Thursday, August 25, 2016

Caucasus Report

Georgian President, Prime Minister Exchange Barbs Over High-Profile Arrests

Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili meets with EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton in Tbilisi on November 26. "Investigations into past wrongdoings must be -- and must be seen to be -- impartial, transparent, and in compliance with due process,” Ashton said.
Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili meets with EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton in Tbilisi on November 26. "Investigations into past wrongdoings must be -- and must be seen to be -- impartial, transparent, and in compliance with due process,” Ashton said.
The ongoing war of words between the new Georgian government headed by former businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili and the former ruling United National Movement (ENM) shows no sign of abating.

Speaking at a press conference on November 22, Ivanishvili sought to rebut accusations that the new regime is engaging in political persecution of the opposition ENM. The following day, President Mikheil Saakashvili (who fired the opening salvo in that war with his speech conceding the ENM’s defeat in the October 1 parliamentary elections by Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition), alleged that “a sense of serious instability” has emerged and that “more and more people in Georgia realize that our country is in danger.”

The catalyst for the allegations of systematic political persecution of senior members of the outgoing leadership was the arrests earlier this month of a dozen Interior Ministry officials and top military officers, including Bacho Akhalaia, who had served under Saakashvili first as defense minister, then as interior minister.

Those arrests have elicited statements of concern from NATO, Washington, and the European Union. Visiting Tbilisi two weeks ago, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon warned Ivanishvili of the need to avoid creating the impression that the ongoing investigation of suspected abuses selectively and unfairly targets Ivanishvili’s political opponents.

Ivanishvili assured Gordon that the new cabinet will make every effort to demonstrate to its Western partners that it is acting in strict compliance with the requirements of democracy and justice.

Echoing Gordon, EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton told a press conference in Tbilisi on November 27 that “there should be no selective justice, no retribution against political rivals. Investigations into past wrongdoings must be -- and must be seen to be -- impartial, transparent, and in compliance with due process.”

At his November 22 press conference, Ivanishvili dismissed as lies the ENM’s argument that the high-profile arrests constitute political persecution. He said Georgian Dream embarked on fulfilling its election campaign promises by seeking to restore justice and that “people are queuing up outside the prosecutor’s office to file complaints” against members of Saakashvili’s administration. He said he does not “dictate to the prosecutor-general whom he should arrest.” To argue that Akhalaia is a political prisoner, Ivanishvili added, is “an insult to society.”

President Mikheil Saakashvili: “A sense of serious instability” has emerged.
President Mikheil Saakashvili: “A sense of serious instability” has emerged.
Ivanishvili also made clear that he will not seek to initiate Saakashvili’s impeachment, although he will try to push through parliament amendments to the constitution that would curb presidential powers even before the election of Saakashvili’s successor. In that context, Ivanishvili questioned the rationale for the decision that Saakashvili should remain president until October 2013, even though he was reelected in January 2008 for a second five-year term.

As for his own political plans, Ivanishvili distanced himself from his preelection pledge that he would quit politics in the spring of 2014. He said he will do so “if things go perfectly” but that if “the worst-case scenario plays out” he will serve for the full parliamentary term and run again in the parliamentary elections due in 2017.

Ivanishvili’s rejection of the accusations of politically motivated reprisals against the ENM failed to convince Saakashvili and his closest political allies. National Security Council Secretary Gigi Bokeria retaliated the same day, describing Ivanishvili’s comments as a reflection of Georgian Dream’s intolerance of any opposition and as “an alarm signal for our democracy.” Bokeria accused Ivanishvili of being reluctant to comply even with “the minimum red lines of democracy.”

Bacho AkhalaiaBacho Akhalaia
Bacho Akhalaia
Bacho Akhalaia
Vano Merabishvili, who served for years as interior minister before being named prime minister in late June, slammed Ivanishvili’s remarks as “blackmail” and warned him to “modify his rhetoric.” Like Saakashvili, Merabishvili alleged that Georgian Dream has no intention of delivering on its preelection promises.

The Georgian Interior Ministry has since completed its investigation into possible abuses by Merabishvili of his powers as interior minister. But Merabishvili has laughed off as “unserious” the possibility he may be arrested, affirming his readiness “to stand accountable and to answer all questions” of interest to the judiciary and the public at large.

Regardless of whether or not any legal justification exists for the arrests of Akhalaia and his associates and the criminal investigation into Merabishvili’s actions as interior minister, Saakashvili’s argument that such allegations contribute to tension and social malaise is a valid one. Accusations of politically motivated reprisals against political opponents, i.e. conflating the moral imperative to investigate and punish suspected crimes with a desire for revenge, constitute one of the easiest and most convenient ways to try to discredit a political rival. They are also among the most damaging in the long term insofar as questioning the motive for any such legal proceedings places on the political force that initiates them the onus of proving that it acted in good faith.

Disproving such accusations is difficult, given that each side is likely to dismiss the arguments adduced by the other as at best subjective and at worst specious and self-serving. Even if criminal charges brought against members of the outgoing regime were well-grounded and the evidence presented in court to substantiate them were, indeed, incontrovertible, a verdict of “guilty” can always be construed as evidence that the prosecutor’s office and the judiciary were simply taking orders, or caved in to pressure, from the executive branch.

As a trained lawyer, Saakashvili is well-qualified to wrest whatever political advantage he can from the ambiguities of the present situation.
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Comment Sorting
by: Ben
November 28, 2012 16:12
Two freaks great meeting!
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
December 06, 2012 09:59
As the two, so far, escaping the Russian "shtyk",
The "shtyk" nacks "Big Ben" and call them freaks.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 28, 2012 17:09
Aha, an interesting account of what is going on. Und? How exactly is this confrontation going be put an end to? Clashes on the streets of the Georgian cities between supporters of both camps? Or Mischa will just be sitting out his term in office till October next year, watching his opponents been put in jail one after the other and complain, compain, coplain... Like anyone cares about his complaints :-)).
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
November 29, 2012 15:50
I doubt it will end in riots Queergenio.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 29, 2012 22:17
For once, Andrew from Auckland, I tend to agree with you: Mischa will most probably sit and quietly watch his friends go to jail. Then he will end there himself, after which Georgia will follow the same way Ukraine is following since Yanouk. became president :-)).
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 30, 2012 14:33
Aha, and to support my latest point, please have a look at today's RFE/RL article entitled "Another Georgian Official Detained". Very frankly, it actually starts looking like Iwan. has a much more ambitious "arresting agenda" than Yanouk. has ever had in Ukraine: The latter limited himself to putting into jail only two MAJOR Ukrainian pro-US politicians (Julia herself and the former Interior Minister Lutsenko), whereas Iwan. has ALREADY arrested about a dozen of Georgian ones (and it's not even two months since the last election yet!).
Who knows, maybe by the time when Mischa's presidential term expires 11 months from now, NONE of his close colaborators will be left running free on the streets of Tbilisi. Actually, another well-known Georgian - Joseph Stalin, who did a good job by kicking the ... of German nazis in 1945 - was also this kind of applied person who could work on things in systematic manner. Good job, Iwan., and the way to go: it's time to clean the Caucasus from friends of the Beavuses and the Buttheads!
In Response

by: Konstantin from: Lows Angeles
December 06, 2012 11:00
All trouble of Georgia coming from Russians.
Russian spies, wich Ivan-shvili tried to help,
Are still over former Warso Pact countries.
Russia avenge 2008 incomplete conquest,
Punishing resistance and disabling armies.

Georgia confused, before the biger harvest
Nazi Russia would unleashed in Euro-Asia.
Patriots, like Saakashvili, asking help West,
But because USA believed Russian "lazha"
Be greedy, pure Georgians feeled debased.

I offered long ago start reviving all industries
And involve population expand true freedom,
Unfortunately US Russians played greedies.
And it was too slow, but Russian spyingdom
Moved with Huligan's march and Ivan-shvilis.

If Saakashvili indeed agreed for USA, asking
To brake me down permission, trying inslave
And plagiarize, in name of CIA, runed by lying
Russian imperio-resurrect, for my 2008 help,
And they killed my mother - he became weak.

Still, all presidents contributed to save people,
Under different pressure of times, in their way.
Both parties in last elections must unite swiftly
To rebuild their countriy, no vandeta Ivanishvili,
Even for the serious crimes Justice must pay.

Georgia must hold all lines, International help,
Recognition, "noble" contribution to the World
And rebuilding sectors of industries and lands,
Improve human life, prosperity, but not walled
By unreasonable Russian vandeta to expand.

Often Eugenio warnings make sence, but hell!
He doesn't worn save our nations, like he tells!:
- "Fall down, Russia is comming, we'll take all!
All Russia ever occupied or wanted, and more!
Like CIS and Ukraine is already fallen into hole."

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 02, 2012 18:23
By the way, Andrew from Auckland, I don't know whether you have the habit of reading the The Economist magazine, but in their last issue (pp. 16 and 18 of the European edition) there is a relatively interesting article on Georgia. Here are some of the things that this article says: "Mr. Ivanishvili's govt is seeking to free people convicted in past years for spying for Russia and for... bombing the American embassy in Tbilisi". Aha, I guess this info - as usual - fits into your mental picture, according to which Iwan. is not really planning to change the foreign policy orientation of the country he governs :-)).
And then the article goes on to say: "Ukraine shows where Georgia could end up if the <Georgian> govt continues down this road... As a result of the Kiev authorities' heavy-handed approach <to political rivals>, the EU has now frozen ties <to UA>". Aha, Andrew from Auckland, exactly as you were saying - Georgia is moving ever closer to the EU and NATO :-)).
And finally, the article goes on to issue a warning to the new leadership of Georgia by saying that "Mr. Ivanishvili should cherish, and not squander" those "bright prospects for integration with the EU and plenty of goodwill in Brussels and Washington" :-))). Aha, "bright prospects" :-))). Greece also joined the EU some 30 years ago and look at the "bright future" that they have arrived at: the country has lost about 20 % of its GDP in the last 4 years, the unemployment level has achieved some 25 % of the population, the sovereign debt of the country is forecast (by the European Commission itself!) to be some 198 % of the country's GDP by the year 2014 and the Germans are already controlling the Ministry of Finance (i.e. the country is "slowly" becoming a German colony).
And that's exactly this very "bright future" that awaits EVERY EU member state - except for Germany - in the years to come. So, guys, just run fast enough in order to MAYBE be "good enough" in order to be able to jump in the very last compartment of the European enlargement train, which is about to leave the station already :-)).
Cheers from Vienna!

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.