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This assessment was issued to clients of Dragonfly’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service (SIAS) on 28 September 2023.
A coup in Georgia is highly unlikely in the coming months. The authorities said earlier in September that a ‘certain group’ in Georgia aims to overthrow the government between October and December, to coincide with an EU announcement in October of whether it will award Georgia EU candidate status. Georgia has no recent history of coups and the authorities provided no evidence to support their claim. We have also not seen any evidence in our own monitoring to support the allegations. And the authorities have made similarly unfounded claims in recent years without providing evidence.
In our assessment, the allegations are aimed at pre-emptively discrediting any anti-government protests in the coming weeks. There seems only a reasonable chance (40-60%) that the EU will award Georgia candidate status, amid Western criticism of the government’s alleged authoritarianism. But Georgian public support for joining the EU means failing to gain candidate status would probably trigger rallies of a few thousand people in Tbilisi. The labelling of protests as a stability risk suggests the authorities are aiming to deter participants and stop an anti-government movement from developing.
While the authorities have made allegations of coup plots a few times in recent years, the level of detail accompanying the claim earlier this month seems highly unusual. The State Security Service of Georgia said on 18 September that:
In our assessment, these claims are unlikely to be credible. The authorities have provided no evidence to support them. Georgia has no recent history of coups, nor the conditions that would make these likely. We have not seen evidence in our monitoring to support them either. The security forces and military do not appear to be political actors and seem largely neutral. The authorities have also made other unfounded claims before. In 2020, they warned of plans to ‘overthrow the government’. Nothing came of this.
The government appears to be preparing for a negative outcome on Georgia’s push for EU membership. There only seems a reasonable chance (~40%-60%) that Georgia will achieve candidate status. The EU in 2022 did not award Georgia candidate status, seemingly amid its concerns over the government’s domestic authoritarianism. Yet the Georgian government has continued to pursue controversial policies this year, attracting criticism from Western governments. These have probably undermined Georgia’s push for candidate status and include a later-abandoned ‘foreign influence’ bill in March.
We assess that the authorities’ allegations are a pre-emptive attempt to discredit any future anti-government protests. The allegations suggest the government is preparing a narrative to frame and counter them. The wording aligns with government rhetoric over the past year of domestic ‘fifth columns’ and explicitly links pro-EU demonstrators with destabilisation. At protests in recent years, participants have demanded closer relations with Europe. And Georgia failing to gain candidate status would be likely to trigger anti-government and pro-EU rallies of a few thousand at least in Tbilisi.
Widespread or prolonged civil unrest would be unlikely at any protests. Most protesters have not used violence in recent years. When there has been violence or unrest, it appeared spontaneous and the result of a heavy-handed police response. In March, the authorities used tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades during protests over the ‘foreign influence’ bill. We have not seen any signs that the authorities’ response would differ, especially if protests are of a similar size to others in recent years.
Image: Anti-government protesters outside parliament as lawmakers vote to call off “foreign agent” bill that sparked an international outcry and mass protests in Tbilisi, Georgia, on 10 March 2023. Photo by Vano Shalmov/AFP via Getty Images.