The arrest of US regime change operatives in Tbilisi suggests a coup against Georgia’s government could be in the works. As Ukraine’s counteroffensive fails, the West appears eager to open a new front in its proxy war.
On September 29, in a disclosure ignored by the entire Western media, the US government-run Radio Free Europe’s Russian-language portal Slobodna Evropa revealed that three foreign operatives had been summoned for questioning by the Georgian Security Service, for allegedly assisting opposition elements prepare a Maidan-style regime change scenario in Tbilisi.
The operatives were staffers of the Center for Applied Nonviolent Actions and Strategies (CANVAS) and had been “temporarily staying in Georgia.” CANVAS is a US government-funded organization with close CIA ties which has trained regime change activists from Eastern Europe to Venezuela. The group’s website boasts of having cultivated over 16,000 activists in 52 countries since its founding in 2003, and “inspired” 126 “successful” political “campaigns” the world over.
Slobodna Evropa stated it was unknown whether the operatives’ presence in the country was “due to summons as part of the investigation or for some other reason.” But if CANVAS staff had been present in the country, there can be little doubt about their agenda.
The ruling Georgian dream has been portrayed in the west as a pro-Kremlin government. In reality, it’s simply reverted to a longstanding policy of balancing between East and West. For the neoconservative establishment, its true sin is being insufficiently supportive of the Ukraine proxy war. Thus Ukrainian elements are set to be involved in a possible color revolution. If such an operation succeeds, it would open a second front in that war on Russia’s Western flank.
The development seemingly confirms warnings from local security officials earlier this September. They cautioned “a coup a la Euromaidan is being prepared in Georgia,” referring to the 2014 US-backed color revolution which toppled Ukraine’s elected president and ushered in a pro-NATO government. The purported lead plotters are ethnic Georgians working for the Ukrainian government: Giorgi Lortkipanidze, Kiev’s deputy military intelligence chief; Mikhail Baturin, the bodyguard of former President Mikheil Saakashvili; and Mamuka Mamulashvili, commander of the notorious Georgian Legion.
A September 6 investigation by The Grayzone revealed that Georgian Legion chief Mamulashvili is centrally implicated in a false flag massacre of Maidan protesters, which was pivotal in unseating elected President Viktor Yanukovych. He apparently brought the shooters to Maidan Square to “sow some chaos” by opening fire on crowds, and provided sniper rifles for the purpose.
Georgian officials say that now they’ve uncovered evidence that young anti-government activists are undergoing training near Ukraine’s border with Poland to enact a similar scheme, which would feature a deadly bombing during planned riots meant to take place in Tbilisi between October and December, when the European Commission is expected to rule on whether Georgia can formally become an EU candidate country.
‘More powerful than an aircraft carrier’
The State Security Service of Georgia (SSSG) said in a statement that young activists and a “rather large group of persons of Georgian origin” now fighting in Ukraine are currently being “trained/retrained in the vicinities of Poland-Ukraine state border in a scheme being implemented by the CANVAS operatives, who allegedly sought to topple the government in a bloody coup d’etat purportedly set to unfold in late October or early November. Per the Georgian authorities, the plot would involve the creation of a “tent city” in the capital, “erection of barricades on the central avenues and near strategic objects of Georgia,” occupation and seizure of government buildings, “as well as other illegal actions containing elements of serious provocation.”
The foreign-funded operatives are accused of plotting to carry out a shocking ‘false flag’ bombing in an effort to overthrow the elected government, with Kiev’s February 2014 Maidan “revolutionary scenario” specifically cited as a blueprint.
Under the operation, “an explosive device, which the organizers of criminal acts intend to detonate, will be placed in a pre-selected tent within the territory where the rallies organized by Giorgi Lortkipanidze and Mikheil Baturin will take place, namely in the so-called “Tent city,”” the statement noted. “According to their criminal plan, the abovementioned should cause casualties among the peaceful population participating in the protests and the representatives of the law-enforcement agencies,” continued the SSSG.
From the standpoint of the regime change operatives, the bloody provocation would be useful: “in the event of a terrorist act, destructive forces hope that there will be an indiscriminate shooting between the law-enforcement officers and protestors, which will create a solid ground for further civil confrontation.”
“We would like to inform the public that it is not for the first time when the mentioned provocations are planned by the organizers against Georgia, although, they have been prevented in the past through the effective and preventive response by the law-enforcement officers,” officials added.
But they cautioned that given “the challenges of the current difficult geopolitical situation, unlike previous cases, the current plan represents a much higher risk factor that poses threat to the security of the state, as well as life, well-being, and health of the ordinary citizens of Georgia.”
The SSSG statement says that ““CANVAS” was being “used for the training purposes of the youth group who are supposed to participate in the revolutionary scenario.” As the security service notes, “the core” of is comprised of the remnants of the “organization “Otpor,”” a group which “actively participated in revolutionary processes unfolded in Serbia.”
Now, such operatives “are being regularly used in order to train young people in various countries and involve them in destructive processes,” the statement claims.
CANVAS: the global regime change specialists
The insurrectionary credentials of CANVAS aren’t in question. Wherever the organization goes, color revolutions and “peaceful” attempts to undermine if not overthrow governments inevitably follow. The Center evolved out of Otpor!, a rebellious youth movement in Yugoslavia that sought to oust Slobodan Milosevic in the late 1990s. Through a mix of civil disobedience, non-violent resistance, rock concerts, street humor, and graffiti, they galvanized public opposition to the President, and insidiously promoted a neoliberal future for Serbia.
Otpor! was assisted every step of the way by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US government regime change agency that avowedly does overtly what the CIA once did covertly. Besides doling out enormous amounts of money, Otpor! was trained to undermine government authority through disruptive means, and employed “a wide range of sophisticated public relations techniques, including polling, leafleting and paid advertising” on Washington’s dime. The group’s messaging was informed by US-bankrolled polling.
Once Milosevic was removed in October 2000, Otpor leaders founded CANVAS, and began exporting their revolutionary model elsewhere, including Georgia in 2003. There, they created Kmara, which borrowed heavily from Otpor’s branding and messaging, and received sizable NED funding. The group was instrumental in the downfall of Georgia’s longtime leader Eduard Shevardnadze following the November 2003 election. It built on its regime change template in the so-called Orange Revolution triggered the following year in Ukraine. At the forefront of this operation was Pora – another US-backed youth group emulating Otpor – which aimed to install a Western allied government.
While the media has regularly fetishized the work of CANVAS in heralding an era of supposedly non-violent resistance across the globe, color revolutions usually succeed due to more seismic factors, which are often unseen and unacknowledged. For example, Milosevic’s ouster followed a decade of destructive US-funded proxy wars in the former Yugoslavia, during which time the Serbian economy was shattered by Western sanctions.
Moreover, as the Washington Post revealed in December 2000, American operatives involved in the “anti-Milosevic effort” knew the CIA was simultaneously wreaking havoc in Belgrade, “but had trouble finding out what the agency was up to.” The adjacency of CANVAS to US intelligence was amply detailed in 2011, when leaked emails exposed how Otpor leader and Center founder Srda Popovic worked closely in secret with Stratfor, a private security firm known as “The Shadow CIA”.
Among other egregious acts, the emails showed Popovic had covertly passed information to Stratfor about opposition activists in a number of countries, including individuals harmed or killed by the US-armed Bahraini government, obtained from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights during the regime’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring. He also produced a guide for the company on how to unseat Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. As an analyst explained in a May 2010 email:
“The main utility in [Popovic] is his ability to connect us to the troublemakers around the world that he is in touch with…The idea is to gather a network of contacts through CANVAS, contacts that we can then contact independently.”
In another email, the same analyst noted CANVAS were “still hooked into US funding.” He described their mission as, “basically [going] around the world trying to topple dictators and autocratic governments (ones that US does not like)”:
“They just go and set up shop in a country and try to bring the government down. When used properly, [they’re] more powerful than an aircraft carrier battle group.”
Maidan 2.0: a second proxy war front
The Georgian Dream coalition government has been under mounting pressure since last March, when Tbilisi was plagued by incendiary protests. Demonstrators poured into the streets to protest a proposed law requiring NGOs operating in the country to register as “foreign agents” if they received more than 20% of their revenue from overseas. The law would have clearly hobbled the pro-NATO political network established inside the country by Western interests.
The unrest last March seemed to escalate in direct correlation with condemnations of the legislation by US officials. Most of the groups at the forefront of the protests were recipients of NED funding. And just when the angry mobs seemed ready to storm parliament, in a repeat of the Rose Revolution that dislodged Shevardnadze two decades prior, the government changed course and promptly dropped the foreign agent law.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Georgian Dream has been painted by Western media as a vehicle for Kremlin influence. In reality, the government has sought to strike a balance between strengthening Western ties, pushing for EU and NATO membership, and maintaining civil coexistence with its neighbors in Moscow. This act has become ever-untenable over the past 18 months, with Western pressure to impose sanctions on Moscow – one of Tbilisi’s biggesttrading partners by far – and send arms to Kiev constantly mounting.
Endeavoring to comply with US and EU sanctions regimes and condemning the invasion at the UN are apparently insufficient for Washington, Brussels, and Kiev. InDecember 2022, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili revealed that the Ukrainian government hasrepeatedly urged him to open a “second front” in the proxy war against Russia, and that his refusal to do so was not well-received.
The accused plotters may have more cynical, self-interested reasons for removing Georgian Dream from power. After being booted from office in the 2013 presidential election, their boss Mikheil Saakashvili fled Georgia. The next year, Tbilisi filed criminal charges against him, and he was subsequently convicted in absentia for ordering brutal attacks on political rivals, and helping one of his ministers cover up a horrific murder they had personally directed.
Saakashvili relocated to Ukraine to support the Maidan movement, was appointed governor of Odessa by President Petro Poroshenko’s personal order in 2015, and granted Ukrainian citizenship. He remained in the post until November 2016, when he dramatically quit, blaming Poroshenko for enabling corruption in Kiev. Thereafter, he bounced around various countries before finally returning to Ukraine in May 2019, after newly elected President Volodymyr Zelenskyy restored his citizenship.
For reasons unclear, Saakashvili announced in October 2021 he would be returning to Georgia, in advance of that year’s local elections. He was arrested the same day in Tbilisi, having illegally entered the country hidden in a truck loaded with dairy products. Ever since, he has festered in a Georgian penitentiary, his health rapidly worsening. Despite this, President Salome Zourabichvili has made clear she will “never” pardon the former leader.
A color revolution in Georgia would free Saakashvili, and install a government more willing to consider declaring war on Russia, delivering the second proxy war front long-sought by Kiev and its Western backers.
As Ukraine’s disastrous counteroffensive peters out, with only a few dozen square kilometers and tens of thousands of young men mutilated and dead to show for its efforts, the need to open a new front is more urgent than ever.