By Eka Janashia (04/01/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The struggle for power between the Georgian Dream (GD) ruling coalition and opposition parties, as well as within GD itself, is gradually gaining impetus at all levels of governance against the background of a slowing economy and corruption cases.
At the end of 2014, the coalition underwent serious changes affecting senior and mid-level government officials, as well as the cadre of the party’s leadership. The alterations were allegedly due to Georgia’s “Grey Cardinal” Bidzina Ivanishvili’s loss of confidence in his protégé PM Irakli Gharibashvili, and an ensuing attempt to replace the PM’s trustees with those of Ivanishvili at tactically important positions, including the GD’s Executive Secretary, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the heads of the Special State Protection and State Security Services, and the Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure. The latter post was taken by the billionaires’ close associate and former head of his Cartu Bank, Nodar Javakhishvili.
Javakhishvili recently confronted his boss, Minister David Shavliashvili, over the failure to deal with disorders in road tenders and financial fraud schemes. While opposition parties have frequently pointed out the corruptive involvement of Gharibashvili’s cronies in state tenders, the indictment aired by the deputy minister cast the case in a different light and could be perceived as another attack on the PM.
This trend is coupled with GD’s loss of majority in a regional legislative body – the Supreme Council (SC) of Adjara Autonomous Republic. Since the October 2012 parliamentary elections, GD has held 13 seats versus the opposition United National Movement’s (UNM) 8 in the 21-member SC. In November 2014, the GD lost two seats in the SC after the Free Democrats’ (FD) departure from the coalition, leaving GD with 11 seats – still sufficient to override the oppositions’ votes. However, in February, the chairperson of the SC’s human rights committee, Medea Vasadze, quit and deprived the coalition of a clear majority.
Moreover, on February 20, two GD members supported the UNM’s initiative to sack the SC’s vice speaker Davit Batsikadze and the chairperson of its financial and economic committee Alexandre Chitishvili, both GD members.
The proponents of the initiative accused the officials of failure to carry out their duties. In turn, GD accused UNM of “revanchism” and termed the support from its own members for the proposal a “traitorous action.” PM Gharibashvili said the two SC members had been covertly cooperating with UNM and the move would be rebounded “very strictly.”
While GD has failed to keep a steady majority in Adjara, it has locally become involved in scandalous corruption cases. In February, the head of Tbilisi City Hall’s supervision service, Jokia Bodokia, was detained on bribery charges. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, Bodokia received a US$ 50,000 bribe from a construction company in exchange for a hotel construction permit in Tbilisi. The opposition asserted that vice Mayor Alexander Margishvili and even Tbilisi Mayor Davit Narmania were involved in the deal.
Prosecutors claimed that an employee of the mayoral office, Mikheil Kviria, also accepted a US$ 10,000 bribe from Indian and Iraqi citizens in return for a land purchase permit near Tbilisi. Meanwhile, Margishvili resigned without any explanation, and in March, the administrative head of the mayoral office, Reno Chakhava, and his deputy Mariam Shelegia also quit their posts.
Narmania abruptly announced the establishment of the Tbilisi Entrepreneurship Support Center (ESC) and appointed Margishvili head of the agency, which will be tasked with fostering investor activities and developing entrepreneurial skills.
Transparency International Georgia (TIG) slammed the initiative, arguing that a number of other structures with the same tasks and functions are already operating across the country. Also, the two million GEL envisaged for the agency’s budget exceeds the funding for the Business Ombudsman’s office by a factor of four and is at odds with the “tighten belts” policy announced by the government. According to TIG, Margishvili’s appointment raises doubts as his reasons for resigning from the post of vice-mayor remain unclear.
These episodes add to the coalition’s trouble in strengthening its political power attain credibility for its policies. One of the most apparent reasons is Ivanishvili’s rule behind the scenes, coupled with his changing attitudes towards previously favored persons. Ivanishvili’s criticism against President Giorgi Margvelashvili, PM Gharibashvili, and Mayor Narmania, indicates that he is no longer satisfied with their performance. His endeavor to introduce new trustees in the government ramps up the competition for influence, thus enlarging rifts within the coalition and creating space for inefficiency and corruption. GD’s retreat in a major regional legislative body and the murky business in Tbilisi City Hall might reflect GD’s incapacity to coordinate its heterogeneous coalition to cope with Georgia’s political and economic situation.
Finally, GD’s partition gives the opposition forces a new window of opportunity, which the UNM has already started to exploit. At the March 21 demonstration, the party’s leaders declared permanent protest rallies in order to achieve the government’s resignation and possibly even early parliamentary elections. Although the party does not enjoy much popular support, it seems determined to fight for regaining public trust.
By Oleg Salimov (04/01/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On March 5, 2015 the leader of the Tajik opposition organization Group 24, Umarali Kuvatov, was assassinated in Istanbul. Kuvatov has previously been accused of extremism in Tajikistan, and Tajik law enforcement has pursued him since 2011. He was previously arrested in Dubai in December 2012 at the Tajik government’s request on charges of fraud. In April 2013, a Dubai court allowed Kuvatov’s extradition to Tajikistan, which was later postponed and Kuvatov was released from custody in August 2013, at the request of human rights organizations and European parliament representatives.
Kuvatov was arrested anew in Istanbul on December 14, 2014 while awaiting refugee status, according to the Human Rights in Central Asia association, and released on February 3, 2015. On March 5, 2015 Kuvatov was shot in the head in Istanbul and pronounced dead at the scene. Turkish authorities arrested three Tajik citizens on March 9 in connection to the crime. The investigation revealed that Kuvatov was poisoned that night while having dinner with one of the suspects. No motives are yet announced for the meticulously organized assassination. Tajik authorities refrain from commenting the incident.
Previously, Maxud Ibrogimov, leader of the Tajik opposition group Youth for Revival of Tajikistan, who disappeared in Russia at the beginning of this year, reappeared in Tajikistan. Tajikistan’s Prosecutor General’s office confirmed in January, 2015 that Ibrogimov is in the custody of the State Committee of National Security (former KGB) in Dushanbe. The Prosecutor General’s representative Rizo Khalifazoda stated that Ibrogimov is charged on several counts of Tajikistan’s Criminal Code, including extremism, although no other details on the charges were provided.
Prior to the kidnapping, Ibrogimov received numerous threats and survived an assassination attempt in Moscow in November 2014, which Ibrogimov’s supporters believe were linked to his political views. Ibrogimov’s organization, formed in October 2014, focuses on fighting corruption and the clan system, and engaging Tajik youth in political processes. The opposition coalition New Tajikistan, in which Ibrogimov holds an administrative position, is convinced that the kidnapping is a result of protest actions against Tajikistan’s government, which the coalition organized in several Russian cities.
Tajikistan’s government outlawed Youth for Revival of Tajikistan on October 7, 2014, soon after Group 24, also part of the New Tajikistan coalition, announced plans for an unsanctioned demonstration against President Emomali Rakhmon in Dushanbe on October 10, 2014. Although the demonstration never took place and Ibrogimov officially denounced any violence in his organization’s political activity, he still drew the attention of Tajik authorities.
On November 27, 2014 an unidentified person attacked Ibrogimov in Moscow. Ibrogimov was delivered to a hospital in a severe condition with multiple stab wounds. In an official statement, New Tajikistan directly accused Tajikistan’s secret services and Rakhmon of the assassination attempt. Meanwhile, Tajik law enforcement requested Ibrogimov’s extradition on charges of extremism. Ibrogimov spent two days in confinement in Moscow awaiting extradition to Tajikistan but was released as a holder of Russian citizenship. His kidnapping followed soon after. A similar assassination attempt on a Tajik journalist, Dodojon Atovuloev, took place in Moscow in January 2013. A profound critic of Rakhmon, Atovuloev was stabbed multiple times by an unidentified person but survived.
Tajikistan’s extradition request to Spain of another member of Group 24, Sharofiddin Gadoev, in July 2014, was declined by Spanish authorities. Ukraine also denied extradition to Tajikistan of a former presidential candidate and rival to Rakhmon, Abdumalik Abdulojonov, in April 2013 after holding him in detention for nearly two months. As seen in the cases of Atovuloev, Ibrogimov, and Kuvatov’s, Tajik opposition activists in exile have become targets of assassinations and kidnappings.
Tajik authorities have previously resorted to kidnapping members of Tajikistan’s political opposition. In April 2005, the ex-chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Makhmadruzi Iskandarov, was kidnapped in Moscow and secretly transported to Dushanbe. Iskandarov was sentenced to 23 years in prison in October 2005. Another Tajik citizen, Savriddin Juraev, was kidnapped in Moscow and reappeared in Dushanbe to stand trial on charges of extremism in November 2011. Juraev received 26 years in prison in spring 2012.
While investigations into previous assassination attempts on members of Tajikistan’s opposition have never proven any involvement of Tajik authorities, these events clearly intimidate those who confront the ruling elite at home and abroad. Unless the problem draws wider attention from human rights organizations, Tajikistan’s international partners, and proponents of civil society and democracy, these practices will likely continue.
By Arslan Sabyrbekov (03/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On February 18, the body of well-known Kyrgyz crime boss Almanbet Anapiyaev was found in a car in Minsk, Belarus, where the country’s former ruling Bakiev clan fled after the 2010 uprising in Kyrgyzstan.
Anapiyaev showed up on Interpol’s wanted list as a leader of organized crime in 2011. The Kyrgyz Ministry of Interior has accused him of a number of crimes of varying severity, ranging from instigating ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan to killing the former head of the of the ousted president’s administration Medet Sadyrkulov. During former President Kurmanbek Bakiev’s reign, Anapiyaev even served as head of the country’s wrestling federation and supported the stability of the regime by criminal means. Until his murder in Minsk, Anapiyaev was supposedly residing in United Arab Emirates.
A few days after Anapiyaev’s murder, his associate and body guard Gulzhigit Abdulazizov arrived in Bishkek from Minsk and voluntarily surrendered to the authorities, saying that his life was in danger. He also claimed that he had witnessed the murder and remembered the killers. During the interrogation, Abdulazizov was given photos of his associate’s potential killers and recognized two men, the former president’s brother and head of the state bodyguard’s service Zhanyshbek Bakiev, and Aibek Abdrazakov, a former high official in the Kyrgyz Ministry of Interior. Kyrgyz investigators also included a picture of Kazakhstan’s Minister for Culture and Sport Arystanbek Mukhamediuly among the suspects, in the belief that the former resembles the former Kyrgyz president’s brother. Upon Kazakhstan’s demand for an explanation, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Interior recently sent an official excuse to Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Culture and Sport.
Following Anapiyaev’s murder in Minsk, Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev publicly criticized and accused Belarus of sheltering the Bakiev family. In his words, “the witness’ testimony leaves no doubt that the brother of the ousted president and his team killed Anapiyaev in a lively area of Minsk.” The Kyrgyz President’s speech was full of emotional language: “Who else do the Bakievs have to murder before Belarusian authorities will see the cannibalistic nature of the family? Those monsters will shed blood anywhere, where they are, including in Belarus, which gave them shelter.” The next day, Minsk issued an equally unfriendly statement noting that “these kinds of overheated emotional statements cannot come out of a civilized country’s leader, the constitution and laws in any modern country guarantee that nobody can be called guilty of any crime until his or her guilt is proven by a court’s verdict. However, taking into account a series of trials in absentia that were held in Kyrgyzstan, one can say that this country has its own specific approach to justice.” The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has also criticized Bishkek for being incapable of giving due protection to its own citizens.
For several years, Bishkek has repeatedly demanded from Minsk to extradite the Bakievs to Kyrgyzstan to face multiple criminal charges. The Kyrgyz courts have sentenced former president Bakiev and his brother in absentia to life imprisonment for killing protestors during the April 2010 events and for their involvement in organizing ethnic clashes in June 2010. In turn, Minsk prefers to ignore these demands and has already provided the ousted Kyrgyz president with Belarusian citizenship. After the Ukrainian Euromaidan in 2014, Belarusian President Lukashenko also expressed his readiness to provide shelter for the deposed President Yanukovych, but the former preferred to stay in Russia instead. On February 27, dozens of protestors rallied outside Belarus’s Embassy in Bishkek, demanding the extradition of the Bakiev brothers. The protestors were holding posters reading “The Bakievs are murderers” and “Belarus, Stop giving shelter to criminals.”
According to local experts, Anapiyaev may simply have been killed as a result of a conflict between various criminal groups striving to control drug traffic in the country. However, Kyrgyzstan’s leadership places all the blame on the Bakievs and seems satisfied with taking advantage of a remote public enemy in its domestic political machinations, making the episode timely especially in light of the upcoming parliamentary elections this autumn.
The author writes in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the organization for which he works
By Eka Janashia (03/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Georgia’s national currency, GEL (Lari) has lost 29 percent of its value against the US$ since November last year and, after a brief recovery, has continued depreciation until present. On February 24, the GEL saw its largest drop reflected in a single-day 3 percent fall. The Government pledged to present a “currency stabilization plan” for March 5 but failed to match the vow.
The implications of Georgia’s currency devaluation have become a major provenance for political speculation, public discontent, and concerns among domestic and foreign businesses.
Until the end of February, the government’s economic team kept calm regarding the depreciation of the GEL, largely echoing former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s assertion that he was completely satisfied with the work of the government and the National Bank of Georgia (NBG), instead linking the currency devaluation to external factors. “Nothing special is happening, the Lari is doing very well,” he claimed in January.
However, in response to public concerns after the GEL lost 3 percent of its value in a single day on February 24, Ivanishvili blamed the head of NBG Giorgi Kadagidze for idleness. “Kadagidze, who was appointed by the United National Movement [in 2009], led us to the crisis of the national currency with his inaction and wrong decisions” since under the constitution, the president of NBG is responsible for preventing undesirable developments, Ivanishvili said. After this statement, some ministers and the GD ruling coalition representatives also began disparaging the NBG’s work.
Kadagidze refused to engage in political debates but in response termed the GD attacks a “deliberate slanderous campaign against NBG” and reminded the public about the chronology of the events.
In 2013, Kadagidze warned the government that the projected 6 percent growth was overoptimistic and suggested a downward revision. Indeed, economic growth that year amounted to only 3.1 percent, half of what the government intended to achieve.
Kadagidze insisted that he also advised the government to avoid uneven spending from the state budget as it would increase pressure on the currency’s exchange rate, which in late 2013 resulted in an NBG intervention by selling several hundred million US$ at the exchange market, resulting in a decline of the country’s foreign reserves from US$ 3.1 billion in October, 2013, to US$ 2.82 billion by the end of 2013.
At that time, the intervention was justified as a one-time measure, whereas the current GEL depreciation is caused by the economy’s overall failure as foreign currency inflows have plunged since 2013, Kadagidze claimed.
Georgian exports fell by 30 percent and remittances by 23 percent year on year in January. In addition, the number of tourists shrunk by 7.8 percent in January-February compared to the same period last year. In effect, the account deficit reached 9.5 percent of GDP in 2014. Kadagidze argues that filling the deficit with foreign currency reserves is “counterproductive and fruitless.”
In cooperation with the Government and the NBG, the Analytic Mission of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) studied Georgia’s macroeconomic indicators in light of the recent economic hardship. A concluding statement lists a set of external factors such as the ongoing crisis in Ukraine; the growing recession in Russia; and currency devaluations in trading partner countries as reasons for Georgia’s slowing economy. Economic growth for this year could reach only 2 percent, instead of the previously estimated 5 percent, and even this projection is under the risk, the mission said.
As a countermeasure, the IMF suggested restrictions in administrative spending and increases of specific taxes in order to eschew a further upsurge of the budget deficit. At the same time, the IMF fully supported NBG’s policy of limited intervention in the foreign exchange market, arguing that its primary task is to maintain price stability in the country and while fulfilling this mission the independence of NBG “should be preserved and respected.”
In the wake of this statement, the Georgian government vowed to reduce administrative costs and pursue a so called “tighten belts” policy. Moreover, it declared its intention to ramp up the privatization process with an aim to raise US$ 300-350 million within the next two-three months.
To this end, the government plans to sell state assets – the historical buildings of the Economy Ministry and NBG in downtown Tbilisi, government residences in Adjara and near the capital city, and shares in thermal power plants and the National Lottery Company.
Nevertheless, some economic experts and opposition political parties argue that one-time investments cannot recover the ailing economy. The former president of NBG, Roman Gotsiridze, argues that enlarged social expenses, agricultural loans, and healthcare projects make the state budget inflexible. The budget expenditure should be reduced by at least GEL 300 million, otherwise the national currency will continue to depreciate and prices will rise, which will completely destroy the country’s economy.
The United National Movement (UNM) and Free Democrats, two parliamentary opposition parties, blamed the government for lacking a clear vision how to get the country out of the crisis. UNM plans to organize a protest rally in Tbilisi on March 21 to demand the government’s resignation.
It is obvious that, after GD came into power, the country’s economic policy has been less resilient to external shocks and the government has been unable to elaborate timely and cogent policies to mitigate the adversary external impact on the economy. The government’s poor economic performance encourages protest actions from opposition parties though the anticipated political turbulence could well be exploited also by radical pro-Russian parties.
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.