by Tim Ogden
Thursday, 19
May 2022
Dispatch
07:30

Tension as Russians fleeing Putin gather in Georgia

The country's new arrivals are regarded with suspicion
by Tim Ogden
One Tbilisi bar displays its loyalties on its walls. Credit: Getty

Tbilisi, Georgia

While the 2.6 million Ukrainian refugees now seeking sanctuary abroad is attracting most of the headlines in the West, there’s another mass movement underway — of wealthier and Putin-critical Russians fleeing their homeland.

It is to the former Soviet Union that these emigrés have turned, with the Caucasus proving particularly popular: 80,000 are reported to have travelled to Armenia, and over 25,000 to Georgia, where they have also been joined by 5,000 citizens of Belarus. 

Although Armenia continues to enjoy a cordial relationship with Russia, in Georgia matters are rather different, not least because it also suffered a Russian invasion in 2008. Indeed, most Georgians seem to consider Ukraine’s conflict with Moscow as an extension of their own war and are reacting accordingly; Russians are already reporting being subject to abuse in the street, or kicked out of taxis after revealing their nationality, and denied the chance to rent apartments. 

Georgian banks, meanwhile, either require Russian citizens to sign documents affirming their loyalty to Ukrainian and Georgian statehood, or refuse to deal with Russian citizens at all. Government attempts to introduce anti-discrimination measures have been met by an angry backlash and accusations of covert pro-Russian sentiment — accusations which may not be baseless. 

Given these two nations’ fraught history, this animosity is perhaps not surprising. And on a more prosaic level, the sudden arrival of Russians who are prepared to pay higher prices has driven up rent and living costs, which are decidedly unwelcome in a city where the average salary is $400 a month.

For the most part, the Russians who have moved here keep to themselves. They huddle in groups in bars, speaking their own language, giving a taste to come of the social enclaves that will surely follow. Even those Georgians who are fluent in Russian now demand that their Russian clients speak English or Georgian. Indeed, after drinking with a Muscovite friend in a cafe and conversing with an ethnic Russian waitress in her native language, we were asked — politely but firmly — to only speak to her in Georgian or English.

Georgian hostility to Russians far from imaginary, but has mostly been confined to the online realm, according to Russian expatriate Stanislav Pavlov. “I’ve not had any negative interactions face to face here,” he says. “But on social media, there is hatred towards the Russians who’ve chosen to flee.” 

Pavlov is not a recent arrival, having fled the Putin regime in 2018. Alexei Voronin, a Ukrainian who moved to Georgia in 2017, will tolerate Pavlov’s sort who recognised the horrors of the Putin regime, but is less convinced of more recent converts. “They’re coming because they’re frightened of losing their money,” he says. “That’s it. They cannot be trusted.”

Many Georgians share his scepticism. But while this response may be understandable to an extent, it is also worth noting that most of the Russians leaving their country are not diehard Putin supporters; indeed, many have expressed disappointment at their treatment by Georgian people, as they claim to have never supported the Kremlin and its wars. As such, Georgians’ knee-jerk hostile behaviour to Russians could further polarise relations between the two communities.

The thousands of Russian people resettling in Georgia are not invading, they are running – and although their plight does not compare to the horrific suffering of refugee Ukrainians, they deserve pity of a different sort; pity for the Russia that could have been, but never will be. 

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Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 month ago

Thank you for this perspective.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 month ago

“they deserve pity of a different sort; pity for the Russia that could have been, but never will be. “

Possibly ! Then again, if Russia was to use the persecution, or even perceived persecution, of ethnic Russians, or Russian speakers, as a pretext for ‘intervention’ in their country, then they might well be right to be wary, or even hostile to, an influx of Russians. There was a reason why ethnic Germans were ‘cleansed’ from Eastern Europe after WWII, rightly or wrongly, there were many who didn’t fancy perpetuating, or chancing, the excuses used to start that particular conflict.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Exactly. As soon as Putin hears of Russian disgruntlement at their treatment, he could use it to start a war with Georgia that he could actually win, since they’re too small to stand a chance.

I think they were very foolish to let the Russians into their country.

Lisa I
Lisa I
1 month ago

It must be uncomfortable to be a Russian in a lot of places these days.
Given that the Russian immigrants are wealthy/successful they should be an addition to the Georgia. Hopefully that will be the case.

I was unaware that anti discrimination laws weren’t the norm in all countries.

M. M.
M. M.
1 month ago

Tim Ogden wrote, “Alexei Voronin, a Ukrainian who moved to Georgia in 2017, will tolerate Pavlov’s sort who recognised the horrors of the Putin regime, but is less convinced of more recent converts. ‘They’re coming because they’re frightened of losing their money,’ he says. ‘That’s it. They cannot be trusted.’

Russian behavior resembles Indian behavior in the United States. Most Indians in this country are the wealthy elite of India and came to the United States for the sole purpose of becoming wealthier. These Indians reject Western culture and consider it to be inferior to Indian culture.

Hispanics act similarly. They also refuse to assimilate into Western culture.

If the Russian immigrants to Georgia adopt Georgian names and culture, then we should respect them. If they, like the Indians and the Hispanics, refuse to assimilate into Western culture, then we should either force them to leave Georgia or expel them.

An example of assimilating into Western culture appears in the audio essay by Misa Sugiura. Contrast her family with the typical Hispanic or Indian family.

Get more info about this issue.

Last edited 1 month ago by Matthew M.