paranoid as to where it was all leading. Rather than heavy-handed, he was merely being realistic.

So, as shots ring out and protestors battle with police, tensions will continue to build - until western politics crack wide open.

None of which is to suggest that Putin or Fico are good guys or that Ivanishvili - who lives in a glass-and-steel palace high above Tbilisi - is a genuine anti-imperialist. On the contrary, all three are examples of how the ongoing socialist collapse is allowing reactionary forces to fill the void. Rather than a battle between right and left, the upshot in one country after another is an intramural struggle solely within the conservative camp. Euro-Atlanticists are dominant internationally. But with the US in growing crisis from the Ukraine to the western Pacific, local conservatives are invoking national sovereignty in order to raise the drawbridges and keep them out. The results are every bit as rightwing as anything US imperialism has to offer, if not more so.

Hypocrisy meanwhile abounds. The day after Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Georgia Dream prime minister Irakli Garibashvili announced that his country could not possibly join in anti-Russian sanctions because of the damage it would do to the economy - and the risk of sparking a war with Russia even worse than the one Georgia lost in 2008. Georgia gave up 20% of its territory in that episode, which began when then-president Mikheil Saakashvili, a US favourite, “rained indiscriminate artillery fire on civilian neighbourhoods” in the disputed province of South Ossetia. The upshot was so traumatic - Russian tanks advanced within a half-hour of Tbilisi - that Georgia has no desire to see a repeat.11

When Ukraine therefore demanded that Georgia open up a ‘second front’ against Russia, its response was the same: nyet.12 When the European parliament called for reverse sanctions on Ivanishvili on the grounds that he was personally holding up anti-Moscow measures, Tbilisi dug in its heels. Indeed, Georgia saw a parliamentary revolt by Georgian Dream dissidents demanding an even tougher response to EU interference.


While Georgians overwhelming support EU membership, polls show the opposite in terms of EU military policies. Since 2012, Georgian Dream has won consecutive parliamentary and local elections that outside monitors have deemed competitive, well run and fair. With parliamentary elections scheduled for October, a recent poll put it ahead of the main opposition party by better than three to one.13 So, no matter how hard the west pushes, the public attitude seems clear. Georgians have no intention of joining the EU in a pointless war in Ukraine. They are not going to jump aboard a sinking ship.

Hypocrisy also abounds with respect to the NGOs. Following independence, Georgia found itself inundated by more than 14,000 NGOs by the end of the 1990s, nearly all of them based in the capital and funded from abroad.14 Bratislava, a city of around half a million, turned into an NGO boom town, while the rest of the country languished. In a nation in which school teachers and healthcare workers earn less than $300 per month, entry-level jobs in international NGOs start at $600 to $800 and can go as high as $60,000 or $70,000 per year - a glittering prize for recent college grads.

To land such jobs, applicants must establish their pro-war, anti-government credentials above all else. The consequence, as a dissident Russian journalist named Vadim Nikitin pointed out in The Nation, is a solid wall of anti-government hostility. As the registration act neared passage, the local branch of Transparency International put out a statement describing the measure as “a betrayal of all our ancestors and compatriots”. The leader of an NGO called Gamziri, which bills itself as a “nonpartisan civic platform promoting EU values”, tweeted that western powers should “impose heavy sanctions” on Georgian Dream in retaliation.15

Can anyone imagine what would happen if Donald Trump tweeted that China or Russia should impose heavy sanctions on the US in response to some White House measure? Democrats, we can safely say, would go ballistic. Indeed, the US had something close to a collective nervous breakdown when a Russian company calling itself the Internet Research Agency shelled out $46,000 for Facebook ads that may have been designed to help Trump win in 2016. (We cannot to be sure, since not all of the ads were pro-Trump, while some were not political at all.)16 Democrats erupted with so much sound and fury that one might have thought that the British were again sailing up the Potomac to put Washington to the torch. ‘Russian interference’ became the Democratic war cry, a special prosecutor was appointed, and Russia Today, the TV outlet now known simply as RT, was forced to register as a foreign agent - which is exactly what Georgian Dream wants foreign-funded NGOs to do as well.

Indeed, the EU has unveiled a “defence of democracy package” that - guess what? - would require media companies, political organisations and NGOs to register if they receive foreign funding too.17

Double your standards, double your fun - or so the US and its allies apparently believe. The more their military adventures go awry, the more they try to tamp down dissent and force others to fall into line. Politics are exploding as a consequence, not only in Georgia and Slovakia, but elsewhere too. Yet the unholy trinity of the US, EU and Nato continue to push and push, simply because it has no choice.

  1. www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQldhwfKCS0.↩︎

  2. www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPMJF9LPnG4; centraleuropeantimes.com/2024/05/slovak-politicians-urge-calm-after-fico-shooting.↩︎

  3. www.krone.at/3378656.↩︎

  4. www.nytimes.com/2024/05/19/world/europe/slovakia-politics-black-hole.html.↩︎

  5. civil.ge/archives/602348.↩︎

  6. www.thenation.com/article/world/georgia-dream-protests-ngo-color-revolution.↩︎

  7. www.theguardian.com/world/article/2024/may/16/bidzina-ivanishvili-georgias-billionaire-puppet-master-betting-the-house-on-moscow.↩︎

  8. www.nytimes.com/2024/05/14/world/europe/georgia-parliament-foreign-agents-bill.html.↩︎

  9. www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DXDU48RHLU.↩︎

  10. 2009-2017.state.gov/p/eur/rls/rm/2013/dec/218804.htm.↩︎

  11. www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v45/n09/andrew-cockburn/diary.↩︎

  12. www.interpressnews.ge/en/article/119078-secretary-of-the-national-security-and-defense-council-of-ukraine-if-transnistria-and-georgia-engage-in-returning-their-territories-it-will-definitely-help-us.↩︎

  13. www.thenation.com/article/world/georgia-dream-protests-ngo-color-revolution.↩︎

  14. www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/194-closer-look-the-slovak-ngo-community.↩︎

  15. www.thenation.com/article/world/georgia-dream-protests-ngo-color-revolution.↩︎

  16. www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/12/28/theres-still-little-evidence-that-russias-2016-social-media-efforts-did-much-of-anything.↩︎

  17. commission.europa.eu/strategy-and-policy/priorities-2019-2024/new-push-european-democracy/protecting-democracy_en.↩︎