Russia is working with smugglers to establish supply routes for material that can’t reach Russia because of Western sanctions, Ukrainian intelligence is claiming.
The message from the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence explains that Russia, who has seen standard trade routes disrupted by sanctions, says Georgian authorities are colluding with smugglers to get the contraband around the embargo.
“To avoid sanctions, Russian agents are working with the trade routes that go through Georgia,” the intelligence report said. “The representatives of Georgian intelligence have received an order from the politicians in charge not to intervene with smugglers.”
The smuggled supplies are both of military and civilian nature, the message said.
This claim comes in the context of heightened worries about Georgia’s future as a potential hub for the Russian capital, otherwise frozen out of Europe. Kelly C. Degnan, the U.S. ambassador to Georgia, sounded the alarm in a March 23 interview with Radio Free Liberty.
“Washington wouldn’t want Georgia to be used as a ‘black door’ by companies and private individuals that want to avoid sanctions… We’re watching this very closely” she added.
Russia and Georgia have a complicated history. The countries fought a 12-day war in August 2008, which led to the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia being recognized by Russia as “independent republics. No other European nation recognizes them.
Nevertheless, more than 35,000 Russian people fled to the country since the start of the war as well as several hundred registered businesses, reported investigative Ukrainian agency NV.
Additionally, the Georgian response to Russia’s war has been mixed. Georgia is one of the few European countries that hesitated to join the imposition of sanctions against Russia, at one point completely rejecting the possibility.
However, on Thursday, the country’s President Salome Zourabichvili pledged to join all of the sanctions and joint resolutions in a CNN interview.
Yet, just days later, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said the country will not join economic sanctions against Russia.
“I want to explain this one more time. Implementing economic sanctions from Georgia is not an option,” he told Newsgeorgia. “We, our team, are coming from the place of national security, from the place of defending the Georgia people.”
Georgia, which has close banking ties with Russia, has been impacted by some of the sanctions directed at Russia’s financial institutions. In particular, the Russian bank VTB, which has been cut off from the international SWIFT payment system, services a number of Georgian nationals.
The president and the prime minister seem to be in direct opposition, with no clarity in sight.