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November 24, 2016 No.
6691

Russia's Orbit- Part I- Georgia's Elections

Parliamentary elections took place in Georgia on October 8 and October 30 (second round), 2016.[1] Three parties gained seats in the Georgian Parliament: Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, United National Movement and Alliance of Patriots.[2] The Georgian Dream party gained 115 seats in the legislative body, United National Movement (UNM) gained 27 seats and the pro-Russian opposition party Alliance of Patriots won 6 seats.[3] Two remaining seats were won by a candidate from the Industrial Party and by an independent majoritarian candidate. Giorgi Kvirikashvili was reconfirmed as Georgia's' Prime Minister.[4]

The Georgian Dream party, founded by former Prime Minister and tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, came to power in 2012, after defeating former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's UNM. Saakashvili left Georgia for the United States after his presidential term expired in 2013.[5] In 2014, the Georgian authorities placed Saakashvili on a national list of wanted persons, adding that he would be arrested if he ever returns to Georgia.

In an interview with Georgia's Rustavi 2 TV from New York, Saakashvili said: "Ivanishvili filed criminal charges against me to prevent me from returning to Georgia. [He] is well aware that he could not announce an international wanted operation on me... The European Union and Americans have explained to him that it was not possible... I would like to say to Ivanishvili that this [nonsense] will be judged in history. But the sound majority of our country will decide and find its place for everything. Ultimately, our country will be released from this nonsense and everything will be settled."[6]

Saakashvili was a staunch supporter of the Ukraine's 2014 Euromaidan revolution. In 2015, Saakashvili was appointed governor of Ukraine's Odessa region by his longtime friend and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. In May 2016, Saakashvili announced that he wanted to return to Georgia and participate in the recent October elections, saying he was planning to continue his "struggle both here in Ukraine and at home in Georgia."[7] On November 7, 2016, Saakashvili resigned as governor of the Odessa region and later announced the launch of a new Ukrainian political group, the Platform of New Forces.[8]

Before the October elections in Georgia, Saakashvili warned that Ivanishvili would use his wealth (estimated at just under USD 5.5 billion) to rig the results and steer Georgia back into Russia's orbit. Saakashvili said: "Ivanishvili has accumulated a lot of wealth in recent years. He has no intention of going anywhere and will not voluntarily step aside... Ivanishvili will use all of his tricks to remain in power, so we need to be calm and be ready to defend democracy."[9] The press release by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission said: "The 30 October parliamentary run-offs in Georgia were competitive and administered in a manner that respected the rights of candidates and voters, and voting on election day was assessed positively, although issues remain related to lacking a legal framework for second round elections and complaints related to first round results."[10]

Meanwhile, an inner struggle started inside the UNM. After the results of the October 8 parliamentary elections, Saakashvili wanted UNM MPs to boycott the parliament and urged its supporters to take to the streets. However, a majority of the UNM's political council rejected Saakashvili's calls. The Georgian media outlet Civil.ge explained: "The confrontation [between the two factions inside the UNM] became even stronger in social networks, where Saakashvili's supporters confronted those members of the party, who refused to boycott the Parliament, accusing them of making a deal with Ivanishvili and trying to get rid of Saakashvili."[11]  

Soon after the Georgian elections, the chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs Leonid Kalashnikov, said that the Russian State Duma's Committee for the CIS, Eurasian Integration and Communications with Compatriots is ready to initiate the restoration of parliamentary cooperation with Georgia. Kalashnikov said: "The Committee is ready to do its best to promote restoration of cooperation - both parliamentary and general cooperation. We will hold hearings in the committee; we will analyze the results of the elections and address the Georgian side with a proposal. Let's see if they respond to it." He then added that

policies of confrontation with Russia and Saakashvili's hope of returning to power had failed. "But, naturally, this does not mean that diplomatic ties will be automatically restored. I do not know whether Georgian Dream will develop friendly and good neighborly relations with Russia. There are still obstacles, but consultations continue," Kalashnikov said.[12]

Concerning relation with Russia, the pro-Kremlin Russian (RIAC) wrote: "We cannot say that the political situation that is developing in Georgia will shake up relations with Russia in a significant way, as the two leading parties are firmly oriented towards the West. They both follow the same strategy, although their tactical approaches differ. When Saakashvili was in power, any kind of 'trolling' of Russia was welcomed by the UNM. The representatives of the Georgian Dream party, however, want to move away from this, believing that there is no need to create problems for the West. Their reasoning is thus: if Georgia can prove to the West that it will not create headaches for it with regard to Russia, then maybe the process of joining NATO and the European Union will be expedited. The very fact that there is a power within the Georgian Parliament that understands the need to develop relations with Russia is an encouraging sign."

The article then stressed that the recent election in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara shows that a part of the electorate wants to diversify Georgia's foreign policy. RIAC's article stated: "We should also note another important factor here: the Autonomous Republic of Adjara held elections to its Supreme Council, the results of which were largely overshadowed by the general election. What is significant here is the fact that two parties traditionally considered to be 'third powers' - namely, the [pro-Russia] Democratic Movement led by [former Parliament Speaker] Nino Burjanadze [2001-2008] and the [pro-Russian opposition party] Alliance of Patriots - were also elected into the region's government. The economically important Autonomous Republic of Adjara (which is home to [the second largest city of Georgia] Batumi, boasts a seaport and has a border with Turkey) is extremely interested in diversifying Georgia's foreign policy. There have been calls for a third party to emerge in Georgia for some time now, but all previous attempts have proved unsuccessful. This most recent attempt can be seen as a kind of claim to this position. The next general election will be held in four years' time; only time will tell whether the party will be able to flourish moving forward."[13]  

Discussing Georgia's relations with the West, head of the Regional Problems Center at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences), Nana Gegelashvili, wrote in the pro-Kremlin think tank Valdai Club's website: "It is clear that Georgia's Western trajectory is immutable and its future belongs not so much to the parties that won the elections as to the continuity of its foreign policy towards integration with the West and the development of a genuinely democratic society. This is conditioned by the following factors. First, during his presidency Saakashvili managed to turn that generation of youth into real yuppies. They enthusiastically support the values of Western democracy, such as liberal reforms and democratic standards that are critical to integration with the West, but are very far removed from Russian culture and the Russian language. Apart from this conflict of the generations, with young people unanimously embracing democratic values, the main common thread uniting the nation is disapproval of what they see as Russia's occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This factor largely explains the pro-Western views of Georgian voters as a counterweight to Russia.

"Second, Georgia's policy of pursuing closer relations with NATO and other Euro-Atlantic structures is essentially fixed. In Tbilisi's opinion, in the past Moscow did not do a good job in its role of guarantor of Georgia's security. Third, support for major social programs promised by the Georgian Dream coalition that replaced Saakashvili's UNM in 2012 revealed the limits of its capabilities and failed to ensure long-term political unity and stability in society.

"Thus, the seeds of democracy sown by Saakashvili during his ten years in power, as well as the Western model of democracy had not been crushed. On the contrary, they are widely disseminated and supported by a segment of Georgian society. It was under the UNM leadership that a new Georgian nation was formed on the basis of prioritizing Western values and hatred of everything Soviet.

"The parliamentary elections in Georgia in early October will have a decisive impact on the country's future. Their outcome will determine the makeup of both the highest legislative body and the Government, which will carry out the foreign and domestic policy and will be responsible to the Georgian voters for it. However, Georgia's real challenges will not disappear after the elections. These are the economy and threats to security from the south, which may somewhat affect the Western trajectory of Georgian policy."[14]  

Meanwhile, joint NATO-Georgia Exercises 2016 were held at the Joint Training and Evaluation Center (JTEC) in Georgia on November 10-20 with the participation of servicemen from Georgia, 11 allied member states and two partners. The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed concern over the drills saying that 'Russia sees this activity as a serious threat to peace and stability in the region.'[15] The ministry also reminded Georgia that its misplaced confidence in NATO had led to its adventurous policy in 2008 and its subsequent debacle.[16]  

Below are excerpts of an article published by the Russian media outlet Gazeta.ru, titled "The 'Dream' pales without Saakashvili." According to the article, Saakashvili helped the Georgian Dream party by declaring that he might return to Georgia. "This breathed new life into the Georgian Dream party propaganda, since the party's agenda without opposition to Saakashvili looks rather empty," wrote Gazeta.ru. The article also stated that Georgia's foreign policy will try to maintain a balance between Russia and the West.[17]

 
Georgia's President Giorgi Margvelashvili (Source: Agenda.ge)

'Georgia Will Try To Maintain A Balance Between Russia And The West'

"Georgia is taking stock following the second round of its parliamentary elections, where the ruling Georgian Dream party has consolidated its leading position. Under this [party's] rule, Georgia will try to maintain balance between Russia and the West. Yet, as the opposition forces led by Mikheil Saakashvili grow weaker, Georgian Dream risks losing the idea that unites its voters.

"... Three parties have a guaranteed place in the parliament: Georgian Dream, United National Movement (UNM), and the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia. The elections were conducted in a two-round majority system.

In both the first and the second rounds (on October 8 and 30 respectively) it was Georgian Dream (GM) that got the most votes. Yet, the results of the first round looked much worse for the ruling party.

"On October 24, the results of party list-voting became clear. According to the Central Electoral Commission, GM received slightly over 48%, whereas the opposition United National Movement, headed by the former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, got 27% of the votes. Another party that entered the parliament is the pro-Russian Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, which barely cleared the 5% barrier.

"The second round took place in 50 out of 73 single-seat constituencies, where none of the parties received more than 50% of the votes in the first round... Georgian Dream will get [115] out of 150 seats in the parliament... This gives the party the right to amend the country's constitution.

"Only 12% of voters gave their votes to Saakashvili's UNM in the second round. 'Overall',  this party gets only 27 seats. Nevertheless, UNM remains the country's most powerful opposition party.

Saakashvili himself... has already declared that the elections were rigged. But the OSCE mission that observed the process did not sustain this view.

'We did not get a multi-party parliament; that was the public's choice,' said the President Giorgi Margvelashvili, congratulating Georgia on the success of the elections. 'But I'd like to remind you that political work does not conclude upon elections, it begins with them.' 

'For The Georgian Dream Party, These Elections Were Different'

"For the Georgian Dream party, these elections were different - both in terms of the preelectoral agenda and the environment that has changed. During the last elections in 2012, the party effectively used voter disillusionment with Saakashvili's policies.

"Saakashvili chose a sharply pro-Western political course right after the [Georgian] 'color' revolution of 2003. This process peaked in August 2008, when the partially recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia escaped from Tbilisi's control as a result of the South Ossetia conflict, which involved Georgian and Russian armed forces. In addition, heavy-handed actions of the reformed public prosecution office and economic problems sped up the alienation of Saakashvili's voter base.

"In 2012, the ruling UNM party was defeated by Georgian Dream in the parliamentary elections. In 2013, Saakashvili left the post of president and was replaced by the GM representative, Giorgi Margvelashvili.

"He and the [former] Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of Georgian Dream, promised to normalize the economy and the relationship with Russia, which has become a relationship of trust after Saakashvili's time in power was over.

"In 2016, the ruling party failed to overcome crises in the economy. Positive changes in the Russian-Georgian relations did not produce significant results either: the territorial conflict remains frozen, and Georgian citizens still cannot obtain visas to Russia.

"Before the elections, Mikheil Saakashvili helped GM in a way, by declaring that he might return to Georgia. This breathed new life into the Georgian Dream party propaganda, since the party's agenda without opposition to Saakashvili looks rather empty. 'I have just been to Georgia and had the opportunity to talk to people. Even to the untrained eye, there are more people who are hostile to Saakashvili than those who support him,' says political strategist Konstantin Kalachov. 'Many accuse him of ruining the relations with Russia, with the result being that many Georgians are unable to enter our country freely. And during the elections, I personally was not impressed with Saakashvili's party visually; the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia did not seem very convincing either, while Georgian Dream looked better and more impressive.'


Mikheil Saakashvili (Sputniknews.com)

'Further Prospects For The Development Of Russian-Georgian Relations Remain Nebulous'

"The question of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, controversial states that emerged after the 2008 conflict and whose independence from Georgia is recognized by Moscow but not by Tbilisi, is not forgotten. Both Georgian Dream and the United National Movement support the territorial reconstruction of old borders. 'Narratives related to controversial territories are not a priority in Georgia. I don't see any progress, and there is not going to be any,' says Igor Gretsky, assistant professor of the department of international relations in the post-Soviet area of the Saint-Petersburg University.

"In his opinion, Georgia will raise the territorial issue in international fora such as PACE [the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe]. However, neither Moscow nor Tbilisi are ready for significant changes in the negotiation process, and this threatens the ruling party with loss of reputation in the long term. 'The Georgian establishment understands that this issue cannot be solved now,' adds Gretsky.

On November 1, Manana Kobakhidze, deputy speaker of the Georgian parliament, declared that the renewal of parliamentary cooperation with Russia is impossible without solving the issue of re-establishing the 'territorial integrity' of the republic. According to her, the 'policy of integration with the EU and NATO' in Tbilisi has not changed.

Georgian Dream and the United National Movement subscribe to pro-Western views. Given this, further prospects of development of Russian-Georgian relations remain nebulous. 'I don't see any basis for a change in relations, so I would say that, if any changes are to happen, they will be slow and without any surges. There will be no belligerence towards us,' said Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). 'The ruling party is pro-European. It has expressed its desire to bring Georgia to NATO and the EU, but they are hardly likely to accept it. We will witness some movement towards Europe and improvement of relations with the West, because it was with this agenda that the ruling party went to the polls,' he added.

Much about the Georgian foreign policy will be decided by the position of the US, is the opinion of Vladimir Evseev, head of a department in the Institute of CIS Countries. 'There is some uncertainty in this area. It is still unclear whether the US needs Georgia or not, whether any resources could be obtained from it,' he says...

'China Is Exploiting The Situation Most Actively In The Economic Sphere'

"As the political authority in Georgia tries, with difficulty, to find some balance between Russia and the West, China is exploiting the situation quite actively in the economic sphere.

"On October 31, Beijing and Tbilisi signed a memorandum on cooperation in the sphere of oil production. The Chinese company Beijing Fangyuan Chint Energy Technical and the Georgian-Chinese Vm Energy are ready to invest about $150 million in oil production in Georgia. The energy companies of Great Britain, Austria, USA, Israel and India also conduct oil exploration in Georgian mountains.

"Russia invests most actively in the Georgian province of Adjara. In 2016, Russia has so far invested $71.5 million in this area, of which 49% are investments in the energy sphere. According to the Georgian National Statistics Service, in the first half of 2016, the goods turnover between the countries increased by 16% compared to last year and reached $459.6 million. 'If we do not demand more from Georgia than what is possible and accord priority to questions of economic cooperation, Georgia's partnership relations with Russia will improve,' says Konstantin Kalachov."

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Georgia is a semi-presidential democracy.

[2] Georgia has a mixed electoral system where 76 lawmakers are elected through the proportional, party list voting and the remaining 73 are elected through majoritarian elections where a candidate must receive more than 50 percent of votes. (Agenda.ge, November 16, 2016)

[3] Describing the Alliance of Patriots, the Georgian media outlet Civil.ge wrote: "The Alliance of Patriots has a long history of challenging the mainstream politics. Established in 2010 under the name of the United Popular Resistance Movement, the group was fiercely opposed to what it regarded as President Mikheil Saakashvili's 'tyrannical regime'... While some of the members of the Resistance Movement stayed loyal to the new government, the more radical segments went on establishing the Alliance of Patriots in early 2013. In contrast to the single-issue nature of its predecessor, the newly-established Alliance of Patriots adopted a broader political platform, a mixture of economic populism, romantic nationalistic and nativist, Georgia-first approach... The party's ideology and its history of anti-establishment and anti-government activism has quickly found admirers among the country's most conservative voters - men, ethnic Georgian, religious and over 50 - the group, which has had sensed decline under Mikheil Saakashvili and was increasingly unhappy with the liberal features of the new government... At the core of the Alliance's ideologyis the faith in the wisdom of the 'ordinary people', 'the Georgian people' or 'the decent men', who have long suffered from dishonest elites. The culprits vary, ranging from the United National Movement, to 'foreign-funded' NGOs and 'the liberals' more broadly. It is in that very vein, that the party favors the rule of 'the people', including through referenda, plebiscites and precinct-level advisory councils. The party believes that "the people" need to be able to annul laws and government decisions, as well as to recall elected officers, including the president, cabinet members and local officials... The Alliance of Patriots is extremely suspicious of the outside world. The party vows 'to defend Georgia's interests abroad' but not the 'interests of Washington, Brussels and Moscow in Georgia'. The Alliance is a fierce opponent to immigration, particularly from Turkey, which it regards as expansionist and accuses it of wanting to 'capture Abkhazia and Adjara', two of the country's westernmost regions.

"The party does not openly oppose Georgia's western orientation. Instead, it portrays the prospect of NATO and EU membership as illusory and presents it as a disproportionally high burden for Georgia's security and economy. In its electoral manifesto, the Alliance writes that 'NATO can become an instrument for Georgia's progress', but at the same time, adds that 'NATO aspirations might break the country into pieces.' The party's stance towards Russia and the Eurasian Union is equally ambiguous; the Alliance believes in the 'politics of balance', but at the same time, says that 'even if Georgia wanted to join the Eurasian Union, there are neither preconditions nor opportunities for that'." Civil.ge, November 16, 2016.

[4] Irakli Kobakhidze, executive secretary of Georgian Dream, was elected as the chairman of the new Parliament at its inaugural session on November 18. Civil.ge, November 18, 2016.

[5] Saakashvili was Georgia's president between 2004 and 2013.

[6] Agenda.ge, August 15, 2014.

[7] Georgiatoday.ge, May 16, 2016

[8] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6681, After Resigning, Saakashvili Promises: 'We Will Win When We Get Rid Of Ukrainian Political Elite - Scum And Profiteers Who Are Absolutely Identical To The Russian Ruling Class', November 17, 2016;

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko's first comment, on the resignation of Saakashvili from his post as the governor of Ukraine's Odessa region, said: "After the defeat in the Georgian elections, someone has decided to do politics in Ukraine." Agenda.ge, November 8, 2016.

[9] Georgiatoday.ge, May 16, 2016

[10] Sputniknews.com, October 31, 2016.

[11] Civil.ge, November 10, 2016.

[12] Georgiatoday.ge, November 3, 2016.

[13] Russiancouncil.ru, October 13, 2016.

[14] Valdaiclub.com, October 13, 2016.

[15] Civil.ge, November 17, 2016.

[16]  The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the following: "We have taken note of the new round of NATO-Georgia military maneuvers, which involve more than 250 soldiers from 13 countries. This is the third multinational exercise of this kind in Georgia this year, after the Noble Partner event in May and Agile Spirit in September. A systematic build-up is taking place of the scale and intensity of the operational training of the armed forces of Georgia according to NATO standards with the active involvement of NATO command and staff bodies.Russia sees this activity as a serious threat to peace and stability in the region. Georgia's other neighbors - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - have expressed their own concerns repeatedly. We all remember how the promises of NATO membership at the Bucharest summit pushed Tbilisi to criminal attacks on Russian peacekeepers and civilians in Tskhinval in August 2008. NATO is not hiding the fact that the current military partnership with Georgia is considered part of its 'containment' policy with regard to Russia. The role Georgia decided to play in this context complicates the positive process of improving Russian-Georgian relations. " Mid.ru, November 15, 2016

[17] Gazeta.ru, November 1, 2016. The article was co-authored by journalists Yulia Matyunenko and Alyona Malik.