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სამშაბათი | 09 ივლისი, 2019

Analysis | Who is afraid of the Lugar Centre?

CRRC-Georgia investigates who is more susceptible to Russian-pushed conspiracies surrounding  Georgia’s US-funded Lugar Centre.

In Georgia, a conspiracy about the US-funded Richard Lugar Centre for Public Health Research in Tbilisi has recently gained traction. As CRRC-Georgia’s USAID-funded research shows, Georgia’s far-right groups eagerly picked up on this conspiracy and blamed the centre for the seasonal flu outbreak in early 2019.

The conspiracy has also acquired influential endorsers outside Georgia. Russia’s diplomatic and military circles were quick to accuse the centre of developing biological weapons and conducting secret experiments on human subjects.

[Read more: Russia warns of ‘military measures’ over US-funded lab in Georgia]

How do Georgians perceive the conspiracy around the Lugar Centre? In a recent CRRC/NDI survey, respondents were asked whether it was true or not that the Lugar Centre contributes to the spread of epidemics. About 20% of respondents said that the proposition was true, while about 40% did not know whether the statement was true or false.

Attitudes vary across socio-demographic groups. Women are slightly more likely than men to believe that the Lugar Centre spreads epidemics in Georgia. Respondents with a higher education are less likely to believe in the conspiracy. 

Ethnic Armenians in urban and rural areas are more likely to think that the statement is true. Ethnic Azerbaijanis are more likely to have no opinion than to believe that the statement is false. There is no significant difference between older and younger respondents, or among those who have different economic status.

Importantly, the way people perceive the Lugar Centre conspiracy is strongly associated with their geopolitical views. Those who believe that the Centre contributes to spreading epidemics are more likely to think that Georgia would benefit more from better relations with Russia. They are less likely to believe that Georgia would benefit more from membership in the European Union or NATO. 

Georgians and Azerbaijanis who think the Lugar Centre conspiracy is true are also more likely to support abandoning Western integration projects at the expense of improving relationships with Russia. 

Disbelief in the conspiracy is associated with positive feelings towards Western integration projects.


The probabilities given on the chart are calculated using a logistic regression model. Explanatory factors include the respondent’s demographic characteristics (gender, age, education, ethnicity) and socio-economic controls (index of household’s economic conditions, knowledge of Russian and English).

The most tempting explanation of what is described above would be accusing Russia of spreading propaganda. Considering how Russia’s state-run foreign-language media outlets weaponise conspiracy theories to manipulate foreign public opinion, this might indeed be a plausible explanation. 

Although the study only establishes possible links between pro-Russian feelings and beliefs in the Russia-endorsed Lugar Centre conspiracy, further research is required to attest to whether the latter can actually change foreign policy attitudes.

What is more important is that the belief in a conspiracy or exposure to it can have negative consequences. Research shows that exposure to conspiracy theories undermines trust in institutions. 

Right-wing populists often use conspiracies to propagate hatred towards minority groups. As conspiracies provide simple answers to complex questions, especially to those who are seeking one, hoaxes like the one surrounding the Lugar Centre can easily gain traction. 

While beliefs in certain conspiracies can be reversed, there is no clear evidence that fact-checks and information corrections are always successful

This matters in the Georgian context. Georgia’s far-right groups have already endorsed the Lugar conspiracy and their leaders seem to be attracted to others

As beliefs in anti-Western conspiracies and one’s attitudes towards foreign policy show strong associations, the data might suggest that the Lugar Lab conspiracy, among others, could shift people’s attitudes. 

While this requires further research, the data do suggest that communicating on the issue is important, and particularly among ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani communities, given their higher prevalence of belief in the conspiracy and uncertainty over it, respectively.

David Sichinava is the Research Director at CRRC-Georgia. The views expressed in this article represent the views of the author alone and not of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), or East-West Management Institute’s ACCESS program.

22.02.2013 | პარასკევი

Before and After the Elections: Shifting Public Opinion in Georgia

The Georgian parliamentary elections in October 2012 attracted much international interest and ushered in an important turn in Georgian politics. In 2012 CRRC conducted four waves of a Survey on Political Attitudes in Georgia for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) (funded by the Swedish International development Cooperation Agency-SIDA) in order to track changes in public opinion associated with these major political events.
22.09.2014 | ორშაბათი

Russia as a threat: the Ukraine crisis and changing public opinion in Georgia

Following 2012 parliamentary elections, attitudes toward Russia in Georgia shifted. While in 2011 51% of the population considered Russia the main enemy of the country, in 2012 only 35% reported the same. Moreover, the share of Georgians who named Russia as Georgia’s main friend increased by 5%. In a post on the CRRC-Georgia blog, this change was explained by a so-called “spiral of silence”.
20.10.2014 | ორშაბათი

Do Armenians Still View Integration with the EU as Part of a Positive-Sum Game?

On September 3rd 2013 Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan surprised many observers, including some in his own government, when he announced that Armenia would sign an agreement with Russia to join the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU) and spurn a long-negotiated Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union. The move has been dubbed a “U-Turn” as well as a “sudden shift in policy,” although it was predated by landmark Armenian-Russian agreements in 1997 and 2006.
29.12.2014 | ორშაბათი

Georgia in a turbulent world: 2014 in review

Calling 2014 turbulent for the world seems almost euphemistic. The world witnessed renewed Russian revanchism with the war in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, the emergence of a highly successful militant Islamic organization, Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and the persistently tense situation in Israel erupted into another war between Israelis and Palestinians.
16.12.2015 | ოთხშაბათი

What We Know About Volunteering in Georgia

[This post originally appeared in investor.ge]

By Nino Zubashvili

Following the June 13, 2015 flood in Tbilisi, hundreds of volunteers helped to clean the disaster-affected zones of the city, which stirred the hope that volunteerism is on the rise in Georgia. In the past, studies on volunteering in Georgia conducted by non-governmental organizations (such as Helping Hand and the Civil Society Institute) claimed that volunteerism had not taken root in Georgian society, and CRRC-Georgia surveys have consistently shown a mismatch between attitudes and actions regarding volunteering in Georgia.
22.08.2011 | ორშაბათი

Georgia and Russia: Can positive relations between the populations overcome the political turmoil?

On the third anniversary of the 2008 August war the Russian Foreign Minister said that Russia will not renew ties with Georgia as long as the Georgian President Mikhail Saakhashvili is in power. Relations between the Georgian and Russian governments have been at a standstill since the conflict in 2008. Nevertheless, the attitudes of Georgians towards Russians remain positive.
12.09.2011 | ორშაბათი

Does Refusal to Recognize Elections in Abkhazia Reduce Prospects for Resolution?

A recent New York Times article argues that the failure of Western governments to recognize the latest presidential elections in Abkhazia on August 26, 2011 may hamper conflict resolution. According to the authors, Cooley and Mitchell, Western governments have a “counterproductive disdain” of developments in Abkhazia and isolating Sukhumi will reduce prospects for conflict resolution. 
07.12.2011 | ოთხშაბათი

Can a Cut NATO Supply Route Through Russia Benefit Georgia and Azerbaijan?

The 20th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union is upon us, and US-Russian tensions have risen as Russia contemplates terminating the NATO supply route through Russia. International news reports such as The New York Times detail the threat as a “death blow” to the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan and indicate that this could be a blessing in disguise for NATO hopeful Georgia, as well as for Azerbaijan.
02.07.2010 | პარასკევი

Post-Soviet States’ Democratic Decline: Results from Freedom House Report

Freedom House has just released its Nations in Transit report for the year 2010. The report attempts to quantify democratic development in Central European and Eurasian states by observing 8 separate factors – for instance, Electoral Process and National Democratic Governance - which affect the level of democracy in a given country. Each category is graded on a score of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress, and 7 representing the lowest. Much of the media attention has typically focused on Russia.
09.07.2008 | ოთხშაბათი

Caucasus Data | Language: Russian versus English?

Recently, we happened upon an article that talks about the use of Russian across the Caucasus. Is Russian becoming obsolete? According to the article, some Georgian politicians suggest this is the case. At the same time, the article points out that the uptake of English is too slow to replace Russian as a lingua franca.
17.09.2008 | ოთხშაბათი

What do Russians think about the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia? -- Data Snapshot

How do urban Russians view the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia? From September, 5th-8th, 2008 the Analytical Center of Yuri Levada conducted a survey in ten big cities of the Russian Federation, interviewing 1000 Russian respondents. We have translated the results into English here, as they are only available in the original Russian on the Levada website.
11.12.2006 | ორშაბათი

Gabala Radar Station -- local health awareness

Rashida Abdullayeva examined a curious relic from Cold War days: in Gabala, Northern Azerbaijan, there is a giant radar station, which is leased out to Russia until 2012. According to reports citing the Russian Ministry of Defence the radar station has a range of up to 6000 km, was designed to detect missile launches from the Indian Ocean, and hosts around 1200 Russian servicemen.
20.02.2018 | სამშაბათი

As many Georgians think the West spreads propaganda as Russia

On 13 February, the United States released its Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community. In it, the significance of Russian influence operations in Georgia were highlighted. Just eight days earlier, on 5 February, a coalition of Georgia’s leading non-governmental organisations made an official offer to support the Government of Georgia, the EU, and NATO in their efforts to counter anti-Western propaganda.
09.04.2018 | ორშაბათი

People in Georgia approve of doing business with Russians, despite interstate hostility

In the 2017 wave of CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer survey, 40% of the population of Georgia named Russia as the main enemy of the country.  Turkey and the United States garnered the second highest share of responses with 3% each.  Yet, no particular animosity towards ethnic Russians is observed in answers to a question about people’s (dis)approval of individuals of their ethnicity doing business with Russians. This blog post examines how answers differ by people’s opinions about whether or not Russia is the main enemy of Georgia.
23.04.2018 | ორშაბათი

Which groups name Russia as Georgia’s main enemy?

In 2017, 40% of the population of Georgia named Russia as the main enemy of Georgia. Yet the opinion that Russia is the main enemy of the country is not equally present in different demographic groups. This blog post uses data from CRRC’s 2017 Caucasus Barometer survey to gain a better understanding of the characteristics of those who report Russia is the country’s main enemy.
21.05.2018 | ორშაბათი

Disinformation in the Georgian media: Different assessments for different media sources

In Georgia, supporters of the government and opposition often express contrasting opinions about the independence and reliability of specific news outlets. Based on the CRRC/NDI December, 2017 survey findings, this blog post looks at whether people think or not that the Georgian media spreads disinformation, which groups tend to think so, and how this opinion differs by type of media. “Disinformation” was defined in the questionnaire as “false information which is spread deliberately with the purpose to mislead and deceive people,” and the questions about it were asked separately about TV stations, online media, and print media.
18.06.2018 | ორშაბათი

The EU, USA or Russia: Who is believed to be able to support Georgia best?

In recent years, Georgia has benefited from EU and US assistance, with around €400 million indicatively allocated for the EU’s projects in Georgia in 2017-2020, and the US government increasing assistance to Georgia in the 2018 Spending Bill. In contrast, Georgia’s relationships with Russia are tense, with diplomatic relations terminated in 2008.
27.05.2019 | ორშაბათი

Does our algorithm still work?

Within the Russian Propaganda Barometer Project, funded by USAID through EWMI’s ACCESS program, CRRC-Georgia created a model, using a k-nearest neighbors algorithm, which attempts to predict whether a person falls into one of three groups: consistently pro-Western; anti-Western; or neither and potentially at-risk of being influenced towards an anti-Western foreign policy position. The model used data from NDI and CRRC’s polling between 2008 and July 2018.  It included variables for age, education level, settlement type, and when the survey was conducted.
17.09.2019 | სამშაბათი

What divides and what unites Georgian society?

The last year has seen a number of conversations about polarization in Georgia. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, even commented on the issue in his Batumi speech.  One of the components of polarization, though not the sole factor, is division in society over actors, issues, and institutions.

While many things could divide the public, what do the people think and which groups report more and fewer sources of division? The April 2019 NDI-CRRC poll suggests that there are fewer perceived reasons for division in rural areas and among ethnic minorities.
30.09.2019 | ორშაბათი

Young people are learning English in Georgia

A common sentiment when discussing foreign languages in Georgia is that young people know some English, older people know Russian, and those in between are mixed. Previous CRRC Georgia analysis from 2014 supported this claim, showing that knowledge of English was on the rise among young people. The 2019 survey on Knowledge and Attitudes towards the European Union in Georgia which CRRC Georgia carried out for Europe Foundation suggests that this trend is continuing in Georgia.