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Tbilisi accuses Ukrainian official of plot to overthrow Georgian government

FILE -  man waves a Georgian national flag in front of a burning barricade as other protesters stand behind near the Georgian parliament building in Tbilisi, 9 March 2023.
FILE - man waves a Georgian national flag in front of a burning barricade as other protesters stand behind near the Georgian parliament building in Tbilisi, 9 March 2023. Copyright Zurab Tsertsvadze/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Zurab Tsertsvadze/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Joshua Askew
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Plotters allegedly wanted to harness anger among young Georgians to violently topple the government, according to Tbilisi.

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Tbilisi has accused a senior Ukrainian official of trying to topple the Georgian government, amid a time of fraught relations between Kyiv and the Caucasian country. 

Georgia’s State Security Service (SSG) claimed Georgi Lortkipanidze, the deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence, was "plotting" to "violently overthrow" those in power this winter.

Lortkipanidze is a former member of a strongly pro-Western Georgian government.

Ukraine rejected these accusations as false, while the SSG did not provide evidence to support their claims.

Under the increasingly pro-Russian Georgian Dream party, Tbilisi has allegedly helped the Kremlin, even though a majority of Georgians support Ukraine.

This is at least the seventh time since Georgian Dream came to power in 2012 that officials have claimed a coup was looming.  

Several opposition figures suggested the statement was an attempt to distract from a scandal surrounding the sanctioning of a former chief prosecutor by the US for his alleged connections to Russia.

VANO SHLAMOV/AFP or licensors
File - Georgian anti-government protesters rally outside the parliament as lawmakers vote to call off controversial "foreign agent" bill, March 2023.VANO SHLAMOV/AFP or licensors

The SSG said supposed coup leader Lortkipanidze had Georgians fighting Russian troops in Ukraine and a former bodyguard of imprisoned ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili as accomplices.

Some of these people “are undergoing training near the border between Ukraine and Poland,” it claimed.

Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said Tbilisi was "trying to demonise Ukraine" for internal reasons. 

"The Ukrainian state did not interfere, does not interfere and does not plan to interfere in the internal affairs of Georgia," he wrote on Facebook.

The SSG suggested part of the coup would involve anti-government demonstrations planned in the Georgian capital between October and December, months during which the next assessments on Georgia's progress towards EU membership are due. 

It alleged plotters wanted to harness anger among young Georgians if their country failed to get candidate status. 

Support for joining the bloc among Georgia’s some four million citizens is as high as 81%, according to a 2022 poll by the National Democratic Institute. 

However, shady far-right groups have been accused of staging demos to ferment anti-EU, pro-Russian sentiment. 

Georgia says it is committed to joining the EU. But it was denied candidate status last year, with Brussels saying it must reduce political polarisation and improve state institutions. 

The country is widely seen as having worsened since then, with Georgian Dream trying to implement 'Foreign Agent' legislation that threatened democracy, according to the country's civil society. 

Relations with Europe have also suffered since the invasion of Ukraine as Tbilisi avoided blaming Moscow, though Russian troops are stationed in the country's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

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In early March, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the Georgian capital, accusing the government of distancing them from their country's pro-Western aspirations.

Many Georgians resent Russia's backing for the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Georgians are well-represented among foreigners fighting for Ukraine.

Though Tbilisi has shipped humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it has declined to impose sanctions on Russia, and in May allowed direct flights to and from its vast neighbour for the first time since 2019.

The same month, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili blamed the expansion of the Western NATO alliance for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

In December, the chair of the ruling party suggested that Georgians fighting in Ukraine could lose their citizenship.

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