In 2015, the Security Service of Ukraine shut down the Russian Gorchakov Foundation in Kyiv due to the distribution of Russian propaganda among Ukrainian students. A branch of this foundation still operates in our country, engaging in Russian propaganda among schoolchildren and students, its director participated in elections and openly participated in important events for the country.
“The E.M. Primakov Georgian-Russian Public Center in Georgia was established in 2013 by the Gorchakov Foundation and the Georgian Institute of International Relations.
Giorgi Butikashvili, a researcher of the Russian Hybrid War, says that according to Russian political theories, there are three social groups: the political elite and the clergy, educational institutions, and, third, families. In order for the political elite i.e. the first group to make useful decisions for Russia, the second and third groups, i.e. the people, must be well kneaded. That is why in 2007 Putin decided to establish non-governmental organizations.
The researcher believes that the opening of the Primakov Center in Georgia is partly due to a change of government: “In 2007, Putin ordered to found the non-governmental organizations, foundations around the world and the use of soft power to strengthen their influence, but in 2007, this did not happen with us. Probably, this is also significant, because there were other relations with the previous government. In 2013, following the warming and building of relations, they were able to open the Primakov Fund here,” Butikashvili said.
Who is Primakov?
During his long career, Yevgeny Maksimovich Primakov served as the chief of the intelligence service of the Soviet Union, the Director of the KGB First Chief Directorate responsible for foreign intelligence, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Prime Minister of Russia. Primakov was born in Ukraine in 1929, grew up in Georgia, and received his higher education in Moscow. He died in 2015.
There is a so-called Primakov Doctrine, dating back to 1996. This doctrine defines what Russia’s foreign and defense policy should be for the next twenty years.
The doctrine states that Russia should be an irreplaceable figure in determining foreign policy. Russia must have views against the will of the United States, suggesting a multipolar world governed by the great powers; Russia must have growing influence in the post-Soviet countries and be able to convince them of the benefits of Eurasian integration; working against NATO expansion and cooperating with China.
In 2019, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published a report entitled The Primakov’s Doctrine in action. According to the report, Russian military activities and hybrid war are closely intersected. “Implementing the Primakov’s Doctrine was foolish. “Russia’s attempt to use hybrid war and military force against Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014, and Syria in 2015 was an attempt to avoid unnecessary risks,” the report said.
According to the report, the Kremlin regained its self-confidence in the war with Georgia in 2008, which turned out to be enough for Putin to draw the so-called Red lines in the countries of the post-Soviet space. At the Munich Security Conference in 2007, Russia warned NATO to stay away from these countries.
The report says that due to the following criteria, the Kremlin put its largest bet on Georgia:
- As Primakov’s Doctrine defines, Georgia was the member country of the Soviet Union, having its border with problematic northern Caucasus region; thus, as Kremlin representatives consider, it may turn into jumping-off ground of the powers hostile to Russia.
- Georgia is the country that wished and that was promised to be the member of NATO;
- Among the post-soviet countries, Georgia is the “laboratory” of the USA for the popularization of Georgia. It is the subject of disagreement between Washington and Moscow.
Consequently, Georgia was a perfect target for Moscow, through which it was able to underline the limitations of the United States, that it could not become a global superpower, and to destroy the concept of a unipolar world, beneficial to the United States.
Dimitri Lortkipanidze, the head of the Primakov Foundation in Georgia, often discusses the issues listed in so-called Primakov’s Doctrine. For example, in July 2020, during a live broadcast on the Gorchakov Foundation Facebook Page, Dimitri Lortkipanidze focused on topics that highlight Russia’s growing influence in Georgia:
- Russian language, as the most popular foreign language in Georgia, being the key communication language for ethnic minorities living in Georgia;
- Georgia-NATO and Georgian-Russian Relations – the question of Georgia’s membership in NATO is steeped in mystery. There are also unfavorable relations with Russia due to the recognition of two autonomous states as independent states. However, the Primakov Foundation believes that a dialogue with Russia can be started and that a civilian platform can give impetus to this process. It is their center, which serves to promote public diplomacy with the help of the Gorchakov Foundation, that can take on this role;
- Since 2012, the Georgian Dream has tried many ways to restore relations with Russia, such as public lectures or discussions with representatives of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia;
- There is no precedent in the world when there is a conflict between two countries and they still have such active trade relations.
Primakov Foundation in Georgia was founded with the support of Gorchakov Foundation.
In 2010, Gorchakov Foundaation was created under the order of the then President Dimitri Medvedev by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Russian Federation. Leonid Drachevski chairs the Foundation.
According to Transparency International, the Gorchakov Foundation is one of the tools of Russia’s soft power advancement; according to its charter, the Foundation aims to aid in the formation of public opinions advantageous for Russia, advancing the potential of a Russian intellectual, cultural, scientific, and business potential abroad, including financial support for local, foreign and international organizations.
The Gorchakov Foundation Information Center also started operating in Kyiv in 2013 with the same goal of maintaining Russian-Ukrainian friendship and increasing youth loyalty to Russia. The activities of the Foundation were considered by the Ukrainian Security Service as a threat to their state and they shut down their in two years.
Like in Ukraine, the activities of the Primakov Foundation in Georgia are mainly targeted at young people; they teach the Russian language for free, introduce Russian literature, hold various competitions, organize discussions, in which they mainly talk about Russian-Georgian relations. Given that the Foundation was set up for the dialogue and deepening friendship with Russia, the pathos of the talks is not difficult to guess.
Giorgi Butikashvili, a researcher on hybrid wars, understands very well why young people are the target of this type of Foundation: “The West is attractive for Georgian youth in terms of development, not Russia. Thus, in the classical meaning of soft power, influence through culture does not effectively work in Georgia. What they are selling here is cultural conservatism, ethnic nationalism, and religious nationalism. Even if you look at the Primakov Foundation, it is anti-Western propaganda by default. Not only do they teach Russian there, in the political part you will find dialogues about the great power of Russia and the Eurasian Union. Consequently, the dialogues that are on their website are unequivocally anti-Western. This is one of the elements of the Russian hybrid war. “
Primakov Center cooperates with the organization “Russian Club”, one of the sponsors of which is Russian World, the foundation created by Putin.
From the beginning until December of 2015, Zaal Abashidze chaired Primakov Center. He was replaced by Bezhan Khurtsidze. Khurtsidze was a Member of Parliament for four times and the director of the Georgian International Relations Institute.
In June 2016, Primakov Foundation was chaired by Uruzmag Karkusov. Karkusov served as the Deputy Minister of Economy during the National Movement in 2007-2010 and later joined the Georgian Dream.
Dimitri Lortkipanidze has been chairing the Primakov Center since February 2018. The members of the organization are Natalia Burlinova (Russian citizen), Maria Liamtseva (Russian citizen), Anna Bokhua, and Natalia Tsereteli.
Natalia Burlinova lives in Russia and is the president of the non-governmental organization “Creative Diplomacy”. In the discussions arranged by her organization, they discussed the soft power of America among other topics, as well as the crisis of public diplomacy in America, what awaits America after the riot, and so on.
As for Maria Liamtseva, she is a specialist in public diplomacy, worked as an editor of the website of the Gorchakov Foundation in Russia, and from time to time participated in workshops organized by the Center for Political Studies.
According to the Public Registry, the current director of the Primakov Center, Dimitri Lortkipanidze, does not own any business. In July 2017, he bought 30 sq.m. space on Chavchavadze Avenue for $ 30,000. In January 2020, he bought 1,425 square meters of agricultural space in Dusheti, in the village of Aragvispiri, for $ 17,000.
The information about financing the Primakov Foundation is not available for public.
Lortkipanidze often spreads misinformation in the pro-Russian media about Western institutions, such as the European Union, NATO, and UNICEF. He is famous for his homophobic statements. He has friendly relations with ultra-right forces carrying Russian ideas, such as Levan Chachua, family duo of Palavandishvili, Levan Vasadze, “Georgian March”, “Alt-Info”.
This ideological coincidence of the Primakov Foundation with other Russian forces is not surprising to anyone who is well acquainted with Russian geopolitics.
Russian political scientist Alexander Dugin has publicly stated that Georgia should be not pro-Western, not pro-Russian, but pro-Georgian. The like-minded groups of the Primakov Foundation also echo Dugin’s views in their public speeches.
“This pro-Georgian narrative automatically means Irma Inashvili, Lortkipanidze, Primakov, anti-Western, anti-NATO, anti-EU, and in this context, they try to influence the public opinion. These groups make good use of the religious part. “The strongest thing that the Russian soft power is working on is orthodoxy and orthodox ties with Russia,” Giorgi Butikashvili told us.
Lortkipanidze thoroughly follows these “rules”. He is in friendly relations with Giorgi Jamdeliani, Bishop of the Diocese of Marneuli and Hujabi. On July 16 last year, members of the Georgian March and Lortkipanidze joined a protest rally in Marneuli demanding the removal of a statue of Nariman Narimanov.
Lortkipanidze is exceptionally active regarding David Gareji issue.
During one of the press conferences, he noted: “I have not stopped on this issue since 2012. I have always stated that the disputed territory of Davit Gareji has been sold treacherously.” According to his Facebook page, in June 2019, he also visited Gareji, when clergymen, parishioners, and civil activists held a rally called “Gareji is Georgia.”
The story of manipulation of the Gareji issue by pro-Russian groups was also included in the 2019 report of the State Security Service of Georgia. In the document we read:
“In the past year, there has been a tendency that, in an attempt to destabilize relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan, various political or civic groups have tried to hide threats emanating from Russia, including the issue of occupied territories.” Some groups have tried to equate the ongoing processes in some regions of Georgia with the Russian occupation.”
According to the report, in 2019, a destructive campaign was launched on the topic of Gareji, which threatened the strategic partnership between Georgia and Azerbaijan. This campaign was carried out by individuals or groups of individuals who keep themselves behind the shield of protecting national values.
One of these forces was the head of the Primakov Foundation, who urged the authorities to immediately prosecute the cartographers. Lortkipanidze was also interviewed by the General Prosecutor’s Office regarding this issue.
According to a study prepared by the Czech non-governmental organization “European Values Center for Security Policy”, traces of Russian interference in the activation of David Gareji issue were found.
The 2019 report of the State Security Service of Georgia states that under so-called soft power, the special services of a foreign country focused on educational projects for young people, within the framework of which purposefully disseminated information tailored to their own view on political-economic, cultural-historical and other issues.
activities of the Primakov Foundation and what measures had been taken against these and similar organizations. The State Security Service of Georgia did not answer our questions.
We learn from the activities of the Primakov Foundation that the State Security Service of Georgia has not taken any measures against them. The Foundation is still announcing free language courses for young people, planning various events, and their director, Dimitri Lortkipanidze, was running as an independent majoritarian candidate in Didube-Chugureti in 2020.