By Valeriy Dzutsev (04/23/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
After a long period of political bargaining between Moscow and the Georgian breakaway territory of South Ossetia, the latter managed to obtain unexpected concessions from Russia. The Russian government’s desire to implement certain policies in the region is successfully obstructed by local politicians. Russian experts are divided on whether Russia should take similar steps in the South Caucasus as in Ukraine. While some argue in favor of quickly moving on with other territorial gains including South Ossetia, others call for a more cautious approach. The Russian government may keep the problem of Georgian breakaway territories as another foreign policy instrument to influence its southern neighbor in case it proceeds to join NATO.
By Eka Janashia (04/23/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On April 7, Georgia’s Minister of Internal Affairs Alexander Chikaidze warned the public that the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party plans to implement a EuroMaidan scenario in connection with the upcoming local elections by using criminal elements and Ukrainian EuroMaidan activists.
The minister claimed that EuroMaidan activists from Ukraine are already training Georgian counterparts in mobilizing rallies and setting up tents in the center of Tbilisi under the cover of non-governmental organizations. By destabilizing the situation, they will compel the authorities to use coercive measures and then showcase violations of citizens’ rights in Georgia. According to Chikaidze, UNM is purchasing second-hand tires to stir violent protest with burning barricades while the Ministry of Internal Affairs is doing everything to prevent disorder and “the groups that are now trying to destabilize the situation will be strictly punished in accordance with the law.”
While in Ukraine, the authorities’ reversal of the country’s European path caused popular unrest, there are no corresponding intentions in Georgia, Chikaidze said. Conversely, the minister stated that compared to previous years, the protection of human rights, privacy and freedom of opinion has been radically increased and there is a real perspective of signing an Association Agreement with the EU in June, which will bring Georgia closer to Europe.
Commenting on the minister’s statement, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said that Chikaidze just spoke about “those unattainable wishes that some abnormal people may have” and added that anyone who dares to carry out a destabilizing scenario “will be punished very severely.”
Surprisingly, Chikaidze’s announcement was not endorsed by some of the Georgian Dream (GD) leaders. Majority MP Tina Khidasheli criticized Chikaidze, saying that such statements demonstrates the weakness of the government; if the MIA expects a coup d’état in the country, it should act immediately rather than discuss the issue publicly.
UNM termed the minister’s accusations “total nonsense” and a “very cheap attempt” to veil current political setbacks. UNM’s secretary for foreign relations, Giga Bokeria, insisted that instead of paying attention to rising crime, security concerns related to Russia and economic stagnation, the government has invented an absurd story and seeks to sow panic.
UNM laments that the government deliberately seeks to destroy a pro-Western, democratic opposition party through policies of intimidation and repression. To illustrate these claims, UNM quotes the case of MP Nugzar Tsiklauri. On March 30, Tsiklauri was allegedly assaulted by eight masked men with electroshock devices trying to drag him into a car. After the failed attempt, the attackers left the scene while the injured lawmaker was taken to a hospital.
Another complaint from UNM concerns the pre-election environment. UNM insists that the main opposition party is not awarded the possibility to conduct a proper election campaign and that its members have in several cities been prevented from meeting with locals and discussing projects suspended by the government.
On April 11, UNM MP Irma Nadirashvili provided details on the government’s misconduct. According to her, the attack on UNM representatives in Anaklia was coordinated by Goga Nachkebia, head of the Special Operations Department (SOD) of Samegrelo region while in Kakheti; the UNM’s planned events were interrupted by employees of the local self-government body. The head of the department for relations with local self-government bodies of the Imereti regional administration, Kote Lomidze, orchestrated parallel protest rallies in Tskaltubo to hinder UNM’s campaign, whereas in Tbilisi and Batumi this responsibility was assumed by activists of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia party led by Nino Burjanadze.
While the pre-election environment grows tenser, some analysts point to emerging rifts within the ruling GD that could lead to a disintegration of the coalition. The disagreement between President Giorgi Margvelashvili and former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili demonstrates a first sign of such a rift (see the 04/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst). In addition Gubaz Sanikidze, a GD member and leader of the political party National Forum (NF), stated on March 18 that he did not exclude the possibility of leaving the coalition.
Khidasheli’s recent statements also deserve attention in this regard. Firstly, her criticism of Chikaidze, the head of one of the key ministries, was unexpected. However, Khidasheli gave an even starker statement at a session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on April 10, where she declared that it was not the president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, who provoked Russia to invade Georgia in 2008. “Whether you respond to Moscow’s provocations or keep silent, the result will be the same,” she said. This approach directly contradicts that of GD, which has since it came to power 2012 endeavored to launch a probe into the Georgian governments’ faults during the August 2008 war (see the 04/17/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst).
The appearing rifts within the coalition may be indicative of Ivanishvili’s waning sway over Georgian politics. Although he left politics several months ago, his reputation has remained a primary source of legitimacy for the country’s key political figures – Georgia’s president and PM. Thus, Ivanishvili’s declining political assets cast a diverse shadow, especially ahead of the local elections.
By John C.K. Daly (04/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On March 19, Georgia's President Giorgi Margvelashvili said that Russia's annexation of Crimea represents “a problem for global security,” adding that the international community, including Georgia, should have done more to prevent the recurrence of such developments six years after the August 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict. Despite’s Georgia’s persistent efforts to join NATO, its sought after NATO Membership Action Plan has effectively become a casualty of worsening U.S.-Russian relations over Ukraine and Crimea.
By Eka Janashia (04/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On March 22, Georgia’s prosecutor’s office announced its intention to summon Georgia’s former President Mikheil Saakashvili for questioning as a witness in multiple criminal cases. Saakashvili should have appeared before prosecutors on March 27 but he refused to comply with the agency’s demand and even declined its later offer to question him via Skype.
Cases where the former president is wanted for questioning include, among others, the death in 2005 of former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania; the halved prison terms through presidential pardon in November, 2008, of four convicts sentenced for the 2006 Sandro Girgvliani murder; the previous government’s attempts to put Cartu Bank, founded by former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, in bankruptcy in late 2011 and early 2012; the police raid on Tbilisi-based Imedi TV station in November, 2007; and the alleged misspending of GEL 8.83 million from the Special State Protection Service (SSPS) funds between 2009 and 2012.
On March 17, in an interview aired at Imedi TV, Ivanishvili said that he has been disappointed by President Giorgi Margvelashvili and no longer maintains “informal relations” with him. “[Margvelashvili] has shown principally different features and character after the [presidential] election,” he said and disclosed various differences between them. Margvelashvili’s decision to start using the glass-dome presidential palace constructed during Saakashvili’s presidency was one of the reasons for the rift between the old friends. According to Ivanishvili, Margvelashvili had previously insisted that the palace is a symbol of “violence, evil and indecency,” but then changed his mind and started holding official meetings there.
The former PM’s statements gave rise to speculations about a possible split within the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition. On the next day, however, public attention was instead directed to a YouTube video titled “Saakashvili killed Mr. Zurab Zhvania.” The footage uploaded by an anonymous user allegedly depicts a number of injuries on the bodies of Zhvania and Raul Usupov, a person who died together with the ex-PM (see the October 10, 2013 issue of the CACI Analyst).
The opposition United National Movement (UNM) claims that the video was published by the government itself to curtail its own incapacity and signs of internal divisions. It argues that the law enforcers already has all the materials necessary to conclude the investigation but it is lucrative for GD to raise new questions from time to time. To end long-lasting speculations over the case, the government should publish all materials regarding Zhvania’s death, UNM insists.
Zhvania’s return to the spotlight was shortly replaced by the news that Saakashvili was summoned for interrogation. The international reaction was quick. The U.S. Department of State stated, “no one is above the law, but launching multiple simultaneous investigations involving a former president raises legitimate concerns about political retribution, particularly when legal and judicial institutions are still fragile.” Štefan Füle, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and the European Neighborhood, also expressed concern over Saakashvili’s subpoena. “No one is above law but European practice [and] standards must be followed scrupulously,” he wrote.
Several civil society groups - International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED); Transparency International Georgia; and Georgian Democracy Initiative and Civil Development Agency (CIDA) – issued a joint statement saying that some circumstances related to the summoning of Saakashvili may damage the investigation’s objectivity and pleaded to the authorities not to trigger suspicions that the process is politically motivated.
In an interview with Rustavi 2 TV, Saakashvili termed his summoning by the Prosecutor’s office part of an “Ivanishvili-Putin game” and unveiled details regarding his departure from Georgia.
“According to senior U.S. and EU officials, there was a direct order from Putin to arrest me”, Saakashvili said. During a visit to Brussels in November 2013, Saakashvili said he was told by the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, that his arrest would undermine Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration and that he should leave the country in order to save Georgia’s Western path. While he considers his recent vocal support for Ukraine to imply a risk of moves against him by the Kremlin, he’s not going to make “Putin’s dreams come true,” Saakashvili said.
When Saakashvili did not appear before the prosecutor’s office on March 27, the agency announced that it would offer the ex-president to answer questions via Skype with no need to travel to Tbilisi.
After speaking with Saakashvili over the phone, his ally in the UNM and former mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava, said the former president is ready to testify as a witness via video link only before the court but not before the prosecutors alone. Such an interrogation will take place if any of the cases that the prosecutor’s office is investigating goes to trial, Ugulava said.
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili termed Saakashvili’s refusal to comply a step of man afraid to answer tough questions. In response, UNM insisted that the Prosecutor’s office is still informally run by the former chief prosecutor with criminal record, Otar Partskhaladze, which undermines the agency’s credibility.
It is becoming clear that the U.S. government’s recent advice for the Georgian government “to leave the past in the past,” has not been observed (see the 03/05/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst). However, more alarmingly, the ongoing tensions may pose an obstacle to concluding Georgia’s Association Agreement with the EU.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.