During the Russo-Ukrainian war, each government has shown its own tactics on how to maneuver through diplomatic trouble; most trying to support defenders without damaging relations with the aggressors, who can leave them without oil and gas. The Georgian government is trying to keep the balance, but, somehow, Russians are more satisfied than Ukrainians. Is it a sign of failure of Georgian diplomacy?
We talked with political analyst Ghia Abashidze, to get answers to the questions the people and politicians are asking most these days.
The relationship between the Georgian and Ukrainian governments has worsened. Are both sides to blame?
I think the Georgian government has tolerated as much as possible. As soon as [the Ukrainian side] started unfounded accusations about sanction-avoiding goods transfer… etc., I do not want to repeat it, the government was forced to respond. Yes, they responded harshly, but it was a response. I think there is still room for maneuvering on both sides and, sooner or later, these gaps will be mended.
Is the Georgian government, with the ambassador,, doing enough to make them understand that we cannot join the sanctions, because nothing will affect Russia, but it will have a dramatic impact on Georgia?
It is not an ambassadorial task, especially in wartime, to make political consultations intensively within the Ukrainian administration, I mean, the Government, the Parliament. This is up to the Georgian officials and they are kind of friends and allies to convince them, but, yes, there are ungrounded accusations that we must join sanctions. Of course, we have joined every sanction, unlike Azerbaijan, which Zelensky has not criticized. Azerbaijan hasn’t joined many political statements on various political international platforms – unlike Georgia. Georgia joined everything, and we are, I think, the first, proportional wise, in delivering humanitarian aid to Ukraine and in caring about Ukrainians, thousands of Ukrainians, who are stuck in Georgia temporarily.
In Georgia, we see no signs of preparation for a possible provocation from Russia. Isn’t that risky?
Any kind of move from Russia, which has become more and more unpredictable, is risky, of course. The Georgian government maintains the line, of what the people want, irrespective if they support this government or not. The majority of the population supports peace and stability. Of course, when you have the enemy on the soil, it is always risky, but we still maintain the line, thanks to our friends, partners, and allies in the West. They are keeping Georgia safe as much as possible. They help us avoid unnecessary risks.
Recent IRI polls show PM Garibashvili rating below the president Zurabishvili. Why do you think that is?
For a number of years, IRI and NDI polls have not been not reliable for many Georgians, including me. Not because of IRI or NDI itself. They have been hiring local field researchers, which have a UNM-affiliated reputation, and none of their rankings ever coincide with the election results. For example, in 2012, When Bidzina Ivanishvili was very popular, incoming in politics, Giorgi Targamadze, then a Christian Democrat, the satellite of UNM, was said to be more popular than Ivanishvili.
Then why didn’t they listen to you and change those people who, part of the Georgian people, consider related to that one party (UNM)?
I cannot speak on behalf of NDI or IRI boards and management, it is their problem, but they have to realize that their reputation, their “Brand” reputation is very much damaged in Georgia. I do not understand their logic. Why do not they change field research organizations?
“In Georgia, UNM is in the opposition, but in Ukraine, they represent the ruling party” said the chairman of the Georgian Dream party Irakli Kobakhidze. How can UNM be pro-Russian, if they fight against Russia everywhere?
It’s in the politics to be someone’s proxy or someone’s useful idiot. I would call the United National Movement the useful idiot of the Kremlin. After the August war in 2008, all energy facilities were sold directly to Russia. Remember, at that time the prime minister Vano Merabishvili said that “Money doesn’t smell” – about Russian money. I do not believe that they are pro-European. Now they want Georgia involved in the so-called “Second front” so that Georgia must retake Tskhinvali and Sokhumi etc. Who wants instability in this country and the South Caucasus, especially when Russia is sanctioned and all the transport and energy corridors are moving further down the south – South Caucasus. It is the alternative for Ukraine for Europe, for cargo and energy resources. Who wants the war and destabilization here? – Russia and UNM. When you do the thing, that the “Northern Bear” wants, well, no matter how many things you will say against Putin, whatever, it doesn’t mean anything. The actions are more important than statements on TV shows.
The public defender’s office says that the recommendations for Saakashvili given by the experts in the months of December-January, haven’t or couldn’t be implemented. Isn’t the Georgian government risking the life of president Saakashvili?
Public defenders so-called medical Concilium, or whatever it’s called, said that Saakashvili was mistreated, there were facts of inhuman treatment against him when he was transferred from the Rustavi prison to the Gldani medical facility. When they filed the case to the Strasbourg court, The court didn’t even consider it. Regarding Nino Lomjaria, the Public defender, irrespective of the IRI and NDI survey, she has so discredited herself with her actions, with her political statements. So, it’s her problem, really. But the medical system in the penitential facility works on the standard level and if Saakashvili will be in grave condition, he will be again transferred to the prison hospital or the military hospital. But, excuse me, there is a question – There are too many depressed prisoners in Georgia, in Norway, in Finland… Is anyone asking to take them somewhere, outside the country, in Paris, or, whatever? Saakashvili is an ordinary prisoner for me.
Is Saakashvili an ordinary prisoner?
Ex-president, so what? He’s an ordinary prisoner as any prisoner in Rustavi.
Then why didn’t the Georgian government let his lawyers and the people, who were willing, even Ukrainian MPs see Saakashvili?
Lawyers or actors for the political show?
Is that how you see it?
It’s what I see. What I hear or what I judge, I say that publicly. It is my opinion, maybe, someone else has a different opinion. Look at the court – Saakashvili has five or six lawyers in front of him. One of them was his MP, the former chief bodyguard. So, what is the problem? Does he want the American or Ukrainian? He has six of them.
Interviewed by Georgia Today journalist, Erekle Poladishvili