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Over the past few months in Georgia, the spread of narratives regarding the threat of “Turkish expansionism” has intensified, as a number of pro-Kremlin actors, including media outlets and far-right Facebook pages, have increasingly characterized Turkey as an emerging existential threat for Georgia.
Turkey and Georgia have built a strong economic, diplomatic, and strategic relationship with one another. Of all its immediate neighbors – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia, and Turkey – Turkey is the only country with which Georgia has demarcated 100 percent of its border; the borders with its other neighbors are not entirely defined, mostly out of a lack of consensus between the countries and low political desire to resolve the issue.
As Turkey is Georgia’s closest strategic partner in the region and the largest investor in its economy, the Turkish-Georgian relationship has attracted significant attention from pro-Kremlin actors. In particular, as a means of spoiling this close relationship, Kremlin allies have pushed narratives about the threat of “Turkish expansionism” in Georgia for several years.
The DFRLab identified several recurring anti-Turkey narratives among pro-Kremlin Russian and Georgian media outlets and Facebook pages. Among other claims, these sources alleged that Turkey sought to conquer or fracture Georgia’s southwestern Adjara region, that Turkish investors are taking over the Georgian economy, and that Georgian cities have become overrun with Turkish tourists. These narratives all factored into a broader effort to fuel anti-Turkish sentiment in the country.
How Anti-Turkish Sentiment Spread in Georgia
A particularly prominent conspiracy theory concerned the status of Georgia’s southwestern Autonomous Republic of Adjara, a semi-autonomous region in the country that borders Turkey.
According to the conspiracy theory, Russia does not plan to extend the Treaty of Kars – which delineated the borders between the now-former Soviet Union and Turkey – after 2021; as a result, according to the conspiracy, Turkey would seize the city of Batumi when the Treaty expires. In reality, however, the 100-year-old treaty has no expiration date.
To lend the conspiracy theory more credibility, these outlets often referenced the “military expert” Jeffrey Silverman. Silverman is the chief of the Georgia bureau of the Kremlin-affiliated online outlet Veterans Today and a favorite expert commentator among Kremlin-run media outlets. Veterans Today often pushed various conspiracy theories routinely employed by the Kremlin, such as denial of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.