“The PM Made a Mistake,” Georgia Ex-Def Minister on her Replacement and Future Plans

Georgia’s Ministry of Defense has a new head with Tinatin Khidasheli, the country’s first ever lady defense minister being replaced by Levan Izoria, former deputy at the State Security Service. We asked her of her plans for the looming elections and why she thinks that Izoria’s appointment was a mistake on the Prime Minister’s part.

“I know why he’s been appointed, but I’m averse to talking about that with media yet,” she says, implying there’s more to the story and, keeping fingers crossed, she might spill the beans in the near future.

The appointment of Izoria came as a surprise to the ex-Minister, who apparently expected either David Zalkaliani (former deputy MoF, Free Democrats) or David Bakradze (incumbent EU Integration Minister) to succeed her.

According to Khidasheli, it was “a specifically institutional mistake” from the PM, especially on the eve of the elections. She claims she has nothing against Izoria personally, describing him during our chat as “a virtuous man, a good citizen and lawyer, with good education, who had significant human resources”. But there was a big, unsaid But – Khidasheli believes that successful management of the defense ministry requires many more political skills, especially on the foreign front.

“I hope during these last three months, that is, before the elections, that nothing will go wrong, nothing will undermine what I did during my 15 months at the helm,” she says, clearly proud of the legacy she is leaving behind. Her only regret? Not to be in office when the UN sends its official apologies on the Central Africa case (where Georgian soldiers were falsely accused of child molestation, and proven innocent through investigation), which, Khidasheli insists, it’s bound to do, as the Georgian side went through every detail and sent an apology request to every responsible body.

Speaking further on her legacy, Khidasheli claims she essentially cleared of the dust – that is, took on matters that remained unresolved for almost a decade. “A complete structural overhaul – that’s what we did,” she says. “There were dozens of foreign consultants who for years were demanding concrete steps from the Ministry, but my predecessors, due to the task being openly thankless and an incredibly arduous one at that, were constantly opting for more populist solutions which would benefit them at elections.” One such step was the abolition of mandatory military service, which, being a huge change affecting thousands of lives, went through relatively unnoticed and unheralded.

Being a career politician, Khidasheli also has to think about her future. Whether she will return to governmental administration after the elections is entirely a matter of her party’s resources. The Republicans, she says, “will do their utmost to keep the promise and not to turn the pre-election period into political warfare.” She’s calling for responsibility from every actor involved as “turning this into an uncontrollable mess will benefit no-one.”

As for the ruling party and their potential cooperation, despite earlier criticism, the ex-Minister was generous when talking about the Prime Minister, dubbing him “a political partner, who is faithfully trying to change Georgia’s future for the better.” When asked what chances her own party has, Khidasheli underlined the Republicans’ proven track record of political resilience. “During my tenure, we were getting lots of undeserved stick; from Gregory Karasin and Stalin fans all the way to some representatives of Georgian Dream, but we are used to that, and for years now, our unyielding nature has shown through,” she declares. There is no legitimate political accusation that can be reasonably addressed at the Republicans, Khidasheli believes, and content with how things stand for now, she seems hopeful about the coming elections.

Rusa Shelia

04 August 2016 21:25