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In Georgia, Calls Emerge To Retake South Ossetia, Abkhazia 

"We Georgians who have been fighting for freedom in Ukraine…are also ready to fight for the freedom of Georgia," the armed men say in the video.
"We Georgians who have been fighting for freedom in Ukraine…are also ready to fight for the freedom of Georgia," the armed men say in the video.

Garbed in military fatigues, faces masked by balaclavas, and fingers poised on the trigger of their guns, four men stand against a black backdrop and issue an appeal to fellow Georgians to retake lands lost in the 2008 war with Russia.

They call on Georgians to exploit the situation in Ukraine, where Russian forces are increasingly bogged down, facing fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his unprovoked assault on February 24.

"It is very hot in Ukraine today, and we Georgians have a unique opportunity to reclaim our land," one man says in a video uploaded to social media and apparently filmed somewhere in Ukraine, according to RFE/RL's Georgian Service.

"We Georgians who have been fighting for freedom in Ukraine...are also ready to fight for the freedom of Georgia.... Therefore, we urge you to take up arms and strike at the enemy. We will never have such a chance again."

The video with the appeal by the four individuals for Georgians to take up arms and reclaim South Ossetia and Abkhazia, breakaway regions lost in the 2008 war with Russia, was uploaded to YouTube on March 4. It quickly went viral, spreading across social media in Georgia, racking up tens of thousands of views and comments.

It's unclear who the men are, although they say they're fighting in Ukraine. Georgian fighters have been active in eastern Ukraine since 2014, when Russia began fomenting unrest by backing local separatists.

To help defend his country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has appealed to foreigners to travel to Ukraine to join an international legion. Some 20,000 people from 52 countries have volunteered to fight in Ukraine, according to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Doubts About Video's Authenticity

Some commentators aired concerns that the video was a provocation.

"Report this provocation! (Promotes terrorism) We must return our territories peacefully. We must live peacefully with Abkhazians and Ossetians," one commentator wrote on YouTube.

Ucha Nanuashvili, the head of the Georgia-based Democracy Research Institute Defender, told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that "spreading such messages may be in Russia's interests as well."

The video could also help fuel the Georgian government's narrative that the country's opposition, along with Ukrainian forces, is trying to drag Georgia into another war.

Any such moves will lead to an open confrontation with the Russian troops stationed in the breakaway regions."
-- Olesya Vartanyan, International Crisis Group

Russian forces are facing setbacks in their invasion of Ukraine, U.S. intelligence officials have said, casting serious doubt on Putin's apparent ultimate plan to install a puppet regime in Kyiv.

But whether Russia's military troubles in Ukraine could spell opportunity for Georgia may be wishful thinking, says Olesya Vartanyan, a regional analyst from the International Crisis Group.

"Any such moves will lead to an open confrontation with the Russian troops stationed in the breakaway regions," Vartanyan explained to RFE/RL in e-mailed remarks, noting that Russian forces in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are estimated to total 8,000.

In August 2008, Georgia attempted to recapture South Ossetia, which had fought a separatist war against Georgia in the 1990s.

Russia poured troops in, ousting Georgian forces from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, displacing more than 190,000 people. Now, Moscow recognizes both as independent states and maintains a major military presence in both regions.

Those geopolitical realities have likely impacted how Tbilisi has reacted diplomatically to Putin's unprovoked aggression in Ukraine.

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Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has made clear that Georgia would not join Western sanctions against Russia, claiming national interests and potential damage to Georgian producers.

Not surprisingly perhaps, Tbilisi's stance has meant the Caucasus country of 3.7 million has been excluded from Russia's list of "unfriendly countries," which includes all of the EU, the United States, Britain, Canada, and dozens more.

Moreover, on March 5, Russia's food-safety watchdog, Rosselkhoznadzor, announced it would lift sanctions on 15 Georgian milk and dairy suppliers, allowing it to import such products into Russia.

Ruslan Stefanchuk, chairman of the Ukrainian parliament, made a public statement following the lifting of Russia's sanctions on milk and dairy, saying, "Don't you see the people of Georgia who go to the squares of their cities and towns support Ukraine and not your muddy deals?"

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Founded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the ruling Georgian Dream party is widely criticized for presiding over corruption, democratic backsliding, and harboring sympathy for Russian policies. Its reluctance to impose sanctions against Russia has been seen as evidence by many in Georgia of the party's alignment with Putin's regime.

The government's stance has angered many, especially given the country's own tragic experience with the Russian military invasion in 2008.

Demonstrations in support of Ukraine have taken place in Tbilisi and other Georgian cities since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, attracting tens of thousands of people.

On March 1, a rally in Tbilisi in front of parliament demanded the resignation of Gharibashvili and his government, active steps to support Ukraine, as well as backed an official request for EU membership.

"First, Irakli Gharibashvili must leave.... Second, we must move to concrete and effective steps to help Ukraine," Droa party leader Elene Khoshtaria said at the rally.

The protesters said they felt shame after Zelenskiy recalled Ukraine's ambassador to Georgia because Georgian officials created "obstacles" for volunteers who want to help Ukraine and for "holding an immoral position regarding sanctions" against Russia.

On February 28, Georgian authorities did not allow a Ukrainian plane that was supposed to shuttle 30 Georgian volunteers to Kyiv to land at Tbilisi's airport.

Perhaps due to that public pressure, Tbilisi pivoted a little, announcing on March 2 that it would formally submit an application to join the EU, speeding up a process it originally planned to begin in 2024.

The next day, Georgia, along with Moldova, where Russian troops are also stationed in defiance of local and international opposition, formally applied for EU membership.

Another message calling Georgians to arms was delivered by Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Honcharenko on Facebook on February 26.

"Dear Georgians, the weather outside is wonderful. Can you go for a walk in Tskhinvali and Sukhumi? Can you destroy a few armored vehicles, tanks? Go, Georgians, get back what belongs to you. Georgia. It's time," Honcharenko wrote, referring to the regional capitals of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, respectively.

But the chances anyone in Georgia will answer that call is very unlikely, regional expert Vartanyan says.

"I am very confident that there is no planning to initiate any attacks on the breakaway regions. We do not see any such movements or preparations on the ground," he said.

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