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March 4, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9212

Vz.ru Columnist Bavyrin: Georgia's Previous Importance In Russian Foreign Policy Turned Out To Be 'Greatly Exaggerated'

March 4, 2021
Russia, South Caucasus | Special Dispatch No. 9212

In a February 19, 2021 article, titled "Russophobia As The Cause For Georgia's Crisis," Russian columnist Dmitry Bavyrin wrote that Georgia is on the brink, and that the country's political crisis has been caused mainly by its Russophobia. The article was published in the Russian media outlet Vz.ru.

Bavyrin noted that Georgia's previous importance in Russian foreign policy had turned out to be "greatly exaggerated," and that "normal working relations with Tbilisi lost their meaning after the region was insured against new wars due to Moscow's recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the deployment of military bases there."

He concluded: "This Georgia is unlikely to be able to join NATO and will never declare an offensive war, as [it did] in August 2008... Tbilisi has nothing to offer us."

Below is Bavyrin's article:[1]


(Source: Facebook)

Moscow's Official Position Was Ironclad

"The head of government resigned in protest, while the opposition leader resisted arrest, barricaded himself inside the office of Saakashvili's party and refused to surrender to the Interior Ministry's special forces. This is the chronicle of the Georgian political life. The country has come to a standstill waiting for new shocks, and the root cause of all this were the openly Russophobic activities of summer 2019, after which Russia decided to punish Georgia.

"'There is a big risk of chaos,' says political analyst Petre Mamradze, commenting on the resignation of the Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia. The country, where the landslide victory of the ruling party in the fall elections seemed to announce a boring political season, has been struck by an unexpectedly acute political crisis.

"At the same time, no matter how acute this crisis may be, Russia could completely ignore it if it weren't for one 'but.' The roots of these events grow from the summer of 2019, when the nationalist United National Movement (UNM) party, which looks to the former President Mikheil Saakashvili, tried to earn political points by playing on the population's Russophobia. The entire country had to pay for this.

"What is known in Georgia as 'Gavrilov's night' began with an attack on Russian delegates at a session of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy in Tbilisi. The protocol service of the receiving party put the State Duma MP, Sergei Gavrilov, in the chair of the speaker of the Georgian parliament. Nationalists decided to pretend that they had been offended by this seating arrangement, after which Gavrilov had to be literally rescued and urgently taken out of Georgia.

"This was followed by a rally, whose participants held openly rude anti-Russian posters, and an attempt to storm the parliament, harshly suppressed by the police.

"This was a purely internal Georgian game, built on political technology: the opposition attacked the government, exploiting the Russophobia within the Georgian society. The Russian authorities, however, did not make a distinction between the government and the opposition in Georgia, but imposed sanctions against the entire country, which, while hardly noticeable for the Russian economy, means quite a lot for the Georgian tourism sector, which managed to reach a quite decent level in recent years.

"The official position of Moscow, which cut off all direct flights between Russia and Georgia, was ironclad: we cannot guarantee the safety of Russian tourists in a country where aggressive anti-Russian campaigning is taking place.

"At the same time, it turned out that in this way Russia was playing into the hands of the nationalist opposition and of Saakashvili's supporters, those very aggressive Russophobes, since the decline in the quality of life in Georgia before the elections worked against the government and the more moderate Georgian Dream party.

"The rather harsh crackdown on the UNM campaign also had a negative effect. This is how the Georgian Dream party got its own 'history of violence,' which only Saakashvili's party had had earlier. The government's rating began to fall - and [the Georgia Dream party] agreed to the terms of the opposition, rewriting the rules for the formation of the parliament in the constitution. It became harder for it, but easier for Saakashvili's supporters, to win the election, and the fugitive ex-president was already preparing to become prime minister and triumphantly return to his homeland, where, in theory, he should be arrested right at the airport.

'[The West] Had Long Refused To Favor Saakashvili'

"However, the unexpected happened. Despite all the Russophobia and the fact that Georgia and its tourism sector had been significantly battered by the coronavirus, the UNM lost the elections spectacularly. Even the name of the actor Vakhtang Kikabidze at the head of the bloc of nationalist parties, where Saakashvili's supporters set the tone, did not help.

"Their game was lost and appeals to the West led to nothing. [The West] had long refused to favor Saakashvili, did not recognize the accusations of vote rigging as legitimate, and supported the ruling party. In response, the disgruntled 'nationals' even accused European diplomats of having sold themselves to Russia.

"This course of events held the promise of a period of political stability in Georgia. Against this background, the founder of the Georgian Dream, multimillionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, announced his retirement from politics, and the government was headed by Giorgi Gakharia, who is considered an excellent manager and a good organizer.

"But suddenly it was 'Gavrilov's night' all over again. The authorities decided to punish the person whose actions had led to the introduction of Russian sanctions against the country.

"The Russophobic rally and the storming of parliament had an organizer - MP Nikanor Melia from the UNM.[ii] Soon after these events, he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity, became a defendant in a criminal case about provoking mass riots and was released on bail on the condition that he would wear an electronic ankle bracelet. This went on for several months, after which Melia demonstratively took off the bracelet during yet another protest rally, which caused the court to increase the amount of his bail. The politician refused to pay the sum.

"In December 2020, when the former UNM leadership resigned after losing the elections, Melia became the new chairman of the party. Thus, we can say that Saakashvili's supporters bet on an even greater radicalism, which was proven on February 17, when the Tbilisi City Court, taking into account Melia's disregard for the restrictions imposed on him, decided to put the politician under arrest. But it was not to be.

"Melia and his fellow party members barricaded themselves in the UNM office and successfully defended themselves against the special forces of the Ministry of the Interior, which were unable to enforce the court's decision. This raises the question of the competence and efficiency of the Georgian law enforcement agencies, which have already been repeatedly reformed and are presented almost as a perfect model. But it is also true that the issue of storming the UNM citadel has become not just a legal question, but a political one.

"Unexpectedly for the entire country, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned as a protest against the forceful solution of the problem with the opposition leader. In his opinion, this solution can lead to escalation of violence and can destabilize the situation in the country.

"It is interesting to note that after the demonstrative resignation of Gakharia, the ruling party, while recognizing the disagreements with the now former prime minister, in fact admitted that he was right. The Georgian Interior Ministry temporarily suspended any attempt to detain Melia, and the chairman of the Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze, welcomed this decision, urging Melia to surrender voluntarily.

"Mikheil Saakashvili has a different view of the situation: he demands that Melia and the UNM 'finish the job,' bring about early elections and bring down the state institutions of Georgia from within.

'Normal Working Relations With Tbilisi Lost Their Meaning' – 'This Georgia Is Unlikely To Be Able To Join NATO And Will Never Declare An Offensive War'

"So far, the position of the authorities in this crisis seems to be stronger: they have the law, the loyalty of Western governments and the support of the population on their side. True, as the political scientist Mamradze, already cited above, notes, the 'nationals' are 'united,' they have 'smelled blood' and now they will become even more resolute, so it won't be boring.

"By promising to decide on a new prime minister by Friday, the Georgian Dream was able to fill the power vacuum ahead of schedule. It has already been announced that Irakli Garibashvili, who held this post in 2013-2015, will become the head of the government.

"But Russia (the attempt to use which, without its knowledge, in domestic political struggle started this story) ultimately does not care who will lead the Georgian government, to which party the prime minister will belong or how the crisis will develop. That is why the imposition of sanctions against the tourism sector of Georgia was not part of the provocations by the UNM or playing into the hands of Saakashvili's party. It does not matter who makes the decisions. Anti-Russian provocations should be punished right after the fact, if there is such a possibility, which is the case with Georgia.

"Having no diplomatic relations, no direct flights, and no significant volume of trade with this neighboring country, Russia does not feel to have been injured in any way. The names of the Georgian officials of the first row, previously widely known in the Russian society, are now forgotten, and only a specialist will remember now who the Georgian prime minister or even the president is. The importance that Georgia previously had for our foreign policy turned out to be greatly exaggerated. And normal working relations with Tbilisi lost their meaning after the region was insured against new wars due to Moscow's recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the deployment of military bases there.

"This Georgia is unlikely to be able to join NATO and will never declare an offensive war, as [it did] in August 2008. And we don't need anything else from it.

"Until the Georgians are mature enough to come to terms with the Abkhazians and Ossetians striking out on their own (and they will not mature soon), Tbilisi has nothing to offer us.

"The disgusting sham hysteria over the fact that a Russian MP sat on a Georgian chair turned out to be something which Georgia has had to pay for repeatedly. First by direct losses, now by political risks. The direct inspirer of this hysteria does not look very happy either – he has lost the election and is facing the prospect of going to jail.

"The moral of this story is simple: political Russophobia does not benefit anyone, but it can directly harm an entire country. And Georgia is no exception in this sense, no matter how much it would like to believe otherwise."

 

[1] Vz.ru/world/2021/2/19/1085778.html, February 19, 2021.

[2] On February 23, former opposition MP and the head of the United National Movement opposition party Nika Melia has been arrested by police for refusal to post bail shortly after the parliament approved Irakli Garibashvili prime minister and his cabinet. https://agenda.ge/en/news/2021/482, February 23, 2021.

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