Vienna, September 19 – In an article certain to exacerbate hostility between ethnic Russians and ethnic Georgians and possibly to lead to mistreatment or even expulsion of the latter, “Izvestiya” today argued that Georgians working in Russia “secretly” support Tbilisi and are sending enough money home to fund President Mikhail Saakashvili’s military effort.
According to the Moscow paper, “more than a million Georgians officially live in Russia, and another half million do so unofficially,” figures that are impossible to confirm and almost certainly exaggerated. But the paper’s suggestion that many of them are sending money home is true, even if its figures also are high (www.izvestia.ru/investigation/article3120684/).
Georgians in the Russian Federation are sending back to their homeland from one to two billion U.S. dollars annually to support their families, the paper says, a range that itself indicates how problematic these figures are but numbers that even at the low end are more than the one billion U.S. dollar Georgian defense budget.
The paper also focuses on the firms controlled by several Georgians who are now billionaires and in a position to send money to Tbilisi and on Georgian criminal groups within Russia, which Moscow officials say are currently transferring home some 600 to 800 million U.S. dollars.
And having linked these three groups together – Gastarbeiters who are simply trying to feed their families, oligarchs whom many Russians regard with disdain, and criminal groups whom many in major Russian cities fear – the paper asks: “did Georgia fight [Russia] using money sent from Russia itself?”
Both the way in which the newspaper chose to treat this sensitive topic and especially the question it poses in the wake of the Russian invasion of Georgia almost certainly will lead many Russians to look at Georgians living there with even greater hostility than in the past and even consider supporting ideas like Eurasianist Aleksandr Dugin who called for their internment.
But even if the Russian government does not take that step – and doing so now would likely give Moscow yet another black eye internationally – individual Russians are likely to conclude that the militia and other officials will look the other way if they take action against Georgians on their own.
And the possibility that Moscow might do more, especially restricting transfer payments now that Georgia has broken diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation, as part of an effort to influence Tbilisi or promote regime change there is sufficiently real that both Georgians in Russia and Georgians are home will be taking it seriously.
At the same time, however, the Russian government’s ability to pressure Georgia this way is limited by two factors. On the one hand, Moscow’s decision to hand out Russian passports in South Ossetia and Abkhazia means that many Georgians in Russia are now Russian citizens, something that as “Izvestiya” admits makes treating them differently harder.
And on the other, the war itself has reduced the amount of money Georgians in Russia are sending home. According to data from the National Bank of Georgia as reported by Sobkorr.ru’s Tbilisi correspondent, the amount of money transferred from abroad into Georgia fell by 25 percent from July to August (www.sobkorr.ru/news/48D3847C21B8C.html).
Much of this decline was the product of a fall-off in the amount from Russia. In July, the bank said, Georgians sent 63.4 million U.S. dollars home (out of a total inflow of 97.5 million U.S. dollars), but in August, Georgians in Russia sent 18.4 million U.S. dollars less, out of the total decline of 23.7 million.
During August, the Georgian bank said, people in that country transferred 5.7 million U.S. dollars, a figure that was 3.5 million U.S. dollars less than the month before. The corresponding figures for money sent from Georgia to Russia between July and August were 3.7 million and 2.1 million.