By Felix Light
TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia on Monday accused a former deputy interior minister now working for Ukrainian intelligence of plotting to encourage civil unrest to try to overthrow the Tbilisi government, testing ties with Ukraine as Georgia deepens relations with Russia.
The State Security Service said it had been monitoring a group led by Giorgi Lortkipanidze, now deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence but previously deputy minister in a strongly pro-Western Georgian government.
“According to confirmed and verified information, the implementation of the plan – developed by Giorgi Lortkipanidze – would involve a rather large group of Georgian fighters in Ukraine and a part of Georgian youth, influenced by interested parties, whose training is taking place near the Polish-Ukrainian state border,” the service said in a statement.
It did not provide corroborating evidence and no comment was immediately available from Kyiv or Lortkipanidze.
The statement said the alleged plotters planned to channel likely frustration among young Georgians if the European Union failed to grant their country candidate status after a process culminating at an EU summit in mid-December.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday said the future of Ukraine, Moldova and Western Balkan countries was “in our union”, but was more cautious on Georgia, which EU officials say has slid back on its path to membership.
The Caucasus republic, which says it is committed to joining the EU, was denied candidate status last year even as Ukraine and Moldova received it.
At the time, Brussels said Tbilisi must reduce political polarisation and improve the functioning of state institutions.
Relations with Europe have also suffered since the beginning of the war in Ukraine as the Georgian government has avoided blaming Moscow, even though Georgia’s population is heavily pro-Kyiv.
Many Georgians resent Russia’s backing for the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Georgians are well-represented among foreigners fighting for Kyiv.
Though Georgia has shipped humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it has declined to impose sanctions on Russia, and in May allowed direct flights to and from its vast neighbour for the first time since 2019.
The same month, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili blamed the expansion of the western NATO alliance for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In December, the chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party suggested that Georgian citizens fighting in Ukraine could lose their citizenship.
Ukraine has also criticised Georgia’s authorities for imprisoning Mikheil Saakhashvili, a pro-Western former president who acquired Ukrainian nationality.
The Georgian State Security Service named a former bodyguard to Saakashvili as one of the alleged conspirators, along with the commander of a Georgian unit fighting in Ukraine.
(Reporting by Felix Light; Editing by Kevin Liffey)