By Johanna Popjanevski and Carolin Funke (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Georgia’s relations with Russia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia have deteriorated in recent months. Moscow-loyal Raul Khajimba’s ascent to power after the August presidential election in Abkhazia, followed by Russia’s proposed treaty on “alliance and integration” with Abkhazia, have given rise to concerns of a Russian annexation of the region and put both Georgia’s reconciliation process with Abkhazia and its attempts to normalize relations with Moscow at stake. In order to avoid a Ukraine-like scenario, Georgia’s Western allies must respond adequately to current developments. The Georgian government and opposition must also overcome their differences and adopt a united front regarding the common goal of restoring Georgia’s territorial integrity.
By Eka Janashia (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia intend to sign a Kremlin-proposed new agreement “On Alliance and Integration” by the end of October. The draft agreement further limits Abkhazia’s nominal independence in its relationship with Russia by circumscribing its competence to pursue defense and security policies. The publicized provisions of the document triggered reactions apprehensions in Sokhumi as well as Tbilisi.
The draft agreement foresees the introduction of a “common defense infrastructure,” a “combined group of forces” and “joint measures for border protection” to replace existing Abkhazian ones. Abkhazia’s Army, as an autonomous unit, will be replaced with a Combined Group of Forces (CGF) of the Russian and Abkhaz armed forces with joint command and defense infrastructure. In wartime, the commander of CGF will be appointed by Russia’s ministry of defense while citizens of Abkhazia will be able to serve on a contractual basis in Russian military units deployed in the breakaway region. The draft treaty also involves a “collective defense” clause obliging the sides to provide necessary support in case of attack.
The document also envisages a shift of the Russia-Abkhazia de facto border from the Psou River – at the de jure frontier between Russia and Georgia – to the Inguri River, which divides Abkhazia from Georgia proper. Moscow assumes the responsibility to protect the “Abkhaz state border with Georgia” by imposing “joint control” on the movement of people, transport and cargo in Abkhazia’s custom offices including ports.
Meanwhile, the draft treaty posits that Sokhumi will align its customs legislation with Eurasian Economic Union regulations and procedures, and synchronize its budgetary and tax laws with those of Russia in pre-defined time frame. In turn, the Kremlin commits to support Abkhazia’s international recognition, making it eligible for accession into international organizations.
To mitigate its obvious attempt to annex the region, Moscow pledges to increase the salaries of employees at state agencies and pensions for Russian citizens residing in Abkhazia. Notably, possessing Russian passports, the majority of Abkhazia’s residents are Russian citizens. Moscow promises to integrate these people into Russia’s federal compulsory health insurance system, which will allow them access to Russian healthcare services.
Despite extensive social assurances, the draft agreement triggered concerns in Abkhazia’s political and civil society circles. Even incumbent officials of the de facto republic stated a need to revise the document, which will otherwise lead to the loss of Abkhazia’s sovereignty. The fragility of opposition forces in Abkhazia, however, makes considerable changes to the draft unlikely.
Tbilisi termed the document a “step towards annexation” of Abkhazia by the Kremlin. Georgia’s PM Irakli Gharibashvili said that “this [treaty] is directly contrary to their [Abkhazians] 25-year struggle for self-determination, recognition and so-called independence.” Gharibashvili’s statement was strongly criticized by most Georgian opposition politicians and analysts. The ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Georgians from their homes deprives Abkhazia of a right to “self-determination” and the use of this term by Georgia’s PM could legitimize Abkhazia’s struggle for independence, the opponents asserted.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s parliament did not support the opposition United National Movement (UNM) party’s demand to abolish the Karasin-Abashidze format. Bilateral talks between the Georgian PM’s special envoy for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin have taken place since December 2012 and mainly focuses on economic and trade issues. Tbilisi should express its protest to Moscow by repealing the format, UNM claimed.
Moscow termed Tbilisi’s reaction to the proposed treaty an “unscrupulous and dangerous speculation,” which may thwart the Geneva discussions, launched after the Russia-Georgia August war. For Tbilisi, maintaining the international platform provided by the Geneva talks is vitally important, as the format recognizes Russia as a party to the conflict. The Geneva talks also allow Georgia to discuss conflict related issues at the international level with the engagement of the EU, OSCE, and the UN, as well as the U.S. For the same reasons, Moscow is interested in thwarting the Geneva talks and instead reinforce direct, bilateral ties with Tbilisi.
The draft agreement proposed by the Kremlin will diminish any illusions that may have existed in Abkhazia regarding the region’s ability to attain sovereignty. The move will also test both Tbilisi’s capability to consolidate international pressure against Russia and Sokhumi’s strength to resist Moscow.
By Eka Janashia (15/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) October 1st resolution on “the functioning of democratic institutions in Georgia” spurred debates in both Strasbourg and Tbilisi.
The Georgian Dream ruling coalition along with Michael Aastrup Jensen of Denmark and Boriss Cilevičs of Latvia, the two PACE co-rapporteurs on Georgia, strongly opposed the document while the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party supported it, backed by the majority of Assembly members.
The draft resolution built on a report prepared by the co-rapporteurs as a part of PACE’s regular activity to observe the country’s performance regarding obligations undertaken upon its accession to the Council of Europe (CoE) in 1999.
Allegedly, UNM members of the Georgian delegation were, through the support of European People’s Party (EPP), able to introduce amendments to the initial version in order to make it more critical of the Georgian authorities. As a result, the originally “balanced” report has been changed into a “partisan” one, Jensen and Cilevičs claimed. Jensen termed the product “completely a shame,” because PACE should not be taking sides in Georgia’s internal politics, but should instead “try to paint a picture as correctly as it is.”
According to the document, despite the peaceful handover of power after the 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections in Georgia, the arrest and prosecution of almost the entire UNM leadership “overshadowed” the democratic achievements the country has made since.
The document describes the detention in absentia of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, former Minister of Defense David Kezerashvili and former Minister of Justice Zurab Adeishvili as well as the arrest of former Prime Minister and UNM Secretary General Vano Merabishvili, former Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia and former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava as regressive moves for Georgia’s democracy.
The resolution expresses concerns over the freezing of assets belonging to former government officials’ family members and the length of Akhalaia’s pre-trail detention, asking the authorities to replace detention on remand with non-custodial precautionary measures. It takes note of the multiple charges filed against the former president as well as the large number of possible instances of criminal conduct on the part of former government officials and emphasizes that no one is above law, but meanwhile urges the authorities to ensure that their trials are impartial.
In this respect, the resolution recalls the Assembly’s reservations regarding the independence of the judiciary and administration of justice in Georgia. While it welcomes positive signals such as the adoption of a comprehensive reform package aiming to establish a truly adversarial justice system, it also notices that the sensitive legal cases against opposition leaders has disclosed “vulnerabilities and deficiencies” of the system. Thus, the Assembly suggests further reforms of the judiciary and prosecution service and recommends the Georgian parliament to achieve a necessary compromise to elect all members of the High Council of Justice.
Another set of concerns refers to an increasingly intolerant and discriminatory attitude especially towards sexual and religious minorities and a lack of measures from all stakeholders – the investigative and prosecution agencies, politicians and institutions with high moral credibility – to examine “hate crimes” and condemn discriminatory sentiments. Regarding minorities, the Assembly also calls on the Georgian authorities to sign and ratify the European charter of regional and minority languages, which remains an unfulfilled commitment of the country since its accession to CoE. The Assembly recommends the government to communicate the charter’s provisions to the public through an awareness campaign and ensure the engagement of civil society, media and other interest groups in the process. As for the deported Meskhetian population, the document underscores the setbacks in granting citizenship to already repatriated persons.
Before the resolution was adopted, PM Irakli Gharibashvili expressed hope that EPP along with other members would not rely on the “groundless allegations” put forward by UNM. Later, commenting the already approved document, he said the amendments to the resolution had been passed because of EPP’s “solidarity” with UNM. “The wording that was made in reference to Akhalaia and Saakashvili – I do not deem it alarming. This is yet another attempt by the UNM to fight against its own state, its own people,” he said.
Although the Assembly is deeply concerned about “a polarized and antagonistic political climate” in Georgia, the resolution has further fanned the confrontation between GD and UNM. Rejecting political motivations, GD declares that prosecution of former officials is a demand of Georgian people and that it certainly should be met. The head of the human rights committee in the Georgian parliament and one of the GD leaders, Eka Beselia, termed the Assembly’s request regarding Akhalaia an attempt to exercise pressure on the independent court.
The adoption of a critical resolution on Georgia signifies that leading European political forces are principally against the marginalization and demonization of UNM, as its disappearance from political scene would enormously damage democratic processes in the country. On the other hand, GD evidently maintains a tough approach reflected in its indifference to the PACE recommendations regarding the prosecution of opposition party members.
By Eka Janashia (10/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
A dispute between Georgia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili gained momentum in mid-September, as both the head of state and the head of government decided to attend the September 23 Climate Summit at the UN headquarters in New York.
PM Gharibashvili declared his intention to participate September’s UN General Debates in July. Meanwhile the President’s office declared that Margvelashvili received a personal invitation from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) withheld the letter.
Deputy Foreign Minister David Zalkaniani later explained that the UN invitation was initially mistakenly addressed to former President Mikheil Saakashvili and the MFA had to resend it, causing the delay. To verify their respective versions, both sides disclosed their correspondence while Georgia came close to the diplomatic embarrassment of sending two simultaneous delegations to the UN.
Finally, Margvelashvili was dissuaded from attending the UN Summit. Commenting on the outcome, he said that “serious, organized efforts were undertaken against the visit of the Georgian President and as a result of these efforts the visit to the United States is thwarted.”
The embarrassing episode was not the first sign of discord between Margvelashvili and the leadership of the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition in general, and between the president and PM in particular.
According to former PM Ivanishvili, the disagreement started with Margvelashvili’s decision to use the glass-dome presidential palace constructed during Saakashvili’s presidency and, in Ivanishvili’s words, associated with “violence, evil and indecency” (See the 04/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst). Margvelashvili, however, claimed that the tensions stemmed from the ruling coalition’s attempts to make him an “obedient” figure complying with the instructions of GD and the PM.
Another spat took place ahead of Georgia’s signing of the Association Agreement (AA) with the EU in June. The question of who would sign the AA became a subject of heated debate among constitutionalists, politicians, analysts and even ordinary people. Margvelashvili expressed his readiness to delegate his right to sign the treaty to the PM but the latter argued that Georgian constitution grants him sufficient competence to sing the agreement. Although most lawyers maintained that the AA should be signed by the president, it was the PM who signed it and the president was not even invited for the AA’s ratification ceremony in the parliament.
On August 1, Gharibashvili did not attend a session of the National Security Council (NSC) presided by Margvelashvili. The meeting was intended to discuss Georgia’s preparation for the upcoming NATO summit in Wales. Notably, the role of the NSC itself has been marginalized since November 2013 when the PM formed the Security and Crisis Management Council partially duplicating the NSC’s functions. On the same day, the GD parliamentary majority voted against the president’s Supreme Court judge nominees.
Several days later, the Prosecutor’s Office lamented that despite its request, Margvelashvili did not declassify a portion of the 2009-2013 spending records from the Special State Protection Service (SSPS). Part of those secret documents were publicized in April 2013. Another part, falling under President Margvelashvili’s competence, remained confidential.
Margvelashvili responded that he is empowered to contemplate sensitive matters such as declassification of secret information as long as the law allows him to do so and that no one can pressure him to do otherwise.
Some analysts suggest that vague and implicit clauses of the amended Georgian constitution, which came into force in 2013, fueled the conflict between the head of state and the head of government. Clause 69, paragraph 2 of the Georgian constitution states that “the president represents Georgia in foreign relations.” Nevertheless, clause 78, paragraph 1.4 entitles this competence to the PM as well, saying that the “prime minister … represent[s] Georgia in foreign relations within his competence” and meanwhile charges the cabinet with the responsibility to implement foreign policy. These clauses of the current constitution are likely to prompt confrontation rather than clarifying responsibilities.
However, the true reason for the disagreement between the president and PM likely has little to do with disagreements over foreign policy. Both politicians emerged through Ivanishvili’s clout, thanks to the allegiance they proclaimed to him. As Margvelashvili’s loyalty faded, the GD leadership increased pressure on him. As soon as Ivanishvili begun to publicly criticize the president, the PM and other ministers quickly replicated the move. This suggests that political power in Georgia is still concentrated to Ivanishvili’s informal rule.
After months of simmering conflict, it is still not clear whether Margvelashvili will stay within the GD coalition or endeavor his own political game. However, he recently reminded the public that in the case of a political crisis, he retains a right to resign or dismiss the parliament.
By Eka Janashia (09/17/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On September 5, during NATO’s two-day summit in Wales, Georgia obtained a “substantial package” instead of the long-expected Membership Action Plan (MAP), entailing a step toward closer integration with the alliance.
In the Wales declaration, NATO leaders acknowledged the visible progress that Georgia has made since the 2008 Bucharest summit and stated the provision of a “substantial package” as a tool that should further boost Georgia’s integration with NATO. The package includes the launch of a Defense and Related Security Capacity Building Initiative aiming to buttress partner nations’ ability by sharing NATO expertise in projecting international stability and conflict prevention without deploying large combat forces. Aside from Georgia, the initiative will be extended to Jordan and Moldova.
Consequently, the package aims to enhance Georgia’s defense capabilities, particularly by supporting the Ministry of Defense and promoting reforms intending to modernize the defense and security sectors. It also aspires to increase the interoperability of Georgia’s armed forces by involving them in more NATO trainings and exercises.
To this end, a military training center, which may in the future even gain a regional dimension, will be established in Georgia. According to Georgia’s Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, one suggestion is to deploy the center to the Krtsanisi training base. U.S. marines have been instructing nearly 12,000 Georgian troops in the Krtsanisi training facility before deployment to Afghanistan and other missions, the minister said. Finally, the package foresees the expansion of the NATO liaison office in Tbilisi.
Another accomplishment at the Wales summit is that Georgia has been placed among a group of nations – Australia, Finland, Jordan and Sweden – who attained an “elevated status” and “enhanced opportunities” of cooperation with NATO.
Whereas this, together with the “substantial package,” is a real achievement for Georgia, it is not a direct step toward NATO membership. The 2008 Bucharest declaration included the decision that MAP should be the next step for Georgia on its “direct way to membership,” meaning that MAP remains a necessary phase for accession to NATO. Notably, NATO’s Wales declaration reaffirms all “elements” of the 2008 Bucharest summit decisions on Georgia.
In fact, Georgia’s expectations regarding MAP faded months earlier during Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili’s visit in Berlin. In a meeting with Garibashvili on June 2, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that MAP for Georgia will not be on the agenda of the NATO summit in Wales but that there are opportunities other than MAP that can reflect Georgia’s progress. The German Chancellor certainly had in mind the “substantial package” that truly is an option for Georgia but not an alternative to MAP.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited Georgia instantly after the Wales summit, in the first visit by a U.S. Defense Secretary since 2003, and conveyed several important messages.
Firstly, it was a logical reflection of U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Tallinn on September 3, when the president underscored the need for providing more assistance for NATO partners including Georgia and Moldova. Hagel informed Tbilisi that Washington intends to make an extensive contribution to the “substantial package” and pledged to continue its bilateral capacity building efforts with Georgia. He said the Pentagon is familiarizing itself with Tbilisi’s request to purchase Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters.
Secondly, in light of Russia’s “aggression” and “brazen assault” on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Hagel sought to neutralize the inconvenience caused by NATO’s denial of MAP for Georgia and focused on the country’s newly attained “special partnership” status with NATO which gives it “new options, new expandability, new possibilities.” Finally, Hagel envisioned a potential role for Georgia in the U.S.-led coalition to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Evaluating the implications of NATO’s recent summit for Georgia, the critics say that there are some undesirable aspects of the declaration that could be avoided if proper diplomatic efforts were pursued by the government. Namely, the 31st article of the declaration expresses concerns that “protracted conflicts” undermine “the opportunities for citizens in the region to reach their full potential as members of the Euro-Atlantic community.” Skeptics argue that it is an ambiguous article that could well mean that conflict zones on Georgia’s territory might prevent the country’s membership in NATO.
Another sensitive question is that the Wales declaration does not mention Georgia as an aspirant country while the declaration of the 2012 Chicago summit did. The Wales declaration pledges to assess Montenegro’s progress towards NATO membership and decide the Alliance’s final position on the matter no later than by the end of 2015. No such notifications were made regarding Georgia. Further, the declaration does not mention the conflicts over Crimea, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the same context, which hinders Georgia’s de-occupation policy.
Finally, opposition politicians and some analysts believe that although Georgia has gained new and enhanced opportunities in its partnership with NATO, given its sizeable contribution to international missions the country should have been granted more than a “substantial package” at the Wales summit.
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.