This completely unnecessary act seems to fit into a pattern of provocation easily observed in the North Caucasus: the comprehensive roundup of Ingush participants in the protests in Magas over the transfer of parts of Ingushetia to Chechnya and the arrest of Circassian activist Martin Kochesoko on trumped-up charges of drug possession are just two examples of Russian overkill in the Caucasus that seem to be designed to provoke the population into more aggressive protests, thus giving Moscow an excuse to use extreme force to thwart the new assertiveness of the peoples of the region.
With Georgia, the motivation seems obvious: Georgia’s continuing flirtation with European organizations works against Russia’s long-term goal of re-establishing a perimeter of buffer states that Moscow sees as permanently within Russia’s legitimate domain. A second goal is of course the complete undermining of Georgia’s extremely fragile and failing democracy.
The “protest” in Batumi points to another issue. The protest, obviously staged and populated by people from outside the region who were most likely paid (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/338486/) was presented by the Russian press as a major demonstration for closer contacts with Moscow as well as the governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (https://tass.ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/6710688). Not only is Moscow using these events to strengthen its control of Tbilisi, it is also attacking Georgia’s territorial integrity.
This brings us back to Chechnya. After illegally annexing parts of Ingushetia (and placing a cooperative pawn in Magas as the new leader of the republic), Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov set his sites on parts of Dagestan. This can only make one wonder about Pankisi Gorge, home of the Kists, a people closely related to the Chechens who accepted refugees from that republic during Putin’s near-genocidal war against the Chechen people in the early 2000s. Is Moscow’s new aggressive stance toward Georgia a preparation for the annexation of Pankisi Gorge?
At the same time, the “Agile Spirit” war games seem to indicate at least a portion of the Georgian government is still hostile to Moscow and wants to prepare for an eventual clash with Russian forces yet again (https://www.unian.info/politics/10638192-u-s-troops-help-train-georgian-and-ukrainian-forces-amid-tension-with-nearby-russia-media.html?utm_source=social&utm_medium=share&utm_campaign=site).
The Turkish/Azerbaijani factor is something to keep an eye on as well. The conflict between Georgia and Azerbaijan over the Davit Gareji Monastery seems to be more than a coincidence at a time when Russia and Turkey are finding ways to cooperate militarily, using the cover of the Syrian civil war.
This is all a complex matrix that warrants close analysis from all sides in the coming weeks and months. As developments progress, hopefully some clarity will emerge as to the exact nature of the game Moscow is playing in the region.