Georgian MP says took up arms to fight 'common enemy' in Ukraine

·4-min read

When Russia sent troops into Ukraine in late February, Georgian lawmaker Aleko Elisashvili did not hesitate to rush to the country's defence, and within days was fighting in the battle for Irpin.

For the 44-year-old father-of-two, the war in Ukraine is about more than just defending one country from Russian aggression.

"We are fighting alongside Ukrainians against our common enemy -- (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's imperialism," Elisashvili told AFP in his office in Georgia's parliament, a Ukrainian flag hanging behind him.

"The likelihood of Russia attacking Georgia again is very high... That's why it's even more important to us that Russia be defeated in Ukraine, that's why so many Georgians are now fighting there."

Hundreds of Georgians like Elisashvili have gone to Ukraine to fight in volunteer units such as the Ukrainian Foreign Legion and the Georgian Legion, which are integrated into the military.

Their enthusiasm for the fight is hardly surprising, given Georgia's long and difficult history with Russia and the pro-Western aspirations it shares with Ukraine.

The South Caucasus country was annexed by Russia twice in its history -- in 1801 and 1921 -- and last saw Moscow's troops invade its territory in August 2008

The five-day war in 2008, which claimed some 700 lives and ended with an EU-mediated truce, left Georgia partitioned after Russia recognised two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as independent states and stationed military bases there.

- 'Georgia's fate' at stake -

Mamuka Mamulashvili, the commander of the Ukrainian army's Georgian Legion, told AFP that up 1,000 Georgians have gone to Ukraine to fight and at least 13 are known to have died.

"Georgia's fate is being decided today in Ukraine. We are fighting both for Ukraine and Georgia. If Ukraine falls --  which will not happen, I am confident -- the very existence of Georgia will be under serious threat," Mamulashvili told AFP by phone from Ukraine.

Elisashvili fought in Ukraine for some 40 days in a reconnaissance unit of the Foreign Legion consisting of several hundred volunteer fighters from around the world.

In the battle for Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv, he said he witnessed "Russian war crimes" as he spent four days in a partially ruined apartment block at the frontline.

"Russian troops were deployed across the street. A Russian sniper was killing passers-by, civilians. I saw several civilians killed in a car, a family, and another dead civilian, a man."

The battle began on February 27 as part of a massive Russian offensive on Kyiv. Russian forces took partial control of Irpin but were pushed out by Ukrainian troops, who fully retook Irpin on March 28.

Elisashvili said that after Russian forces abandoned the town local residents began to emerge from cellars where they had spent days sheltering.

"I've never seen people so scared," he said. "The next night, the Russians were bombing residential areas there, incessantly, with 122-millimetre artillery."

He said Russian forces in the town appeared unmotivated and confused and were only there "to loot and plunder".

"That's why it's inconceivable they could win in Ukraine," he said.

"I have never seen anyone as motivated as the Ukrainians, because they know exactly what they are fighting for -- they are protecting their homeland, their families."

- 'Strategic mistake' on NATO -

Back in the Georgian capital Tbilisi with his family, Elisashvili returned to work in parliament, where he leads a small, centrist opposition.

Georgia's government positions itself as strongly pro-Western, though the opposition has accused it of being pro-Russian.

It has condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but avoids harsh criticism of the Kremlin, saying this would only add to Georgia's problems.

Elisashvili called on the United States and European capitals to step up arms supplies to Ukraine, so that military superiority shifts to Kyiv.

He said the West made a "strategic mistake" by not admitting Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, under pressure from the Kremlin.

"This war would just not have happened if Ukraine was a NATO member, Putin would not have dared to attack a NATO country."

At a 2008 summit in Romania, months before Russia's invasion of Georgia, NATO leaders undertook to admit both countries to the 30-member bloc sometime in the future, but refused to put them on a formal membership path.

Elisashvili said the West, which was at the time wary of alienating an increasingly assertive Russia, "is now facing a war on NATO's doorstep and Putin will not stop just as Hitler didn't stop until he was defeated".

Putin's next targets "will be Poland, the Baltic states", he said.

"If Russia is not defeated in Ukraine, if it fails to reinvent itself as a state, it will remain a constant threat to international peace."

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