Georgian tycoon enters politics as pro-Kremlin outlets and Georgian far-right promote him online
Russian outlets and far-right group Alt-Info
Russian outlets and far-right group Alt-Info camouflage Levan Vasadze’s anti-LGBT activism under banner of conservative values
Pro-Kremlin media outlets and the Georgian far-right group Alt-Info have actively started promoting Levan Vasadze, a pro-Russian tycoon and anti-LGBT activist who has recently entered Georgian politics.
On May 6, 2021, Levan Vasadze announced he would establish a new political party, “Unity, Essence, Hope,” six months before local elections are scheduled to be held in Georgia. The upcoming elections will be particularly consequential for the country’s political future, because they will lead to snap parliamentary elections if the governing party, Georgian Dream, fails to achieve a minimum threshold of 43 percent.
Georgia is a profoundly conservative society where religion and traditional values play a big role. According to the latest International Republican Institute (IRI) public opinion polls, 89 percent of Georgians find Georgia’s Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II as the most favorable person in the country, while the Georgian church (79 percent) is the second most trusted institution after the country’s army (82 percent). Vasadze’s views thus have the potential to resonate with a significant portion of Georgian society. The DFRLab has previously covered how various actors in Georgia have fueled anti-Western and anti-LGBT sentiment under the banner of religious conservatism.
Who is Levan Vasadze?
Levan Vasadze is Georgian businessmen who made his fortune in Russia, where he was the first vice president of Sistema, a large joint-stock financial corporation with its headquarters in Moscow. Vasadze has strong links with Alexander Dugin, a “Eurasianist” philosopher known for his far-right views and close ties to the Kremlin. Vasazde has previously acknowledged his friendship with Dugin.
In Georgia, Vasadze is known for his hardline xenophobic and homophobic attitudes and connections to local far-right and hate groups. He was one of the organizers of the violent protest rallies in November 2019 against the Georgian premiere of “And Then We Danced,” a film with gay protagonists. In July 2019, Vasadze announced the formation of the vigilante patrols who would be “equipped with belts” against “gay propaganda,” and would work to “establish order” in Tbilisi. The Ministry of Interior launched an inquiry into his statement under the Georgian Criminal Code, which prohibits the formation of armed “illegal groupings.”
Vasadze also represents the World Congress of Families (WCF) in Georgia. WCF is an U.S.-based Christian evangelical organization that promotes Christian values internationally. In the countries in which it operates, it is often associated with the far-right, targeting the LGBT community under the guise of protecting “family values” and “traditional marriages.” According to reports from U.S.-based and Georgia-based monitoring NGOs, despite being based in the U.S., the WCF also has ties to the Russian Orthodox Church and Eurasian far-right and neo-nazi figures. Vasadze also often attends events with Georgia’s Patriarch, Ilia II.
Vasadze is firmly anti-Western. He accuses the United States of “supporting homosexuality all over the world” and demanding that the West “stop interfering in Georgia’s affairs and attacking church and family traditions via financing local NGOs.”
Promoted on Russian outlets and social media
Soon after Vasadze’s announcement regarding the establishment of a political party, pro-Kremlin outlets started promoting the Georgian tycoon, describing him as “an anti-liberal Orthodox Christian and an anti-abortion believer” who defends Georgia from Western influence and puts family values first, in contrast to most of Georgia’s other political parties.
Articles published in these outlets stated that there should be “no dialogue with the liberal West, which has betrayed its Christian foundations,” and argued that Georgia and Russia should unite against Western influence.
An interview with Vasadze has also been promoted on fringe Russian websites dedicated to religion. In the interview, he portrays the West as fascist because of its liberal and democratic values and accuses the latter of being an enemy of family values and Christianity.
The same narratives have spread on the Russian social network VK by suspicious accounts identifying themselves as “information pages” in their about section. User engagement with these narratives, however, was close to zero.
While some Russian online outlets have presented Vasadze as the lone defender of religion and tradition in Georgia, others have highlighted his potential to invigorate Georgia’s relationship with “Orthodox Russia.” According to this narrative, Georgia and Russia are both Orthodox Christian countries and they should stand together against “totalitarian global liberalism.” These articles also claim that better relations with Russia may help hasten the de-occupation of Georgian territories by Russia.
Promoted by Georgian far-right group
Vasadze has also been promoted on Facebook by Alt-Info, a far-right group spreading anti-Western and anti-LGBT narratives in Georgia. The group has previously engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook that led to multiple takedowns of its assets.
After its initial de-platforming, Alt-info returned to Facebook with a new page, “ალტერნატიული ინფორმაცია” (Alternative information) on April 15, 2021. The page spread anti-Western and anti-LGBT narratives and actively promoted Levan Vasadze until it was de-platformed again by Facebook in May 2021 after the DFRLab identified the group’s return to the platform.
One of the leaders of Alt-Info, Emre Kuchuk, created a custom Facebook frame promoting Vasadze’s new political party.
Vasadze’s formal entrance into Georgian politics has been welcomed by far-right groups, but it remains to be seen whether he will be a prominent force among the broader public ahead of the local elections.
Eto Buziashvili is a Research Associate, Caucasus, with the Digital Forensic Research Lab.
Cite this case study:
Eto Buziashvili, “Georgian tycoon enters politics as pro-Kremlin outlets and Georgian far-right promote him online,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), May 26, 2021, https://medium.com/dfrlab/georgian-tycoon-enters-politics-as-pro-kremlin-outlets-and-georgian-far-right-promote-him-online-febb6bf4b487.
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