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In Georgia, Fears Of Being Back On Putin's Hit List

Putin has not forgotten about the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, which wants to decide in July whether to join Russia. People here still remember when the Russian army invaded while the West looked on. And there is growing worry that this could soon happen again.

A man walks past a building marked with the Russian Army Z.

A man walks past a building marked with the Russian Army Z in celebration of Victory Day in Tskhinval, South Ossetia.

Gregor Schwung

ERGNETI — Every time Russian troops exercise in South Ossetia, people in this Georgian border village hear the artillery. The aftershock reverberations are already causing the stones in Lia Khlachidze’s house to crumble off the wall. She lives in Ergneti, only about 100 meters as the crow flies from the demarcation line.

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The 69-year-old is standing in her cellar, leafing through a book until she finds a particular page. On it is the footprint of a Russian soldier. “In 2008, Russia invaded here and burned and devastated everything,” Lia says. “They didn’t want us to come back.”

But Lia did just that, rebuilding her house on the same spot a year after the war ended. She picked up what was left of her previous life and used it to put together a makeshift museum in her new basement. Photos of the war hang on the walls, and a Georgian flag and a burned-out toy car are in a display case.

When Lia thinks about the Ukraine war, she thinks about what many in Georgia are currently wondering: What does Putin plan to do afterwards? For her, it’s clear: “If the Russians come again, I’ll be the first to be hit again.”

The Kremlin doesn't forget

In August 2008, Russia invaded Georgia, and within five days captured the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, killing 850 people, according to the EU’s Commission of Inquiry. Both territories declared their independence following the war, which was recognized by Russia. Russian “peacekeepers” have been securing the two territories ever since.

On Friday May 13, the separatist government in South Ossetia announced a referendum on annexation to Russia in July. It is unclear whether the latter will actually take place, given tight coffers in Moscow, which would then have to finance the region even more than it currently does. But the signal behind the announcement is clear: Putin has not forgotten Georgia.

A threat directed at the West – and at Tbilisi. In early March, shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the Georgian government applied for EU membership, and on May 18 Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili traveled to Brussels to discuss his country’s partnership with the defense alliance with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Victory Day celebrations in South Ossetia.

South Ossetia's President Anatoly Bibilov (center) attends Victory Day celebrations alongside Russia's Ambassador to South Ossetia Marat Kulakhmetov (on his left) in Tskhinval.

Valery Sharifulin/TASS/ZUMA

Resistance in Tbilisi

In Georgia, solidarity with Ukraine is strong. The blue and yellow flag seems to be more present in Tbilisi than the Georgian flag. On the wall of the house where Shota Dighmelashvili (36) and Mariam Geguchadze (23) are inviting people, text is written in large letters: “Russians, go back to your disgusting country.”

The two activists sit at the table of a big old apartment and write with colorful felt-tip pens on protest posters. Their Shame Movement has been in existence since 2019. Today they are fully committed to supporting Ukraine.

In Georgia, solidarity with Ukraine is strong.

On the second day after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili had still rejected sanctions against Moscow. “That would do more harm to our country and our people,” he said in justification. Only due to public pressure, organized in part by Shota and Mariam, did he have to relent. Thousands of Georgians demonstrated for solidarity with Kiev.

Shota regrets that it took forcing the government to side with Ukraine. Only if Georgia stood together with the world in opposing Russia could Putin be deterred, he says. “After his disaster in Ukraine, Putin should know that he wouldn’t stand a chance in Georgia either.”

Calling Moscow's bluff

But Tbilisi is pursuing a more cautious policy on the matter. To date, Georgia has joined international financial sanctions against Putin’s regime, but bilateral trade continues.

Russia was Georgia’s second-largest trading partner last year. In late February, a plane carrying volunteers was stopped as they tried to travel to Ukraine to fight. Tbilisi is not supplying weapons.

“We have to be careful with what we do,” says Nikoloz Samkharadze, the chairman of Georgia's Foreign Affairs Committee. “Our policy is that we don’t want to give Putin a reason to invade.”

For Shota, this is a pretext. The real reason, he says, is the ruling party Georgian Dream’s closeness to Russia. According to a report by Transparency International, its founder Bidzina Ivanishvili held stakes in at least ten Russian companies until 2019. Today, there is said to be one more. “Putin doesn’t need a cause,” Shota says, holding up a poster with the Russian President’s effigy.

If Russia wanted to, it could divide the country in two with very little effort.

Back in Ergneti, beside the border with South Ossetia, Lia would rather not call his bluff. “I’m glad the government is being cautious about Russia.” If Putin waged war on Georgia on the same scale as he is now waging war on Ukraine, she says, “we won’t exist anymore.”

A man observes Russian peace-keeping forces in Ergneti, South Ossetia.

Armoured vehicles of Russian peace-keeping forces have been patrolling South Ossetia and Abkhazia ever since they became independent, like here in Ergneti.


Left alone

In fact, Russia could easily hurt the country militarily. The capitol is just 50 kilometers from the easternmost tip of South Ossetia. Between Tbilisi and the major city of Gori, the occupied territory extends to within a few hundred meters of the important E60 highway that connects the east of the country with the Black Sea coast.

If Russia wanted to, it could divide the country in two with very little effort,” Batu Kutelia says. He was the country’s deputy defense minister in 2008. “The Georgian army could do little about it.”

Lia has lost everything before. Before the war, Ergneti was a vibrant fruit trading hub. Traders came to the town by the thousands. She maintained a small guesthouse, renting out three of her rooms for the equivalent of 70 cents a night each. Even then, the said, there was no help from the international community.

“We were left alone,” she says, and begins to tap her index finger vigorously on the table. “Angela Merkel,” Lia exclaims, “did nothing for us.” The fact that it was the German chancellor who spoke out against Georgia’s accession at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest is still on her mind. “If Russia attacks again,” she asks, “who says you will help us this time?

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What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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