Since 2015, the practices of budgetary service contracts allocation with media outlets spreading hate speech and directly or indirectly connected with Russia remain one of the main study areas of Media Development Foundation (MDF). While examining the recent data of 2020-2021, MDF has uncovered a new outlet named Spacesnews, which is characterized by a partially hybrid editorial policy: Apart from spreading Government-sponsored information and sheltering experts associated with it, the outlet also hosts the author (Giorgi Mdivani) of a Kremlin-tied Media Project "Politicano'' and predominantly spreads mixed messages. One of the few techniques used by the outlet is False Dilemma, by which it aims to oppose Russia with the West, where the former being the protector of orthodoxy and the latter portrayed as the breacher of sovereignty.
According to the research conducted by ISFED in 2021, "Spacenews" is closely tied with pro-Kremlin "NewsFront." Apart from "NewsFront," the 2019 MDF report, in addition to further observations, confirms the alleged coordination among Kremlin-tied "Politicano," "Georgia and World," Eurasian Youth Union and Eurasian Institute.
Budgetary Service Contracts
According to the information accessible in the electronic Database of the State Procurement Agency, in 2020-21, for informational and advertisement purposes, state budgetary organizations have contracted with spnews.io (Spacesnews) to provide services worth GEL 43 849.75.
In 2020, the aforementioned online outlet was contracted by Tchiatura and Lentekhi Municipalities, Adigeni Cultural Center, Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, Gori Municipality Pre-School Education Agency, Sport and Wellness Center Bolnisi and Georgian Central Election Commission amounting a total of GEL 34 047,75, while in 2021, contracts of State Military Scientific and Technical Center "Delta," Gori Municipality Pre-School Education Agency and Poti Municipality Amelioration amounted GEL 9 800.
Apart from being published on the agency's official website, informational service contracts made by administrative bodies with online agencies also entailed publishing information on the websites of the following online outlets: Spnews.io, Newspress.ge, Region.georgia, For.ge, Unipress.ge, and Ncp.ge. According to MDF's financial transparency reports of 2018 and 2019, the online platform Newspress.ge has been directly receiving budgetary contracts. The selected outlet aimed to promote various Sputnik projects (A kremlin-affiliated propaganda platform), while the director was actively engaged in its Media projects.
The website of online-media "Spacesnews"- spnews.io was registered on July 9th, 2019. The website does not include the "about us" section; therefore, no information regarding the outlet is accessible. The Facebook page of the outlet, which indicates that the Spacesnews • სივრცეები represents a multimedia informational-analytical portal, was created on July 12th, 2019.
"Spaces Ltd" was registered on June 5th, 2019 and its 100% share is owned by Tamar Jojua, who, according to ISFED research, is the wife of Giorgi Salakaia – the founder of "Badagoni." The contracts made with "Spaces Ltd" reveal that Eka Vepkhvadze is taking on the director's responsibilities.
What does the editorial policy of Spacesnews and its affiliate Media look like?
Spacesnews is characterized by a partially hybrid editorial policy, where, on the one hand, one can observe the presence of state experts and informational campaigns sponsored by municipalities, while, on the other hand, the same outlet shelters the author of "Politicano"- Media project linked with Kremlin Primakov Center, taking over the role of a TV-host of video programmes such as "Politepidemy" and "The Main Space" labelling the Western-led colour revolutions as potential attempts of Coup d'état (Politepidemy – colour revolutions), justifying and idealizing autocratic governments (Politepidemy – What is happening in Belarus?), like on the "Politicano" platform itself.
The TV host of Politicano has been promoting and idealizing Belarus and other autocratic governments on other anti-Western and pro-Kremlin platforms ("TV Obieqtivi," "Georgia and World."), where he often takes on the role of both the author and the respondent:
Giorgi Mdivani, Political Scientist: "Belarus managed to sustain Soviet Institutions. Factories are working day and night. Mostly Belarusian Tractors are being imported and not only Tractors… Many liberals die with jealousy, but I'd tell them: Western political-technologists of "colour revolutions" have to refine their methods. Flowers, live-chains and odes to freedom are already outdated." (Georgia and World, August 19th)
Giorgi Mdivani, Political Scientist: "China gave such an example to the world that it primarily protected its population. Yes, it used a bit stricter measures, but those measures would benefit us as well." (Obieqtivi, Nedelia, March 17th)
It is also noteworthy that the statements regarding the Kremlin way of celebrating May 9th – The day of victory against Fascism in World War II – which aim at consolidating the post-Soviet republics around the common historical memory and using it for the advancement of its political agenda, can be traced among the websites "Politicano," "Spacesnews," and other outlets directly linked with Kremlin (Example: NewsFront, Georgia and World). For instance, on May 9th, 2020, Politicano has celebrated the victory using the Soviet symbolic, while the webpages of Spacesnews, NewsFront and Georgia and World included similar content such as the attempts to positively portray the "Ribbon of St. George", which is a representation of the "Immortal Regiment" – one of Kremlin's most impactful propaganda tools. ("The Ribbon of St. George is an inseparable part of Georgian history. A symbol of the reunification of Adjara and Samtskhe-Javakheti with their motherland." – Davit Gogishvili)
Moreover, Spacesnews opts for the limited selection of comments that appear on its website, which fosters the invocation of anti-Western sentiments. For instance, in one of the cases, the technique of false dilemma is being utilized, where, on the one hand, the "Treaty of Georgievsk" is being presented as the saviour of orthodoxy, while, on the other hand, the involvement of the EU to support the dialogue among political parties to revitalize the electoral process is being perceived as an intervention into the state sovereignty.
The narrative of "Treaty of Georgievsk" being the saviour of religion is also voiced on the "spacesnews" platform by the member of the pro-Kremlin political party – The Alliance of Patriots of Georgia. (If not the Treaty of Georgievsk, Georgia today would be either an Iranian Khanate or a Turkish Vilayet." - Vazha Otarashvili)
The guests of "Spacesnews" programmes (one of which is hosted by Giorgi Mdivani - the author of pro-Kremlin Politico) are mostly pro-governmental experts, Kremlin advocates and ultranationalist actors.
The official Facebook page of "Spacesnews • სივრცეები" is also connected with 16 different Facebook accounts,
, among which are "Propaganda against Abnormal Propaganda" led by Bakur Svanidze – a former Alliance of Patriots affiliate and the author of pro-Kremlin "Georgia and World" and Georgia and Russia, administered by the founder of Patrioti TV - Giorgi Iremadze.
Giorgi Iremadze is the President of "The Union of Young Eurasians," while in 2017, he participated in the videos of Sputnik. He is actively involved in the current campaign against the Lugar laboratory and collaborates with the TV channel "Zvezda"- owned by the Russian Ministry of Defense. In 2017, Iremadze participated in "Caucasus Dialogue 2017" held in Pyatigorsk and in "Eurasian Forum for the Youth" in Moscow. The same year, Iremadze attended the "Youth Festival of Sochi," which was supported by Vladimir Putin.
Interestingly, in the group "Georgia and Russia" – owned by Giorgi Iremadze, one can find the shared post of Giorgi Mdivani, who serves as the host of Spacesnews' TV program "The Main Space."
Within the same group, Mdivani also shares posts by "Politicano."
In 2018, Giorgi Iremadze - the founder of Patrioti TV, the author of "Politicano" - Giorgi Mdivani, alongside Archil Sikharulidze, who is linked with Primakov Center, participated in the Kremlin-financed "International South-Caucasian Media Forum" in Tbilisi. Not to mention, both Sikharulidze and Mdivani have been actively attending various events in Russia. (For instance: Президентская академия – РАНХиГС in 2017) Giorgi Iremadze and Giorgi Mdivani have been attending the "Eurasian Forum for the Youth" together.
The closed Facebook page of Spacesnews • სივრცეები @spnews.io is administered by Konstantine Chikviladze, who, according to the 2019 research of Myth Detector was also managing the Facebook group of "News Front Georgia." In April 2019, together with the "Russian World's" partner organizations and representatives of other ultranationalist groups, Chikviladze participated in an event called "Reanimation of Fascist Ideology." The event concerned the importance of celebrating the 9th of May by the Immortal Regiment. In addition, Konstantine Chikviladze was also editing an open group of Patrioti TV, the founder of which is Giorgi Iremadze.
The Facebook page Politicano is a medium with links to the Yevgeny Primakov Georgian-Russian Public Center, which was founded by the Gorchakov Fund, which was established under the Russian President's decree, and the Georgian Institute for International relations.
Politicano positions itself as Anti-Capitalist, Eurosceptic, and Leftist Philosophy Political-Economic Portal on Facebook. Politicano has been repeatedly observed in falsification and revision of history and fomenting Soviet nostalgia. Politicano often presents information about the experience of colonialism in Western countries in the modern context of Europe today and at the same time rejects the Soviet occupation. Moreover, Politicano also denies Russia's responsibility for the start of the 2008 war. The page often spreads an anti-Western narrative, according to which, in addition to Russia, the territories of Georgia are occupied by other countries.
In the section of events organized by Politicano on the Facebook page, two public lectures were held in 2015 and 2016 at the Primakov Georgian-Russian Public Center.
The closed group of Politicano's Facebook page has had eight members. The screenshot below presents the members as of June 18, 2018.
On April 27, 2018, on the webpage of Sikharulidze (archilsikharulidze.ge), information was published that Sikharulidze had delivered a lecture on "Georgian-Russian relations in the context of the United States and Europe" at the Primakov Georgian-Russian Public Center with political scientist and currently the member of the political council of the European Socialists party, Tamar Kiknadze. Tamar Kiknadze herself is a frequent guest of the TV Company Obiektivi with a xenophobic editorial policy and is distinguished by anti-Western rhetoric. In addition, Kiknadze frequently participates in various events organized by the Primakov Center, along with representatives of the Eurasian Institute and other Kremlin-affiliated actors. Among such events were an expert meeting about Georgian-Russian relations; Archil Sikharulidze's public lecture "Georgian-Russian relations in the context of the United States and Europe;" Primakov anniversary evening, etc.
By Ani Kistauri and Tamar Kintsurashvili