Pro-Kremlin campaign promotes “anti-Maidan” movement in Georgia
Georgian far-right party Alt-Info conducted a cross-platform social media campaign claiming the West was fomenting a coup against the country
BANNER: Image shared by Conservative Movement calling on supporters to join the anti-Maidan movement. (Source: “ზურაბ მახარაძის მხარდამჭერები“ )
On September 25, 2023, the Georgian far-right group Alt-Info and its affiliated political party, Conservative Movement, declared the launch of an “anti-Maidan” movement in Georgia. The announcement came shortly after the State Security Services of Georgia (SSSG) reported on September 18 that certain groups, with the assistance of foreign support, were planning to foment an uprising in Georgia. Later, on October 2, SSSG claimed that USAID trainers were conspiring to incite unrest in Georgia.
“Anti-Maidan” refers to pro-Russia demonstrations that took place in Ukraine and Russia between 2013 and 2015. The demonstrations aimed to counter the pro-West Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, which ultimately led to the removal of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych from power.
The DFRLab found that Alt-Info promoted a Georgian anti-Maidan movement across multiple social media platforms, including TikTok, Telegram, Facebook, and YouTube.
Alt-Info announces anti-Maidan movement
Alt-Info is a violent far-right and pro-Kremlin group with a national broadcast license in Georgia. Local fact-checking organizations have documented multiple instances of Alt-Info members amplifying disinformation. In the aftermath of a violent attack it conducted against journalists and LGBTQ+ activists on July 5, 2021 that resulted in the death of a TV cameraman, Alt-Info leaders founded a political party, Conservative Movement, which advocates for “direct and unconditional dialogue” and a “close partnership and alliance” with Russia. The US Department of State’s 2022 country terrorism report for Georgia described Alt-Info as a “far-right, pro-Russia group associated with violent extremism.”
Alt-Info first mentioned plans for an anti-Maidan movement on July 8, 2023, following an attack they helped orchestrate on the Tbilisi Pride Festival. The movement’s leader, Zura Makharadze, said the movement would prevent liberals from carrying out a coup and stop Georgia from becoming a “second front” in the war, referencing a narrative that claims support for Ukraine will lead to a Russian invasion of Georgia.
At a press conference on September 25, 2023, Alt-Info and Conservative Movement leaders asserted that the primary aim of the anti-Maidan movement is to safeguard Georgia from anticipated unrest in the country, a reference to the then-forthcoming European Union (EU) decision on Georgia’s candidacy status, which Georgia was granted on December 14 of that year.
Announcing their plans, Shota Martinenko, one of Alt-Info’s leaders, said the goal was to establish “well-organized unified groups across Georgia to ensure that we can swiftly mobilize tens of thousands of people from various regions within hours.” Article 223 of Georgia’s criminal code prohibits creating or managing illegal formations such as militia, units, detachments, or other groups.
Alt-Info and Conservative Movement’s narratives promoting an anti-Maidan movement and fearmongering with the threat of a second front are aligned with narratives of the ruling Georgian Dream party. Since 2014, Georgian Dream has accused protesters and opposition parties of being part of a domestic Maidan movement and attempting to overthrow the government. The ruling party intensified its anti-West rhetoric after Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the Georgian government’s initial failure to receive candidate status from the EU. In one common narrative, Georgian Dream leaders blame the West for attempting to drag Georgia into a war. In March 2023, as demonstrations against a Russian-inspired “foreign agents bill” brought tens of thousands to the streets, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili labeled the protesters as “servants of foreign countries,” referring to the West. Georgian Dream Chairperson Irakli Kobakhidze described the protesters as “foreign agents” aiming to overthrow the government, a commonly cited narrative that aligns with the Kremlin’s propaganda outputs.
Amplification of anti-Maidan narratives on social media
The DFRLab found Alt-Info and Conversative Movement promoted the anti-Maidan movement on TikTok, Telegram, Facebook, and YouTube.
The DFRLab identified twenty-three TikTok channels associated with Alt-Info. Of these channels, eighteen had variations of “alt info” in their name, such as alt_news, alt_info_news, alt_infoeli, and others. Some of these channels may have been created in batches as they used a repetitive naming pattern that consists of “altinfo” followed by a number, for example, altinfo1, altinfo2, altinfo5, altinfo8, etc. As of January 5, 2024, seven accounts were either deleted or deactivated, while seventeen remain active. These channels sometimes post identical content. They primarily amplify Alt-Info broadcasts, frequently sharing edited video clips from Alt-Info programs, often with different captions. The consistent style and content across these channels suggests the possibility of centralized management, but this cannot be confirmed. Notably, three channels are dormant with no recent activity, and one is private, limiting access to its content.
Additionally, Arsen Popkhadze – an individual the DFRLab previously identified as managing the assets of an inauthentic Facebook network promoting the newly established Conservative Movement – managed a channel named “მსოფლიო პოლიტიკა” (“World Politics”), which had an “admin blog” section in which Popkhadze posted his analysis of political developments in the region and in Ukraine. As of January 5, 2024, the channel is no longer active. The DFRLab identified another channel with a similar name, “world_political_news,” which had the highest following with 16,600 subscribers. The style of this channel’s videos, including the colors and fonts used in video captions, closely resemble Popkhadze’s “World Politics” channel, suggesting that this channel could also be managed by Popkhadze.
Using the social media listening tool Analisia.io, which shut down prior to publishing, the DFRLab determined the approximate viewership of each TikTok channel. Regarding overall viewership, “alt_news” was the most popular, with 371,339 views as of January 5, 2024.
Seven channels actively amplified videos related to the anti-Maidan movement using the hashtags #ანტიმაიდანი (“anti-Maidan”) and #რევოლუცია (“revolution”). As of January 5, 2024, the hashtag #ანტიმაიდანი (“anti-Maidan”) had accumulated more than one million views, predominantly from videos related to the Conservative Movement and their announcement of the anti-Maidan movement. Additionally, three other frequently used hashtags among these channels were #კონსერვატიულიმოძრაობა (“conservative movement”), #altinfo, and #ალტინფო (“altinfo”). These hashtags were commonly employed to categorize and promote content related to Conservative Movement and Alt-Info.
The channels that amplified the anti-Maidan movement shared false narratives suggesting the West is planning a violent coup in Georgia, as they claim it did in Ukraine. For example, the channel “alt_info.konservatori,” which is no longer active, posted a video of Makharadze’s address with the caption, “The choice boils down to two options: either you support Ukraine’s fate for Georgia, or you fight against it.” This statement aligns with a recurring pro-Kremlin narrative that claims the West is orchestrating coups and revolutions in various countries. The EUvsDisinfo database, the flagship project of the EU East Stratcom Task Force, contains more than six hundred disinformation cases related to this narrative.
The DFRLab identified eight channels on Telegram associated with Alt-Info. The channel “🌍მსოფლიო პოლიტიკა🌏” (“World Politics”) belongs to Popkhadze, who manages the TikTok channel with the same name. The channel “BeqaNews” is owned by Beka Vardosanidze, an individual with close ties to Alt-Info. “Alt-Info News” and “Alt-Info • ალტ-ინფო” broadcast TV programs and statements from Alt-Info members. The remaining channels belong to the group’s leaders, Makharadze, Shota Martinenko, Irakli Martinenko, and Giorgi Kardava. Four channels, BeqaNews, Alt-Info News, Alt-Info • ალტ-ინფო, and “🌍მსოფლიო პოლიტიკა🌏” (“World Politics”), were created between 2020-2022 and all promoted the violent attack on Tbilisi Pride Fest on July 8, 2023. The channels belonging to Alt-Info’s leaders were created in 2023.
The eight Telegram groups appear to be coordinating to promote the anti-Maidan movement as they all forward each other’s posts, sometimes within minutes. For example, a post on Martinenko’s Telegram channel encouraged Alt-Info’s supporters to gather contact information from individuals interested in joining the anti-Maidan movement. The post, with an identical caption, was quickly forwarded to three other channels within minutes.
The DFRLab used TG Collector to analyze posts from the eight identified Telegram channels, collecting posts from each channel’s creation date until December 31, 2023. We filtered the content to identify posts containing the keywords “მაიდანი”/”მაედანი” (“Maidan/Maedan”). We identified 605 posts, excluding false positive results. Our analysis found that the keyword “Maidan/Maedan” was frequently used to disseminate three primary messages: the West is allegedly planning a violent coup in Georgia; the West-instigated coup in Ukraine led to war; and sharing general logistics related to the anti-Maidan movement.
The periods when mentions of “Maidan/Maedan” increased coincide with the two largest pro-West protests in the country. The first peak occurred in June 2022, the anniversary of demonstrations known locally as “Gavrilov’s Night,” which saw tens of thousands of people march under a “Home to Europe” banner to express support for Georgia’s EU aspirations. The second peak was observed in March 2023 during demonstrations against the “foreign agents bill.” In August, mentions of “Maidan/Maedan” increased steadily after Alt-Info discussed their plans for the anti-Maidan movement. The third and largest peak occurred in September 2023, following the Conservative Movement’s announcement of the anti-Maidan movement. In October 2023, mentions remained high, with posts primarily being about the leaders of Conservative Movement conducting regional meetings and introducing the movement to their supporters. In November, the discussion shifted to focus on the then-upcoming decision regarding Georgia’s EU candidacy status and SSG’s accusation that USAID-funded trainers plotted unrest in Georgia.
Meta has taken down several inauthentic networks connected to Alt-Info, with the most recent removal occurring in 2022. Since then, Alt-Info has migrated its activity to messaging apps, but the group still repeatedly attempts to return to Facebook. However, its newly created pages tend to have a short lifespan. Currently, the only Facebook page associated with Alt-Info is “Alt-info ალტ-ინფო,” which was created on November 12, 2023. This page is promoted in Alt-Info’s Telegram channels and provides videos from Alt-Info broadcasts. The page also runs the public Facebook group “ალტ-ინფო Alt-Info,” which was created on the same day. Along with Alt-Info’s Facebook page, the group is managed by the profile “ეროვნული საქართველო” (“National Georgia”).
Alt-Info’s content is amplified on Facebook through assets connected to the Conservative Movement political party. In 2022, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) identified ten pages, twenty-three groups, and fourteen user accounts linked to the Conservative Movement on Facebook. According to ISFED, Alt-Info appears to utilize Conservative Movement assets to gain access to the platform. These assets include pages, groups, and user accounts for the Conservative Movement’s regional chapters. The DFRLab found that these assets also promoted the anti-Maidan movement on Facebook.
The DFRLab found five channels on YouTube linked to Alt-Info and Conservative Movement. The channel “Alt-Info • ალტ-ინფო” republishes TV broadcasts and TikTok content. The remaining four channels belong to the group’s leaders, Irakli Martinenko, Shota Martinenko, Giorgi Kardava, and Makharadze. All five channels were created between February and September 2023. The channels for Irakli Martinenko, Shota Martinenko, and Giorgi Kardava were created between September 7-8, two weeks before the announcement of the anti-Maidan movement. All the channels, except for Makharadze’s, promote the anti-Maidan movement and statements made by Alt-Info’s leaders regarding the movement. Makharadze’s channel is dedicated to providing updates on Ukraine, including in Russian, but the channel has been dormant since April 2023.
Looking ahead to Georgian elections
The DFRLab’s analysis of how Alt-Info channels promoted the anti-Maidan movement on TikTok, Telegram, Facebook, and YouTube reveals a reliance on anti-West conspiracy messaging to uphold their cause. The channels amplify a narrative that claims the West is plotting a coup in Georgia and echo the SSSG report that claims there is a risk of a Euromaidan-style uprising in Georgia. This message aligns closely with the agenda of the Georgian Dream ruling party, which increased its anti-West rhetoric following Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine and Georgia’s initial failure to secure EU candidate status (which has since been granted). Given the upcoming crucially important parliamentary elections in the fall of 2024, attacks on Georgian civil society and the country’s strategic Western partners are expected to intensify further, shaping the political landscape in the lead-up to the elections.
Cite this case study:
Sopo Gelava, “Pro-Kremlin campaign pushes ‘Anti-Maidan’ movement in Georgia,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), February 8, 2024, https://dfrlab.org/2024/02/08/pro-kremlin-campaign-promotes-anti-maidan-movement-in-georgia.