MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Friday cautioned allies across the former Soviet Union of the perils of aligning with the United States after what Moscow said was a Western-backed coup attempt in Georgia similar to the Ukrainian “Maidan” revolution of 2014.
Russia, tied down in the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War Two, has seen its authority challenged by a number of neighbours and traditional allies since President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine in February last year.
In Tbilisi, thousands of Georgians took to the streets over three consecutive nights to protest against what they said was a Russian-inspired “foreign agents” law that threatened to derail the country’s bid for closer ties with Europe.
“It is very similar to the Kyiv Maidan,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told state television, referring to the 2014 Maidan revolution which toppled a pro-Russian president in Ukraine.
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“It seems to me that all the countries located around the Russian Federation should draw their own conclusions about how dangerous it is to take a path towards engagement with the United States’ zone of responsibility, its zone of interests.”
The remarks from Putin’s top diplomat indicate the level of nervousness in Moscow over the weakening of its authority everywhere from Armenia and Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus to Kazakhstan and Tajikistan in Central Asia.
Putin casts the war in Ukraine as an existential battle with the West over the future of both Russia and its former Soviet and imperial satellites which since 1991 have been courted by the United States, NATO, the EU, and China.
Washington, Brussels and NATO say they are legitimately building ties with countries which became independent after the fall of the Soviet Union – and that many fear their much more powerful neighbour Russia.
For centuries, Russia has been the ultimate arbiter of affairs across the vast lands which for nearly three centuries made up the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union.
But the war in Ukraine, which Putin casts as a watershed moment when Moscow finally pushed back against the West’s attempts to contain it, has tied down Russia’s military.
Opponents of Putin say the war could ultimately usher in a new phase of the Soviet collapse that could sow chaos across Russia and allow rivals to turn Moscow’s former satellites either towards the West or towards China.
Washington and the broader West, Lavrov said, wanted to punish Russia because it was perceived as “too independent a player” which challenged the hegemony of the United States.
Lavrov, Putin’s foreign minister since 2004, said that events in Georgia were orchestrated from outside and motivated by a Western attempt to claw away Russia’s traditional allies.
He said Georgia’s law on foreign agents, which parliament dropped on Friday, had been used as a pretext “to start what is, essentially, an attempt to force a change of power.”
He did not present evidence to back his assertions. Opposition politicians and protesters in Georgia deny they are puppets.
They say they simply did not agree with the proposed law and want a Western future which Russia, that fought a war against Georgia in 2008, does not offer.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Osborn)
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