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. 

Published in Field Reports
Wednesday, 17 September 2014 22:38

NATO Grants Georgia a "Substantial Package"

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.

Published in Field Reports
Wednesday, 17 September 2014 22:35

Georgia's PM Garibashvili Visits Armenia

By Erik Davtyan (09/17/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On August 21, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili paid a two-day official visit to Armenia. Accepting the official invitation from the Armenian side, Garibashvili had meetings with his counterpart Hovik Abrahamyan, discussing a wide range of issues in the fields of trade relations, infrastructure, education and culture. The Georgian PM was also received by Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan. The interlocutors discussed some aspects of Armenian-Georgian relations, as well as the agreements reached by the two states during Sargsyan’s official visit to Georgia on June 18, 2014.

The August meetings were Garibashvili’s first visit to Yerevan as Georgia’s PM, therefore there were some expectations in Armenia from the official visit. After the “Georgian Dream” coalition’s victory in Georgia’s 2012 parliamentary elections, Garibashvili’s visit became the second by a Georgian chief executive after Bidzina Ivanishvili’s visit in 2013.

Armenia is dependent on Georgia for communication with the outer world, and Georgia serves as a transit corridor for export and import. Since Georgia has recalibrated its foreign policy toward promoting trilateral comprehensive cooperation with Turkey and Azerbaijan, many in Armenia pay close attention to developments in Georgia’s foreign affairs and its attitude towards Armenia and Armenian-Georgian relations. In this context, the outcomes of Garibashvili’s visit and the high-level meetings potentially have significant implications for Armenia’s geopolitical situation. 

Another matter of concern for Armenia is the future of bilateral relations with Georgia in light of the different paths of regional integration the two countries have chosen. After signing an Association Agreement with the EU on June 27, Georgia has considerably deepened its integration process with the EU. Meanwhile, Armenia continues its route towards membership in the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union. The possibility that these divergent integration processes may damage relations between Armenia and Georgia is nevertheless officially downplayed by both sides. During the meeting, Abrahamyan stressed that “Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union will not affect the existing economic relations with Georgia”, and added that “Armenia and Georgia could benefit from adhering to different integration units”. Garibashvili reaffirmed his counterpart’s assessment and added that it “might set a good example for the international community.” However, these viewpoints were criticized by some observers. Tatul Hakobyan, an analyst of the Civilitas foundation, stated that the different directions of integration will damage both Armenian-Iranian and Armenian-Georgian relations, “leading Armenia to economic, political and regional isolation”.

Aside from economic issues, the visit was also important in the context of national security and military affairs. A problematic development from Armenia’s perspective is that the defense ministers of Georgia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan held trilateral meetings on August 18 in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic shortly before Garibashvili’s official visit to Yerevan. During the visit, the three states decided to develop their defense cooperation, and especially the prospect of increased Georgian-Azerbaijani military cooperation caused concern in Armenia. The trilateral meeting was perceived in some circles as a step toward creating a trilateral alliance against Armenia. However, Johnny Melikyan, an expert on Georgian affairs, downplayed the importance of the Nakhchivan meeting, stating that its agenda did not go beyond that of a series of similar meetings that have periodically been organized between Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan since 2011, and does not have any specific importance for Armenian-Georgian relations. According to Melikyan, Georgia is interested in sustaining the balance in the South Caucasus, not in undermining Armenia’s national security.

Other analysts expressed disappointment regarding the lack of output from Garibashvili’s visit. Arnold Stepanyan, leader of the civil initiative Multinational Georgia, stated that “Garibashvili’s visit to Armenia was perceived as an ordinary visit, as another meeting: nothing special was said or written.” Stepanyan thinks the state-level discussion of bilateral relations delivered less than expected and the lack of new agreements mark limited progress in broadening bilateral relations.

According to bestnews.am, “Garibashvili paid ‘a get-to-know-you visit’ to Armenia,” based on which increasing cooperation can evolve between Garibashvili’s and Abrahamyan’s cabinets. Despite the variety in opinions, the visit of the Georgian Prime Minister was generally perceived as a positive step towards an intensification of Armenian-Georgian relations.

Published in Field Reports

By Eka Janashia (08/14/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The summer of 2014 was replete with striking political events in Georgia. The country held local elections on June 15 - July 12 with a landslide victory for Georgian Dream (GD) and signed a historical Association Agreement (AA) with the EU on June 27. Shortly after the polls, PM Irakli Gharibashvili reshuffled his cabinet to deliver “all of the promises pledged by GD” with double “energy, motivation and efficiency.” However, an event that received considerable attention both at home and internationally was the Tbilisi City Court’s August 2 order to place former president Mikheil Saakashvili in pre-trial detention.

On July 28, Georgian prosecutor’s office filed charges against Saakashvili related to the anti-government protests erupting on November 7, 2007, and the subsequent police raid on Imedi TV resulting in tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili’s loss of the TV station and other assets.

The prosecutor’s motion accused Saakashvili and then former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, who is currently in jail, for deliberate use of excessive force aiming to intimidate protesters and prevent further rallies. The deployment of army units in central Tbilisi during the dispersal of the protest was also considered a violation of the law. On August 2, in compliance with the prosecutor’s claims, Tbilisi City Court ordered Saakashvili’s pre-trail detention in absentia.

Three days later, new criminal charges were filed in connection with an attack conducted in 2005 against then opposition MP Valeri Gelashvili, a businessman and a member of the Republican Party. Gelashvili was severely beaten up by masked, armed men shortly after an interview in which Gelashvili insulted the former president’s family and accused Saakashvili of confiscating his property. “Motivated by personal revenge,” Saakashvili commanded then Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili to beat Gelashvili. As he refused to do so, Saakashvili handed over the task to Merabishvili who complied, the prosecutor’s motion claims.

The indictments against Saakashvili and Merabishvili were filed under part three of article 333 of the criminal code, which deals with excessive use of official powers committed by use of violence and insult of the victim’s dignity and envisages imprisonment from 5 to 8 years.

Saakashvili’s defense lawyer, Otar Kakhidze, termed the evidence presented by the prosecutors insufficient and as fabrications ultimately drawing on a witness testimony of then parliamentary chairperson Nino Burjanadze. Kakhidze submitted an appeal to the Tbilisi Court of Appeals in an attempt to reverse the court’s decision, though the latter found the complaint inadmissible.

In a statement published on August 1, a group of five NGOs called on the Georgian authorities to maintain transparency and accountability to avoid public and international perceptions of political retribution. The statement expressed suspicion over the fact that the criminal charges against Saakashvili were filed instantly after the latter failed to appear for questioning, casting doubts on the actual need to summon Saakashvili as a witness.

The decision on Saakashvili’s pre-trial detention drew criticism from the EU as well as the U.S. Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said that “Georgian authorities deviate from the European path by using the justice system for revenge.” In the same fashion, the European People’s Party (EPP), a partner of Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM), stated that politically motivated actions pursued by the Georgian government means that it does not take the AA seriously. It was Saakashvili’s ongoing activities in Ukraine that incited charges against him, EPP said.

The U.S. Department of State and U.S. Senators also expressed concern and disappointment over the issue. A joint statement released by Republican Senators John McCain and Jim Risch says that perceptibly the ruling GD coalition systematically punishes their political opponents, imposing “unnecessary challenges in moving our relationship forward.”

The GD members and high-ranking government officials have dismissed Western criticism. MP Giorgi Volski disapproved the EPP statement assessing it as “factually incorrect and prejudicial.” PM Garibashvili called Bildt a representative of the “club of Saakashvili’s friends, who have certain obligations of friendship” and assured the public that Saakashvili’s case would have no effect on Georgia’s European integration process. The Swedish Foreign Minister was quick in responding that “if the Georgian PM does not want to listen to the best friends of his country in EU, that’s his choice. We take note.”

What became clear after Saakashvili’ indictment is that from the standpoint of the EU and U.S., the ruling coalition may have crossed a red line. Since GD came to power, EU and U.S. officials have repeatedly indicated that the coalition should move beyond past confrontations and focus on the future.

The episode is yet another indication that GD tends to prioritize narrow political interests over strategic national ones.

Published in Field Reports
Thursday, 14 August 2014 07:55

Russia Takes Steps to Absorb South Ossetia

By Valeriy Dzutsev (08/14/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Against the backdrop of the events in Ukraine, Moscow appears to take steps toward quietly incorporating the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia into Russia. The republican authorities announced that plans were under way for South Ossetia and Russia to establish a unified customs checkpoint at the border between the two countries. Russia is on a collision course with Georgia over the South Caucasian country’s recent signing of an Association Agreement with the EU. As South Ossetia is again becoming an important tool for Moscow’s policies in the South Caucasus, the Russian government appears intent on establishing even greater control over its satellite state in the region and using it against Georgia.

South Ossetia overview map

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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.

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