– Ivan Sokolov invites you to a bar in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, on the entrance in capital letters "Russia is Occupant" (dt. Russia is an occupier) stands. The political stance of the owners is thus clear. As well, who is wanted and who is not. The memories and pain are still deep in the country, that just before 15 been through something similar for years, as Ukraine is experiencing right now.
Ivan Sokolov is Russian himself. We had to change his name, because his family still lives in Russia and the fear is great, that she has to suffer from his statements. Sokolov is one of around 100.000 Russians, those in the last 15 months fled to Georgia. They came in two waves: In March 2022, when the war started, and in September, when Putin announced partial mobilization.
Krieg, sanctions, Loss of freedom - all this drove and drives people in droves from their homeland. With his war, Putin scares away young people in particular, highly qualified people from his country. To Georgia, but also to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, to Turkey or Europe.
Most Russians, who are leaving the country, belong to the more affluent part of society and bring purchasing power to their new home. According to a survey by the German Economic Team 84 Percent of the Russians who have immigrated have a higher education, knapp 60 percent work in the IT sector. The average monthly income is 2600 US-Dollar. In comparison, Georgians earn an average of around 650 US dollars monthly.
That is having an effect: 2022 Georgia's economy experienced a real boom. Since the start of the Ukraine war, the country has been able to 3,7 million inhabitants in the South Caucasus recorded economic growth of more than ten percent. Russians open bank accounts, use services, sometimes took their entire companies with them to the neighboring country. According to a report by Transparency International-Georgia 2022 15.000 Russian companies registered in Georgia.
Ivan Sokolov came shortly after the war began, at the beginning of March 2022, to Tbilisi. He has been working remotely for a Russian blockchain company for a few months, based in Portugal. Now, more than a year later, his entire circle of friends is here. "Tbilisi feels like Moscow ten years ago", said is.
But not only refugees like Sokolov ensure economic growth. Georgia fills in for jobs, where the EU has disappeared as a supply region due to sanctions. The export of textiles and food to the neighboring country increased, as did the number of re-exported cars. In addition, Georgia exported 2022 23 percent more wine to Russia than in the previous year.
Tourism is also booming: Georgia is one of the few countries, which Russians can enter without a visa. 2022 were 20 Percent of all tourists in Georgia from Russia, these are 4,3 percent more than 2021. Overall, Georgia took last year through remittances, Tourism and goods exports from Russia around 3,6 billion US dollars, three times more than the year before, reports Transparency International-Georgia.
The dark side of profit
All this makes Georgia largely dependent on Russia. Would the country cease economic ties with Vladimir Putin's empire, would be tantamount to an economic catastrophe, say experts.
That the country benefits from the war, but no one wants to write on the flag here. The Georgian government is trying to distance itself. Ekaterine Guntsadze, the Deputy Finance Minister of Georgia, emphasized to WirtschaftsWoche, that the war factor in economic growth should be considered an outlier: “This is a very complicated situation, and we consider them as such", she comments. "She doesn't make us happy and we are and must be careful."
She points out the negative effects. The rents in the capital Tbilisi have risen to record sums due to the newcomers, inflation also continues to rise. “Also, we would prefer to have tourists from Ukraine or Belarus, as migrants due to the war”, says the deputy finance minister.
But they don't want to provoke the Russians either. It is true that the people are drawn towards the EU. 2008, when Russian troops invaded Georgia, but no one came to help. Still are only a few kilometers from the capital, in South Ossetia, Russian soldiers and missiles stationed - almost 20 percent of Georgia is still occupied by the Russians.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, Putin is trying to smooth things over: Three weeks ago, the Russian President surprisingly lifted the visa requirement for Georgians and allowed Georgian airlines to use Russian airspace. Shortly thereafter, he offered Georgia a concession in long-strained relations. "We are ready, to walk our part of the way, make accommodating steps and will continue to do so depending on it, how our partners react”, the Kremlin chief said last week at a meeting with Russian businessmen.