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Georgian President Calls For 'Strategic Patience' Toward Russia


Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili speaks to parliament on May 2.

TBILISI -- Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili has lashed out at the country's government on domestic issues and urged it to stick to what he called a "policy of strategic patience" in relations with Russia, which remain strained a decade after the neighbors fought a five-day war.

In his annual speech to parliament on May 2, Margvelashvili said that such a policy "is important for Georgia in current circumstances," suggesting that Moscow could be seeking a pretext for fresh conflict.

"Georgia must not follow any of [Russia's] provocations and do its best not to give Russia a chance to use force against Georgia," Margvelashvili said.

Georgia and Russia severed diplomatic ties following the August 2008 war, during which Russian forces drove deep into the South Caucasus country following initial fighting in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Russia recognized South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, as independent states after the war, aggravating ties with Tbilisi and the West. Almost all the world's countries recognize the two territories as part of Georgia.

Margvelashvili and the government of Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili have frequently been at odds in Georgia, where the prime minister has held more power than the president since a constitutional reform in 2013.

In the address, Margvelashvili accused the government of monopolizing power and trying to "destroy a political class in Georgia" during parliamentary elections in 2016.

"The 2016 election was a deliberate attempt...to weaken political parties as major players in the political space," he said, adding that since then "no steps have been taken to strengthen the political opposition, to create preconditions for a strong opposition. No legislation has been drafted in this direction."

Margvelashvili also lashed out at the security apparatus in the former Soviet republic, saying that Georgians who have committed "violence against ordinary people are currently working at the prosecutor's office and law enforcement agencies."

He said that while this problem was not as pronounced as it was before, "these individuals are still in the law enforcement agencies and the system has not been depoliticized."

In the years since longtime President Mikheil Saakashvili's party was ousted from power by the Georgian Dream coalition in 2012, he said, the government had been unable "to lay the foundation for reforms" in the judicial system.

The president also asserted that open attacks on journalists stopped taking place after Georgian Dream came to power, but that the authorities had created "nonviolent difficulties" for media outlets and journalists.

"You can ask any media representative and he tells you that they have to operate under tension and pressure, always expecting obstacles," Margvelashvili said.

Margvelashvili also accused the government of "ignoring" education, health care, and agriculture, and said that big companies dominated the economy at the expense of smaller ones.

Kvirikashvili criticized Margvelashvili’s speech, saying afterward that he had "expected a more detailed, focused, and analytical" address from the president.

"I think the president should have looked into the issues faced by our nation more broadly to perform his duty as a mediator. To be honest, I was expecting much more from this speech," Kvirikashvili said.

However, he said that his government had never denied the problems cited by the president exist, adding, "The government's structures are working on resolving the issues mentioned by the president."

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