Tag: state ownership

Risks of Russian Business Ownership in Georgia

Image of Tbilisi at night representing risks of Russian business ownership in Georgia

This policy brief addresses risks tied to Russian business ownership in Georgia. The concentration of this ownership in critical sectors such as electricity and communications makes Georgia vulnerable to risks of political influence, corruption, economic manipulation, espionage, sabotage, and sanctions evasion. To minimize these risks, it is recommended to establish a Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) screening mechanism for Russia-originating investments, acknowledge the risks in national security documents, and implement a critical infrastructure reform.

Russia exerts substantial influence over Georgia. First and foremost, Russia has annexed 20 percent of Georgia’s internationally recognized territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Further, it employs a variety of hybrid methods to disrupt the Georgian society including disinformation, support for pro-Russian parties and media, trade restrictions, transportation blockades, sabotage incidents, and countless more. These tactics aim to hinder Georgia’s development, weaken the country’s statehood, and negatively affect pro-Western public sentiments (Seskuria, 2021 and Kavtaradze, 2023).

Factors that may also increase Georgia’s economic dependency on Russia concern trade relationships, remittances, increased economic activity driven by the most recent influx of Russian migrants, and private business ownership by Russian entities or citizens (Babych, 2023 and Transparency International Georgia, 2023). This policy brief assesses and systematizes the risks associated with Russian private business ownership in Georgia.

Sectoral Overview of Russian Business Ovnership

Russian business ownership is significant in Georgia. Recent research from the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) has addressed Russian capital accumulation across eight sectors of the Georgian economy: electricity, oil and gas, communications, banking, mining and mineral waters, construction, tourism, and transportation. Of the eight sectors considered by IDFI, Russian business ownership is most visible in Georgia’s electricity sector, followed by oil and natural gas, communications, and mining and mineral waters industries. In the remaining four sectors considered by IDFI, a low to non-existent level of influence was observed (IDFI, 2023).

Figure 1. Overview of Russian Ownership in the Georgian Economy as of June 2023.

Source: IDFI, 2023.

There are several reasons for concern regarding the concentration and distribution of Russian business ownership in the Georgian economy.

First, it is crucial to keep Russia’s history as a hostile state actor in mind. Foreign business ownership is not a threat in itself; However, it may pose a threat if businesses are under control or influence of a state that is hostile to the country in question (see Larson and Marchik, 2006). Business ownership has been a powerful tool for the Kremlin, allowing Russia to influence various countries and raising concerns that such type of foreign ownership might negatively affect national security of the host country (Conley et al., 2016). Similar concerns have become imperative amidst Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine (as, for instance, reflected in Guidance of the European Commission to member states concerning Russian foreign acquisitions).

Further, Russian business ownership in Georgia is particularly threatening due to the ownership concentration within sectors of critical significance for the overall security and economic resilience of the country. While there is no definition of critical infrastructure or related sectors in Georgia, at least two sectors (energy and communications) correspond to critical sectors, according to international standards (see for instance the list of critical infrastructure sectors for the European Union, Germany, Canada and Australia). Such sectors are inherently susceptible to a range of internal and external threats (a description of threats related to critical infrastructure can be found here). Intentional disruptions to critical infrastructure operations might initiate a chain reaction and paralyze the supply of essential services. This can, in turn, trigger major threats to the social, economic, and ecological security and the defense capacity of a state.

Georgia’s Exposure to Risks

Identifying and assessing the specific dimensions of Georgia’s exposure to risks related to Russian business ownership provides a useful foundation for designing policy responses. This brief identifies six distinct threats in this regard.

Political Influence

Russia’s business and political interests are closely intertwined, making it challenging to differentiate their respective motives. This interconnectedness can act as a channel for exerting political influence in Georgia. Russians that have ownership stakes in Georgian industries (e.g. within electricity, communications, oil and gas, mining and mineral waters) have political ties with the Russian ruling elite facing Western sanctions, or are facing sanctions themselves. For instance, Mikhail Fridman, who owns up to 50 percent of the mineral water company IDS Borjomi, is sanctioned for supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine. Such interlacing raises concerns about indirect Russian influence in Georgia, potentially undermining Georgia’s Western aspirations.

Export of Corrupt Practices

The presence of notable Russian businesses in Georgia poses a significant threat in terms of it nurturing corrupt practices. Concerns include “revolving door” incidents (movement of upper-level public officials into high-level private-sector jobs, or vice versa), tax evasion, and exploitation of the public procurement system.  For instance, Transparency International Georgia (2023) identified a “revolving door” incident concerning the Russian company Inter RAO Georgia LLC, involved in electricity trading, and its regulator, the Georgian state-owned Electricity Market Operator JSC (ESCO). One day after Inter RAO Georgia LLC was registered, the director of ESCO took a managerial position within Inter RAO Georgia LLC. Furthermore, tax evasion inquiries involving Russian-owned companies have been documented in the region, particularly in Armenia, further highlighting corruption risks. We argue that such corrupt practices might harm the business environment and deter future international investments.

Economic Manipulation

A heavy concentration of foreign ownership in critical sectors like energy and telecommunications, also poses a risk of manipulation of economic instruments such as prices. The significant Russian ownership in Armenia’s gas distribution network exemplifies this threat. In fact, Russia utilized a price manipulation strategy for gas prices when Armenia declared its EU aspirations. Prices were then reduced after Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union (Terzyan, 2018).


Russian-owned businesses within Georgia’s critical sectors also pose espionage risks, including economic and cyber espionage. Owners of such businesses may transfer sensitive information to Russian intelligence agencies, potentially undermining critical infrastructure operations. As an example, in 2022, a Swedish business owner in electronic trading and former Russian resident, was indicted with transferring secret economic information to Russia. Russian cyber-espionage is also known to be used for worldwide disinformation campaigns impacting public opinion and election results, compromising democratic processes.


The presence of Russian-owned businesses in Georgia raises the risk of sabotage and incapacitation of critical assets. Russia has a history of using sabotage to harm other countries, such as when they disrupted Georgia’s energy supply in 2006 and the recent Kakhovka Dam destruction in Ukraine (which had far-reaching consequences, incurring environmental damages, and posing a threat to nuclear plants). These incidents demonstrate the risk of cascading effects, potentially affecting power supply, businesses, and locations strategically important to Georgia’s security.

Sanctions and Sanction Evasion

Russian-owned businesses in Georgia face risks due to Western sanctions as they could be targeted by sanctions or used to evade them. Recent cases, like with IDS Borjomi (as previously outlined) and VTB Bank Georgia – companies affected by Western sanctions given their Russian connections – highlight Georgia’s economic vulnerability in this regard. Industries where these businesses operate play a significant role in Georgia’s economy and job market, and instabilities within such sectors could entail social and political concerns. There’s also a risk that these businesses could help Russia bypass sanctions and gain access to sensitive goods and technologies, going against Georgia’s support for international sanctions against Russia. It is crucial to prevent such sanctions-associated risks for the Georgian economy.

Assessing the Risks

To operationalize the above detailed risks, we conducted interviews with Georgian field experts within security, economics, and energy. The risk assessment highlights political influence through Russian ownership in Georgian businesses as the foremost concern, followed by risks of corruption, risks related to sanctions, espionage, economic manipulation, and sabotage. We asked the experts to assess the severity level for each identified risk and notably, all identified risks carry a high severity level.


Considering the concerns detailed in the previous sections, we argue that Russia poses a threat in the Georgian context. Given the scale and concentration of Russian ownership within critical sectors and infrastructure, a dedicated policy regime might be required to improve regulation and minimize the associated risks. Three recommendations could be efficient in this regard, as outlined below.

Study the Impact of Adopting a Foreign Direct Investment Screening Mechanism

To effectively address ownership-related threats, it’s essential to modify existing investment policies. One approach is to introduce a FDI screening mechanism with specific functionalities. Several jurisdictions implement mechanisms with similar features (see a recent report by UNCTAD for further details). Usually, such mechanisms target FDI’s that have security implications. A dedicated screening authority overviews investment that might be of concern for national security and after assessment, an investment might be approved or suspended. In Georgia, a key consideration for designing such tool includes whether it should selectively target investments from countries like Russia or apply to all incoming FDI. Additionally, there’s a choice between screening all investments or focusing on those concerning critical sectors and infrastructure. Evaluating the investment volume, possibly screening only FDI’s exceeding a predefined monetary value, is also a vital aspect to consider. However, it’s important to acknowledge that FDI screening mechanisms are costly. Therefore, this brief suggests a thorough cost and benefit analysis prior to implementing a FDI screening regime in Georgia.

Consider Russian Ownership-related Threats in the National Security Documents

Several national-level documents address security policy in Georgia, with the National Security Concept – outlining security directions – being a foundational one. Currently, these concepts do not specifically address Russian business ownership-related threats. When designing an FDI screening mechanism, however, acknowledging various risks related to Russian business ownership must be aligned with fundamental national security documents.

Foster the Adoption of a Critical Infrastructural Reform

To successfully implement a FDI screening mechanism unified, nationwide agreement on the legal foundations for identifying and safeguarding critical infrastructure is needed. The current concept for critical infrastructure reform in Georgia envisages a definition of critical infrastructure and an implementation of an FDI screening mechanism. We therefore recommend implementing this reform in the country.


This policy brief has identified six distinct risks related to Russian business ownership in several sectors of the Georgian economy, such as energy, communications, oil and natural gas, and mining and mineral waters. Even though Georgia does not have a unified definition of critical infrastructure, assets concentrated in these sectors are regarded as critical according to international standards. Considering Russia’s track record of hostility and bearing in mind threats related to foreign business ownership by malign states, this brief suggests regulating Russian business ownership in Georgia by introducing a FDI screening instrument. To operationalize this recommendation, it is further recommended to consider Russian business ownership-related threats in Georgia’s fundamental security documents and to foster critical infrastructural reform in the country.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

The Role of Belarusian Private Sector

The development of a private sector and the expansion of its role in the economy is one of the key goals repeatedly announced by the Belarusian authorities. The reforms carried out in Belarus in 2006-2014 moved the country from 106th to 57th position in the World Bank Doing Business ranking. The official statement is that reforms boosted the rapid development of business initiatives and its impact on economic development. Unfortunately, there is no clear confirmation of this statement. The absence of a transparent and clear methodology in Belarusian statistics on how to evaluate the role of the private sector makes it difficult to evaluate the exact input of the Belarusian business in the economy and compare its role to other countries.

In the last 5 years, the Belarusian authorities have repeatedly highlighted the need to develop the private sector, perceiving it as the main source for sustainable economic growth and competitiveness of Belarus in the future.

However, it may be difficult to assess the real role of the private sector in the Belarusian economy. First, existing data do not allow a clear identification of the boundaries between the private and state-owned sectors in Belarus. Furthermore, there are certain methodological differences in identifying and evaluating the private sector between Belarusian official statistics, the World Bank approach and alternative methodologies. These methodological variations combined with data limitations result in significantly different estimates of the role of the private sector for the Belarusian economy. The problem concerns both the evaluation of the role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and the private sector in general.

Small and Medium Enterprises

One good example of the abovementioned data issue is the statistics for SMEs sector. Unlike the EU, Belarus does not include individual entrepreneurs to the micro organizations in the SME sector. This results in highly different estimates for the number of SMEs per 1000 inhabitants (Figure 1). If we follow the methodology of the National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus (Belstat), the number is 9.7 firms per 1000 people. However, switching to the EU methodology (IFC report, 2013) raises the number significantly up to 35.9. Moreover, the inclusion of unregistered self-employed individuals involved in the shadow economy (which according to estimations of the authorities amount to at least 100,000 inhabitants) increases the number to 46.5 firms per 1000 people, which is above the level of many European countries.

Figure 1. SME density

figure1Source: own estimations from Belstat data, Eurostat.

Private Sector

As for the private sector in general, the problem here is that the official statistics counts enterprises with mixed form of ownership and state presence to the private sector. This makes it difficult, if at all possible, to obtain the exact input of the private sector to the economy and see the dynamics of its change.

More specifically, there are three potential ways to assess the contribution of the private sector. Unfortunately none of them provides reliable estimates of the role of business. The first method is to use official data. The main problem here is that the private sector according to official statistics includes enterprises with state presence as well as large private companies that are under state control and not totally independent. Thus, the contribution of the private sector calculated based on these figures is likely overestimated.

The second method is to look at enterprises that do not report to the Belarusian ministries, following the methodology of the World Bank used in their evaluation of Belarus machinery industry (Cuaresma et al., 2012). Here, non-ministry reporting enterprises work as a proxy for a private firm, as in this case it doesn’t have to report directly to Belarusian ministries and is independent from the state.

The problem is that the majority of large private enterprises, even though there is no state share in them, are not in this list. In Belarus these enterprises often form a part of state concerns on the one hand and are independent on the other. The example here is JSC “Milavitsa”, one of the largest lingerie producers in EE, which is a part of the Bellegprom concern. Therefore, this methodology likely underestimates the role of the private sector.

The third way is to try to exclude state presence from the official data of the private sector. According to official statistics, the private sector includes several groups of enterprises, such as individual entrepreneurs, legal entities with/without state/foreign presence, etc. However, the absence of a clear distinction between these sub-groups allows for only rough estimates, through the extraction of the state presence.

As a result, all obtained numbers are qualitatively different from each other and there is no clear answer if any of them reflects the real picture.

For example, the contribution of the private sector in total employment according to the three different methods (Figure 2) provides the following results. Officially, in 2013 around 53% of the active labor force worked in the private sector. However, the exclusion of state presence in private property changes the results significantly and the share of the active labor force involved in the private sector drops to a level of 31%, while the non-ministry reporting enterprises employ around 18% of the active labor force.

Figure 2. Private sector in employment (%)

figure2Source: own estimations from Belstat data.

The input of the private sector in the total production volume (Figure 3) is also very diverse depending on the method of evaluation. Official data show that the private sector is responsible for 80% of total production volume. However, the exclusion of state presence decreases the value to a level of just 26%, which is similar to the result demonstrated by the non-ministry reporting enterprises (25%).

Figure 3. Private sector in total production volume (%)

figure3Source: own estimations from Belstat data.

At the same time, the absence of a clear definition of the private sector does not allow for obtaining reliable information about its effectiveness. If we take the rate of return on assets (ROA), again, there is a significant gap in the results of the different methods of estimation (Figure 4). ROA of the private sector according to official statistics is significantly lower than similar indicators based on the data obtained by the other two methods (in 2013: 1.17 vs. 2.4 and 1.3 respectively). Thus, the lower the “measured” state presence, the higher is the productivity of the private sector, especially in comparison with the effectiveness of the state sector (0.25).

Figure 4. Return on Assets (BYR/BYR)

figure4Source: own estimations from Belstat data.


The above discussion has illustrated that diffuseness of data and the definition of the private sector is likely to create troubles for understanding the importance of the private sector in Belarus. This, in turn, may undermine the effectiveness of economic and political measures targeted towards this sector.

The implementation of a clear, unified and transparent methodology of how to estimate the role of business and what exactly can be treated as a private sector in statistics would allow for a better understanding of the obstacles and barriers that the private sector is dealing with, as well as to help developing effective measures of business support. Until then, the official statistics should not stick to just one definition of the private sector. Instead, it can use all three abovementioned gradations, as a better reflection of the realities of Belarusian business.


  • Cuaresmo, J., Oberhofer, H., Vincelette, G. (2012).‘Firm Growth and Productivity in Belarus: New Empirical Evidence in the Machine Building Industry’, World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper No. 6005.
  • ‘Business Environment in Belarus 2013.Survey of Commercial Enterprises and Individual Entrepreneurs’, IFC, Report.