Georgia: Government reshuffle before elections

Lasha Tughushi, "Liberal Academy of Tbilisi" Foundation (Georgia, Tbilisi)

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Summer protests in Tbilisi resulted in changes within the government of the country, however, they were in fact just a simple reshuffling. The main economic issue is lowering the country’s dependency on Russia. As for number one development in the country’s  foreign policy, it was the meeting with the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. 

Domestic Policy 

Government changes or just reshuffling? 

After summer mass protests in Tbilisi the prime-minister Mamuka Bakhtadze had to resign. He is still a member of the ruling party “Georgian Dream” and its team, while the party’s leader Bidzina Ivanishvili called his resignation “a cultural dismissal”. 

As for his successor, the position was taken by Giorgi Gakharia, a former minister of interior affairs, whose resignation was also requested by public due to the dispersion of protests that took place on June 20. 

Giorgi Gakharia is a controversial figure in Georgian politics. A part of society believes he is a hero that is saving the country from yet “another” revolution. The other part feels he is an executioner who dispersed a peaceful demonstration in front of the parliament where many civilians were injured. 

The new primeminister introduced his new team to the parliament, with changes only present when it came to national security leaders. Former prime-minister Irakli Gharibashvili became the new minister of defense, while Vakhtang Gomelauri, the head of the State Security Service of Georgia, became the minister of interior affairs, with his first deputy Grigol Liluashvili replacing him as the head of State Security Service. Many experts openly state that such reshuffling is the result of a key role played by the ruling party and its head. 

The new government is both an avant-garde and an arrière-garde for the ruling political power at the coming 2020 parliamentary elections. It is this government that will have to face the main political challenge. “Georgian Dream” has no intention of losing, especially to the former president Mikhail Saakashvili, who, according to ratings, is the second political power in the country. 

Yet the leader of the main opposition power, Georgia’s ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili declared his intention to come back to Georgia from Ukraine. Saakashvili said it on air of a new “Mtavari” TV channel (Mtavari means “main”) that was hastily launched by those leading journalists and managers that had left “Rustavi 2” before. On screen yet again those journalists are seen, which proved to be rather nerve-wrecking for the ruling team and its voters. For a long time, they took the first place in TV ratings. Despite an obviously low budget, “Mtavari” started to attract opposing voters. 


Away from Moscow 

A lot has been recently said regarding the risks Georgia may face in case it clings to Russia in economy and trade. Diversification is crucial. “For instance, 90% of wheat is imported from Russia. This is a rather serious dependency”, said the executive director of Georgia’s Wheat Importers Association Levan Silagava.

“Russia does not always use direct limitations; however, it has limitations on quality indicators that in their turn lead to delays in paperwork and transport – and that results in price changes or wheat import limitations”, Silagava stated when talking to Interpressnews agency. Such issues are present also in other fields, such as wine industry. Approximately two thirds of Georgian wines are meant for Russian export. 

“Gavrilov night”, named after a communist Russian MP who had to leave Georgia during the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, and Russian aviation sanctions made Tbilisi think long and hard on how to achieve greater diversification in order to protect its local market from expected serious ordeals. 

Foreign Policy 

First meeting with Russian MFA 

Quite a sudden development unraveled in New York where foreign ministers of Georgia and Russia, David Zalkaliani and Sergei Lavrov, had a meeting.
“The meeting between the minister of foreign affairs of Georgia David Zalkaliani and the minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation Sergei Lavrov took place on September 26 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York; the meeting had been our initiative and took place with our full support as the mediator between the two countries”, Swiss MFA stated. 

Following 2008 war and lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries, this meeting was the first meeting of Georgian and Russian foreign ministers. The meeting spawned many questions: what was the need to meet one on one without partners? What was the purpose of the meeting? What was it all about? The Georgian opposition harshly criticized the minister calling on him to provide explanations in the country’s parliament. At the same time Lavrov fueled the debate with his statement that the meeting was initiated by the Georgian side, while later it was revealed that in fact the meeting had been arranged by a third party. There is no doubt though that Lavrov’s statement fueled the domestic confrontation within Georgia. 

Zalkaliani explained that in the course of the meeting he did not go further than the issue of “occupied territories”. The discussions on the topic are still ongoing. 

Tbilisi reaction is of surprise to Moscow. Putin’s press-secretary does not understand why “one simple” meeting between Lavrov and Zalkaliani results in such hysterical reaction in Tbilisi. Peskov yet again highlighted that they value the people of Georgia.