03
May 2024
Past Event
Georgia, Ukraine, and the Euro-Atlantic Community: An Update from the Front Lines of Freedom

Event will air on this page.

 

Inquiries: mdewitt@hudson.org

Georgia, Ukraine, and the Euro-Atlantic Community: An Update from the Front Lines of Freedom

Past Event
Online Only
May 03, 2024
Georgia, Ukraine, and the Euro-Atlantic Community: An Update from the Front Lines of Freedom
Caption
Demonstrators protest against a controversial foreign influence bill, which Brussels warns would undermine Georgia's European aspirations, outside the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi on April 30, 2024. (Photo by Giorgi Arjevanidze/AFP via Getty Images)
03
May 2024
Past Event

Event will air on this page.

 

Inquiries: mdewitt@hudson.org

Speakers:
Nona Mamulashvili
Nona Mamulashvili

Former Member of Parliament, Georgia and Cofounder, Gamziri

Mamuka Mamulashvili
Mamuka Mamulashvili

Commander of the Georgian Legion

Moderator:
luke_coffey
Luke Coffey

Senior Fellow, Center on Europe and Eurasia

Listen to Event Audio

For several days, Georgians have demonstrated on the streets of Tbilisi against the Georgian Dream–led government’s moves to derail the country’s Euro-Atlantic future. Nona Mamulashvili, a former member of the Georgian parliament and cofounder of the Gamziri civic platform, has participated in the nightly protests. Hundreds of miles away, her brother Mamuka Mamulashvili commands the Georgian Legion in Ukraine. He and his troops have been fighting Russia there since 2014. 

Join Hudson Senior Fellow Luke Coffey for a conversation with the two siblings, who each serve on the frontlines of freedom in different ways. They will discuss what is at stake for Georgia, Ukraine, and the Euro-Atlantic community.

Event Transcript

This transcription is automatically generated and edited lightly for accuracy. Please excuse any errors.

Luke Coffey:

Thank you for joining us today for this special Hudson Institute event where we speak to Nona Mamulashvili and Mamuka Mamulashvili, who are brother and sister, both from Georgia and both in their unique way, serving on the front lines of freedom. Nona Mamulashvili is the co-founder of the Gamziri platform, and she has dedicated her life to improving the civil society and politics of Georgia. Until recently, she was a member of the Georgian Parliament until she resigned. And now with her leadership and her colleagues at Gamziri, they have been playing an active role in the Daily Street demonstrations against the Georgian Dream governments so-called Russian law, which youll talk about more in a little bit.

Joining us from an undisclosed location in Ukraine is her brother Commander Mamulashvili. Mamuka has dedicated his whole life to defending freedom and democracy and fighting Russia. He started his soldiering career at a very young age, alongside their father in the first Abkhaz war in the early 1990s, at which time he became a 14-year-old prisoner of war.

And fast-forwarding to more current times, in 2014, he went to Ukraine from Georgia to help support the Ukrainians after Russias first invasion. And at that time, he formed the Georgian Legion with just a handful of fellow men. And now today, the Georgian Legion has 1,200 or 1,300 men and women fighting inside the unit. Him and his soldiers have played a very active role on the front lines since Russias large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022.

So, were so lucky to be able to do this virtual family reunion. I think everyone recognizes the symbolism here of having siblings being so active in the defense of freedom and security in the Euro-Atlantic region. I know that your family must be very proud. Theyre probably also very worried, but thank you for finding time to join us today.

I want to first go to you, Nona. Youre live on the streets right now in Tbilisi. Its heading into the evening hours. Weve had days of street protests, street demonstrations against the so-called Russian law. Can you explain to our viewers what the Russian law is, what you and your colleagues at Gamziri are doing about it, and why people are coming out onto the streets every single night?

Nona Mamulashvili:

Good evening, Luke. Good morning for you. For us, its I think 17th day. I think we lost the count, how long were on the streets protesting against the Russian-style foreign agents law, which was introduced last year pretty much the same period by the Georgian government. They were trying to persuade that they needed the transparency and they needed this law in order to control where, how the donors money, and I should say the donors money coming to Georgias from our strategic partners in the US and the European Union, who are helping Georgia on our democratic path. So, they said that they wanted to control how this money is coming and the institutions, the NGOs that are receiving this money or the media at a later stage, had to declare themselves as the agents of foreign influence, which in other terms, means coming from the former Soviet space, the third agent, means the leveling because they try to demonize the society, the civil society, and the independent media, and they tried to silence the critical voices.

So last year, the Georgian people were here on the streets and we told them no, and they had to withdraw the law and they promised to the Georgian people, to the young people protesting here for their new Atlantic future, fighting for their new Atlantic future, that this law will not be coming back. So, one year later we have seen that their promises mean nothing. And they brought back exactly the same law, while trying to persuade through their propaganda machines that the United States has exactly the same law. And the European Union has exactly the same law, which is pure lie because this law comes from Russia. It is Russian style, it was used by Putin in order to silence the opponents, in order to silence the international community, and in order to silence the civil society that is fighting for Georgias democratic future.

And us in Gamziri, and Gamziri in Georgian means the avenue, this is the central avenue in front of the parliament where people come actually to protest when they disagree with the decisions of the government or to celebrate, when we have something to celebrate. So this time, again, Georgians are on the streets and we are defending our future, and we are defending our choice, which is written in our constitution, that more than 80% of Georgians want to see the country in the Euro-Atlantic structures. We want to be the part of the Western family. And what is happening here today is that Georgian government has carried out the constitutional coup against its own population.

Luke Coffey:

Exactly, and you and the tens of thousands of other peaceful demonstrators, you just want the government to operate within the bounds of the constitution, to continue down the path of Euro-Atlantic integration. I think this is a completely reasonable thing to expect, and I know that there are a lot of people here in Washington that are watching these events very, very closely.

I want to turn to you now, Mamuka. You are engaged in a completely different type of situation, a different type of struggle, whereas your sister is exercising her civic rights to peacefully demonstrate against the governments legislation, you on the other hand, are engaged in an armed conflict against the Russian Federation, who is trying to restore the Russian Empire. And you have been doing this your whole life. So, you are in a unique position to offer insight on what the situation is like for you and your soldiers on the ground in Ukraine.

Now of course, I understand that there are operational security concerns at stake, so nobody is expecting you to go into any detail. But insofar as you can, can you explain to us your situation, the situation of the Georgian Legion and how the recent aid package passed by the US Congress has had an impact and will have an impact in the war inside Ukraine?

Mamuka Mamulashvili:

Hello, Luke. Thank you for having me here. Id like to start my speech with one word that is very important for us. Compassion is why Georgian Legion is in Ukraine. Its awareness of what Georgia has gone through during this 30 years of independence, and how hard was the way getting the independence after the collapse of former Soviet Union. And me, myself, Im a diplomat by my profession. I did my master in diplomacy, but unfortunately I had no time to use it because Russia does not understand any diplomacy and unfortunately I have to be in a war since my 14, and this is one of the wars that Im participating in against Russia.

So, the morale is good. Georgian Legion, as you know, is the largest foreign formation within the armed forces of Ukraine. Morale is very good, especially after the news of the support of the United States. And a lot of guys were discussing either Ukraine receives it or not. So, it was surprisingly pleasant for everybody that we got 60 billion to support Ukraine. And little by little, were receiving the special specific weapon that will help us not only to defend occupied territories, but to push Russians out of the occupied territories of Ukraine. So, everybody is motivated, everybody knows that soon we will have the full package of support and were getting ready to push Russians.

Luke Coffey:

Thats good to hear. And in general terms, what would you say the priorities are? Now that the aid has been approved, weve already seen shipments head to Ukraine. As a tactical commander, what are the priorities?

Mamuka Mamulashvili:

The priorities are remaining the same. From the very beginning I was asking United States officials to send us a package. This is the most important weapon right now on the front line to make Russians back off. And little by little, were receiving this weapon and I hope very soon we will see the result. And were going to cut Russian logistics that is located on the territory of occupied Ukraine, but it was out of our reach, out of our weapon. And actually, there are a lot of more specific weapons that Ukraine is going to receive. I just cannot talk about it right now. And I hope very soon, we will see the results.

Luke Coffey:

I hope so too. Theres been many in Washington, including a lot of my colleagues at Hudson Institute, that have been spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill working with the administration, making the case for these weapons, like attack them. So, it is great that were starting to see some of these missiles arrive into theater.

Nona, going back to you, you mentioned this is day 16 or day 17, youve lost count. You must be exhausted. I know youre out there most nights, if not every night. But how resilient are these demonstrations against the governments draft to law? I know the weather has been nice in Tbilisi recently, but I think in the coming week, rain is forecasted and also I believe its Orthodox Easter celebrations coming up. And I suspect a lot of people leave the capital and go home to visit families and relatives across the country. So, are you confident that the momentum will be maintained or is it a concern of yours that the energy might slow down a little bit?

Nona Mamulashvili:

Look, I think this year is going to be very different and Georgians will not be going to their country houses to celebrate Easter and we will celebrate Easter here. And for us, the biggest celebration will be when we forced the Georgian government to withdraw the Russian foreign agents law.

The resilience is there because we are losing our future. And these students, these young people that are on the streets, they understand that we are on the brink of losing our statehood if this continues this way. So, weve been fighting for the last 30 years against Russian imperialism and we will continue fighting. We dont have the time to be tired because freedom needs to be defended. Freedom does not come free and it is not guaranteed.

So, these young children, young kids that are here on the street, the students, their parents, their grandparents, we understand that the Georgias future is being decided here. So there will be an Easter celebration right here on Gamziri, on the Central Street on Rustaveli Gamziri, in front of the parliament.

Luke Coffey:

And Ive been hearing from my friends that are also participating in the demonstrations that these are different, theres a different feel to them than last year and perhaps previous demonstrations, also that there are more younger people out on the streets. Is this what youre seeing as well and what does this mean?

Nona Mamulashvili:

Absolutely, Luke. Absolutely, because Ive been on many demonstrations for the last 30 years here in Georgia, and we were seeing the generations of our parents and we were seeing the elder generation being on the streets, and we were always wondering why there are not many students or young generation. This time and last year, the Gen Z as we call them, they really showed that they care about this country. They understand much more.

And this is thanks to all the assistance that we were getting, an education that we were getting from our Western partners, because these children, these kids, these students have been educated by those NGOs and international community that showed what are the Western values. And we understand, and this young generation on the street understand, that if we dont defend it, we will lose it. And losing means going back under Russian influence, going back under Russian reign here. And we have been there and we know that Russia brings destruction, Russia brings corruption, Russia brings poverty, and we dont want it.

So the young people that are on the streets . . . and this is unprecedented because Ive never seen so many people coming out on the street because they feel that this is when the Georgians future is decided. It was same last year when there were unprecedented number of the people that were the streets to defend and to protest against the Russian-style foreign agent law. And this year is twice bigger. So I think Georgian government will have to listen what these people have to tell to them.

Luke Coffey:

And Mamuka, youre a Ukrainian warrior, but youre also a Georgian patriot. Youre located hundreds of miles away from where your sister is standing now in Tbilisi. How does it make you feel when you see what is happening in Georgia right now? I know that the Georgian Dream-led government has been very critical of Georgian volunteers going to Ukraine. Personally, I think they should be erecting statues and renaming streets after some of the Georgian volunteers who have paid the ultimate price and sacrificed their lives in Ukraine. But you dont see that level of support or sympathy from the current government.

And you see this law that as described by almost everyone is . . . its a replica of Russian law that Moscow has instituted on cracking down on civil society. So when you see these demonstrations on social media, when you see your sister out there, how does it make you feel as Georgian?

Mamuka Mamulashvili:

You know, Luke, Ive been just talking to my friends several minutes ago about the idea of creation of Georgian Legion and the idea came to me just when I watched TV and they were Maidan in Ukraine. And the idea of Georgian Legion raised when a policeman was beating a young student on the street. That was the beginning of a Georgian Legion.

I would say that whole Georgian Legion is together with the Georgian society and Georgian people right now. But we know that the main fight against evil power is in Ukraine and all guys understand that we have to fight to defend Georgia. And the main fight for it is in Ukraine.

Of course, we are a part of Georgian society, we want to be there, but we have to stay. We have to continue our fight. And once the EU is defeated in Ukraine, it will back off in Georgia. So, guys are motivated to fight and of course theyre watching all the time whats going on in Georgia. And its apparently the same what was happening in Ukraine 10 years ago, when it all started against Russian occupation.

Luke Coffey:

Yeah, I think youre right. A Russian defeat in Ukraine will make Georgia safer and more secure. And thats why the work that you are doing as a Georgian but in Ukraine, I think is so important, not only for the transatlantic community, but for Georgia itself, for the Georgian people.

Nona, weve seen the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. Weve seen the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russias large-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Weve seen Russian meddling in the politics and domestic affairs of countries around the region. The latest example being this Russian law that is being debated in the Georgian parliament. Are these different events or are they all connected? What is the overall goal of the Kremlin, in your opinion?

Nona Mamulashvili:

Well, I think Putin is usually very frank and clear what he wants and what hes planning to do. Its just naive politicians in West think that he doesnt mean it, but we in Georgia and Ukraine knows what he means.

Back a decade or so ago, Putin said that it was the biggest tragedy, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest tragedy. And for him, it is imperative that he reconstitutes in this way or another Russian Empire. And he considers that those territories that hes attacking, occupying and waging war, belong to Russian sphere of influence.

So, in 2008 it was its first attempt to see what would be the response. And Georgia was the first country which had a war with Russia, which Russia attacked, and it showed to the rest of the world what theyre planning to do.

Unfortunately, when the Georgia was appealing to the international community, to the international society, that this is just the beginning and he has much bigger plans than just occupying Georgia, weve seen the reset buttons and weve seen the realpolitik that took over, which was pretty sad, and this allowed him to go farther unpunished.

So, he continued in 2014, what he started in Georgia, and he went unpunished again because realpolitik was very important. And understanding with Russia and the dialogue with Russia, or saving face for Russia, was very important. And then he understood that he can push farther and he unleashed the full scale war. And luckily, the world has understood that Russia is not the country that will comply to the agreements.

Russia is not the country which sticks to its word and whatever they say, they will do the contrary. And we have seen that the agreement that Russia is signing, they are just a piece of paper for them, until the right time comes and they will aggress the country.

So, this is the continuation of 2008. This is the continuation of Putins plans of the expansion, and we have to make sure that Georgia remains peaceful and Georgia resolves this critical situation in a constitutional manner, which means that the elections are upcoming in October and this is the choice of Georgians that we will see in October. And I think the choice of the Georgian people that are here on the streets today and for the many weeks now, it will be clear.

Luke Coffey:

And I wanted to ask you about the elections in October because those are the next pivotal moment in Georgias history. And of course, anyone who follows Georgian politics knows that the opposition is often fractured, it hasnt been able to coalesce on a single platform.

Do you think that this is changing? Do you see a new sense of urgency by opposition political groups to work more closely together, or do you see a different situation playing out between now and October?

Nona Mamulashvili:

No, I think we all understand that this is not a moment for the political discord. This is not the moment for the polarization. And this is not a moment for the party politics. This is the future of Georgian state that is being decided here. And we have seen that, again, unprecedented cooperation between the opposition parties and the population as such. So, nobody here is pushing their political agenda because the only thing that is very important today is to make sure Georgia does not sidetrack and we will not allow the Georgian government to steal the victory that we achieved last year and to steal our Euro-Atlantic future.

This is the choice of Georgians. This is the choice of the population of Georgia. It is in our constitution and all the political parties, together with the population of Georgia, we are defending our future within the Western family.

Luke Coffey:

And Mamuka, you just heard Nona say that all of these events are connected. This is a continuation of Putins desire to rebuild, enlarge, reestablish, the Russian Empire. And I always think about this particular tweet that you made a couple of years ago now where you said, The fight for Ukraine will end on the territory of Russia. What did you mean by this? How is all of this connected?

Mamuka Mamulashvili:

Look, unfortunately, Georgia has a pro-Russian government today, I would say even Russian government, and its a Russian influence in Georgia. Nona was mistaken in one detail, the war in Georgia started not in 2008. The war in Georgia and first aggression of Russia started in 1992, and it was against Georgia. Georgia was the first country who was attacked by Russia in 90s, and they repeated it several times in 2006 and in 2008.

Unfortunately, we did not get enough attention of world society to stop Russia by that time. And generally, it is a very hard time for Georgia. Its a time to get rid of Russian influence, and I hope Georgian society, Georgian people, will do everything to resolve a conflict with pro-Russian government peacefully. Its very important for us not to see blood in the streets of Georgia again, because in comparison to other countries, Georgia is over three million population. And for us and for Georgia, as for Ukrainians, it is very important. A peaceful change of the political power in Georgia . . . is with Georgian people in Georgian society. And we are the part of the Georgian society, whatever Georgian society tells us to.

Luke Coffey:

And as we conclude our conversation today, I want to ask each of you the same question. Ill go to you first. Nona, there will be a lot of lawmakers, policymakers, commentators, hill staff, other think tank colleagues, activists across the United States, that will be watching this event. What is your message to them? What does your average American need to know about this? What does your average . . . your hill staffer, your lawmaker, what do they need to know, Nona, about what is happening in Georgia and what is at stake?

Nona Mamulashvili:

Look, first of all, I want to say that we have heard a lot of concerns and deep concerns, in what is happening in our part of the world. And this was helpful at some stage, but this is not what we need. We need that the decision makers, they walk the talk. They need to walk the talk and to fulfill whatever theyre threatening, or whatever instrument they know they have against the people who are trying to divert from the constitutional rule of law in Georgia.

I think this is very important, that together with the concerns and deep concerns, we see that action. And I think the society, the Western community starts to wake up. I understand that Georgia is not a priority. There are many things that are going on globally and very grave things, but here we are, we are once again crying for the attention of the international community, of the international media, and for those friends who understand the stakes because its not only about Georgia. This, what is happening here, is much bigger than Georgia. It is the Russian expansion and it started in Georgia, and Russia wants to punish Georgia so that others dont follow the example.

And again, to the Western community, to those who are listening to us, we need to see the action. We need to see that you are not only concerned or deeply concerned, but you walk the talk. This is what is needed here today. The rest I think well manage here.

Luke Coffey:

Thanks, Nona. And Mamuka, from your point of view, a completely different situation in Ukraine, but you have a lot of people watching. What is your message to them? What needs to be done? What do Americans need to know?

Mamuka Mamulashvili:

Americans need to know that the movement against Soviet Union started in Georgia. Georgia is one of the first countries who stood against Soviet Union. Georgians are not going to give up and going to finish Russia in Ukraine, whatever it costs. Georgian Legion is a formation that will do everything to break Russia into the parts. To all Americans to know that we regard you as our best friends and I hope you will be standing with Ukraine. your friendship is very important for us.

Luke Coffey:

Thank you. Well, thanks to both of you for taking time to chat with me today, or this evening, for both of you. I know you have a lot of work ahead of you. For Nona, the night probably just started.

Nona Mamulashvili:

Yeah.

Luke Coffey:

And Mamuka, I hope you can get some rest yourself, but I wish both of you and the Georgian people and the people of Ukraine, the best of luck during these difficult times. And just stay strong and know that you have quite a few Americans that are here supporting you. So, keep up the good work, keep up the good fight for your freedom and your democracy and God bless.

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