On 7 June 2022, Editor of the pro-Russian media outlet Isari, Hamlet Chipashvili, published another article full of anti-Western and pro-Russian disinformation, entitled “I Doubt This ‘Touching’ Move Will be Followed by EU Membership.”
The article contains a myriad of items of disinformation which provide false information to readers about EU-Georgia relations as well as about Ukraine.
Disinformation N1: Nobody has asked the Georgian people whether or not they want to join the EU.
According to Hamlet Chipashvili, only the so-called elites of the society, who expect personal well-being from joining the EU whilst claiming these are the wishes of the people, do in fact aspire for EU integration. He added that nobody asked the people about that choice: “There was neither a referendum nor a plebiscite held in Georgia about joining the EU. Then, where did this part of society come up with this – that people want it?”
It is true that no referendum or plebiscite were held in Georgia on the EU integration issue, although Georgian society has been very unequivocal and straightforward in expressing its wish to join the EU for decades.
Recent public opinion polls prove that most of the Georgian population is in favour of EU integration. The National Democratic Institute (NDI), an impartial and authoritative organisation, published a public opinion survey on 21 April 2022. The survey includes the results of telephone interviews conducted for nearly two weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (3-15 February) and two weeks after the invasion (9-20 March). Respondents were selected through a simple random sampling using the random-digit-dial method. The average margin of error for February and March surveys are +/-1.8% and +/-1.6%, respectively. The poll is representative of the entire Georgian population (excluding the occupied territories).
According to this survey, 80-82% of the Georgian population supports EU integration, 8% say they do not know and 11-9% say they do not approve of Georgia’s EU integration aspirations.
The International Republican Institute (IRI), another influential organisation, published a survey on 27 April 2022 which reflects the results of interviews conducted in Georgia from 4 to 24 March 2022. The survey on the IRI’s behalf was coordinated by Dr Rasa Alisauskiene whilst the fieldwork was carried out by the Institute of Polling & Marketing. Data were collected through face-to-face interviews and the margin of error is +/-2.5%.
According to this survey, 74% of the Georgian population fully supports EU integration whilst 14% only somewhat supports the country’s EU aspirations. Only 6% of the those interviewed strongly oppose joining the EU. The photograph shows the attitude of the Georgian population vis-à-vis EU integration from 2011 until today.
Apart from the public opinion polls which are representative of the entire population, the election programmes of those political entities which garnered the support of the majority of voters in the last ten years is of further note.
In 2012, the Georgian Dream coalition and the United National Movement garnered 95.3% of the combined total votes. Voter turnout across the country was 61%. Of note is that the political platforms of both parties included a pledge for EU integration.
Third article of the Georgian Dream’s campaign manifesto was about the importance of EU and NATO integration in order to enhance the country’s security and positions in the region. The United National Movement’s campaign platform said that approximation with the EU was vital for the political and the economic development of the country. Therefore, the support of the openly pro-Western parties in the elections illustrate that the absolute majority of the public indeed supports EU integration, let alone being opposed to it.
Disinformation N2: The Russians are under oppression in the Baltic countries and Ukraine – They are banned from using their native (Russian) language in everyday interactions.
In his article, Hamlet Chipashvili writes that Brussels leaves the oppression of the Russians in the Baltic countries and Ukraine, including the prohibition to use their native language in everyday interactions, without response. According to the author, ethnic Russians are also devoid of the opportunity to watch Russian TV channels and Europe, therefore, cannot really be considered as a haven for the freedom of speech.
This claim is part of Russian propaganda and is not true. Russia has been spreading false claims for years that the Russian-speaking population is being discriminated against and Russophobia is rampant in the neighbouring countries. With such disinformation, Russia seeks to set the pretext for its aggressive actions and legitimise them for the future.
According to the European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force’s EUvsDisinfo project, Russia and its connected sources disseminated nearly 900 disinformation claims about so-called Russophobia from 2015 to 2020.
During Soviet times, some people moved from Russia to the Baltic countries – Latvia and Estonia – and remained there after the dissolution of the USSR. However, they did not automatically receive citizenship of Latvia or Estonia, or any other country. Nevertheless, people who are not nationals of Latvia or Estonia can obtain citizenship through a simple naturalisation procedure. One of the criteria for obtaining citizenship is the knowledge of the country’s language, although this does not mean that Russian-speakers are prohibited from using the Russian language, especially for everyday interactions. Russia has not produced evidence that would prove that Russian-speaking people in the Baltic countries are prohibited from speaking their native language.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many Western countries, including the Baltic states, blocked the broadcast of Russia’s propaganda TV channels. Hamlet Chipashvili says that this is an act of deprivation of the possibility to watch TV channels in their native language. In fact, the reason why those TV channels were blocked was because of the orchestrated promotion of pro-Kremlin disinformation and propaganda and not because they were broadcasting in the Russian language.
The falsity of Hamlet Chipashvili’s claim is further proven by the fact that non-propaganda Russian TV channels and online media outlets are still operating in the Baltic states. For instance, Estonia has the TV channel ETV+ which is under Estonia’s Public Broadcaster and operates for the country’s Russian-speaking population. There are also the Russian-language radio Radio 4 and the internet channel ARU.TV in Estonia. Lithuania’s national radio and television LRT and the internet media DELFI have Russian broadcasts whilst Latvia allowed the independent Russian TV channel Телеканал Дождь, which was banned in Russia, to operate in Latvia. Latvia also has the Public Broadcaster LSM which offers Russian broadcasts to the Russian-speaking population.
The claim that the language rights of the Russians are being infringed upon in Ukraine is similarly false. On 25 April 2019, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada adopted the Law on Supporting the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language. However, this law does not imply any discrimination against any other languages, including the Russian language. The document clearly states that other languages can be used in communication, religious ceremonies, the press, book publishing, etc. The law also permits the use of other languages in the health system and law enforcement bodies in line with the needs and the mutual consent of and between individuals.
Of interest is that Russia lodged an inter-state application Number 36958/21 against Ukraine at the European Court of Human Rights on 22 July 2021. The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms grants each member state the right to lodge an application about another member state’s violation of the Convention and its protocols. Russia took legal action against Ukraine in 2021 within the scope of this right.
Russia’s application includes multiple alleged violations, including Ukraine’s restricting the use of the Russian language. Russia submitted an urgent request to the ECHR to impose temporary measures with one of the requests reading as follows:
• To stop the restrictions on the rights of Russian-speaking persons notably as concerns access to the use of their mother tongue in schools, the media and the internet.
Russia requested the imposition of this urgent temporary measure under Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court. Measures under Rule 39 stipulate that when the ECHR receives an application, it may demand that the state take certain temporary measures until the court reviews the case and issues a final verdict.
The Court uses this right when there is a risk of the serious abuse of human rights before the case review is completed. However, the ECHR decided to reject Russia’s application since the situation in Donbas did not involve a serious risk of the irreparable harm of a core right of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The ECHR has not released an update about the aforementioned application since 23 July 2021. It is unknown when the proceedings will continue given the circumstances that the Court has not made any indication to this end in any statements.
In addition, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) released a preliminary decision over Ukraine’s case against Russia on 16 March 2022. The case was about Russia’s false claims about genocide and using these claims to justify its aggression against Ukraine. The court declared: “Under these circumstances, the Court considers that Ukraine has a plausible right not to be subjected to military operations by the Russian Federation for the purpose of preventing and punishing an alleged genocide on the territory of Ukraine.” The ICJ also called for the Russian Federation to “immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced on 24 February 2022 on the territory of Ukraine” and said that “the Russian Federation shall ensure that any military or irregular armed units which may be directed or supported by it, as well as any organisations and persons which may be subject to its control or direction, take no steps in the furtherance of the military operations.”
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