Georgia booms as Russians flee Putin's war

STORY: As war chokes Europe, one country is enjoying an unexpected economic boom.

Georgia is on course to become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies this year.

That comes following a dramatic influx of more than 100,000 Russians since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and a mobilization drive to drum up war recruits.

Vakhtang Butskhrikidze is the CEO of Georgia’s largest bank, TBC.

"All the industries are doing quite well, very well. I mean beginning from micro up to corporates - beginning from retail to different sectors. I cannot remember any industry which this year has a problem."

At least 112,000 Russians have emigrated to Georgia this year, border-crossing statistics show.

Butskhrikidze says many of the new arrivals bring opportunities to Georgia.

"These migrants are very helpful because half of them, probably the majority of them, (are) very young, technology-educated, who have knowledge. And for us and also for other Georgian companies, this is quite a useful opportunity to use that."

Those fleeing Russia’s war are accompanied by a wave of money.

Between April and September, Russians transferred more than $1 billion to Georgia via banks or money-transfer services.

That’s five times higher than during the same months of 2021, according to the Georgian central bank.

That inflow has helped push the Georgian Lari to its strongest level in three years.

The country is expected to record a 10% growth in economic output for 2022.

Which means it would outpace supercharged emerging economies like Vietnam and oil-rich Kuwait.

But the growth isn’t good for everyone.

The arrival of tens of thousands of Russians, including many tech professionals with plenty of cash, is driving up prices and squeezing some Georgians out of parts of the economy.

Including education and the housing rental market.

Rent in Tbilisi is up 75% this year according to analysis by TBC bank.

Shio Khetsuriani is the CEO of Archi, one of Georgia's largest real-estate development companies.

He says while landlords may be cashing in on surging rents, profit margins for apartment sales tell a different story.

“However, if we consider the price increase in terms of cost of the materials and labor costs, you can see that the price increases in reality in Georgia are almost exactly the same as the cost of materials and labor cost increase. That means there is no big impact after newcomers that made the price increase."

Georgia's economic boom has confounded many experts who saw dire consequences from the war for the country.

Its economic fortunes are closely tied to neighboring Russia through exports and tourism.

The two share a land border crossing - and Georgia has a liberal immigration policy which lets Russians - amongst others - live, work and set up businesses without needing a visa.

But economists have cautioned the boom may not last.

And have encouraged the Georgian government to use healthy tax revenues to pay down debt and build up foreign currency reserves while they can.

Business leaders have also raised concerns that Georgia could face a hard landing should the war end and Russians return home.

Here’s Davit Keshelava, a researcher at the Macroeconomic Policy Research Center.

“They have no idea now long they're going to stay here. But when they leave, yes, that will be a problem, because some amount of demand that was in place will not be there in the future. It might create problems in terms of economic growth, and it might be especially damaging to the construction sector and tourism and hospitality sectors."