While the efforts of the entire country were concentrated on the fight with a sudden wildfire disaster, the south of Georgia could boast a successful touristic season. As for the Georgian foreign policy, the main attention was drawn to its partnership with Ukraine and a return to the orbit of the American interests
Domestic Policy: Disaster fighting
There has never been such a hot summer in Georgia before. In the West of the country, to be more precise, in Ozurgeti Municipality of Guria region, the air temperature reached 43 degrees Celsius. Not only was the country’s 19th century record of 42 degrees broken, but also a wildfire started simultaneously in several places, reaching a disastrous scale unseen before.
The Borjomi Gorge wildfire was being fought by everyone: special forces, army, volunteers, fire fighters including those from neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia, pilots from Turkey, Belarus and Azerbaijan, a total of 4 thousand people. The damage done by the wildfire has not been finalized as of today.
A criminal investigation was open into the origin of the wildfire. Some suspicious objects and petrol tanks were found in the forests, including those places where the fire started. It is worth mentioning that this time the wildfire started in Borjomi in exactly the same forest where 2008 a Russian aviation bombing resulted in raging fire during the Russian-Georgian war. Then the speculations followed and tensions escalated due to the fact that the official Georgian authorities directly asked for help from the relevant Russian institutions.
The Georgian fall 2017 is expected to be quite hot as well, this time from a political perspective. For instance, the new Constitution is supposed to have its third and final reading in September. However, there are still complaints expressed by the opposition and the civil society, first of all, concerning the changes to the electoral system of the country. On 6 September thanks to the Venice Commission that facilitated this meeting, the next round of negotiations on the constitutional issues is to take place with the political parties participation. It is highly likely that this will be the last chance to come to an agreement which would not only improve the system but will also facilitate lower political polarization and the improvement of the electoral process itself. “Georgian Dream” has got enough votes in the Parliament in order to pass the Constitution in its third reading, however, a legal victory cannot turn into a political one. Unfortunately, given the difficult geopolitical conditions Georgia finds itself in, the internal political discourse is a feature of the new democracies. The political forces keep figuring out who is an angel and who is a demon.
Moreover, the local elections taking place already this October are bound to turn the capital city of Tbilisi into the contradictions epicenter and the main target for the political parties.
Economy: Adjarian khachapuri, sea and mountains
The growth of the Georgia’s touristic potential is largely dependent on its level of the regional development. The tourists are especially interested in the Georgia’s Adjarian region.
In January–July, 2017 793,243 foreign tourists visited Adjara, they were mostly from Israel, Ukraine, Iran, Turkey, Russia and Azerbaijan. 59% more foreign tourists arrived in Adjara landing in Batumi international airport against last year statistics. Out of 25 airlines operating in Batumi 8 are new ones. Within the last 4 years the number of flights increased threefold.
Adjara has the potential to develop not only its sea tourism, but also its mountain tourism. The construction of the Khulo-Goderdzi road is being launched and is to be finished by the end of 2019. It is a rather challenging terrain and it is practically a new road that is supposed to be constructed. The road is aimed at making the resorts of Goderdzi and Beshumi, as well as the Alpine Botanical Garden easily accessible. The dozens of hotels have already been built in these places.
The main direction for Adjara’s resort potential development is to achieve the goal of being attractive to the tourists all year round.
Foreign Policy. Ukrainian pirouette
On 17 July the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko paid his first official visit to Georgia. During the visit he met the President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili, as well as the Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, and the Chairman of the Georgia’s Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze.
The main discussion points during these bilateral negotiations included regional security, Russian occupation, economy and tourism issues. On the last day of his visit President Poroshenko went to Batumi and Mestia. Moreover, the President of Ukraine together with his Georgian counterpart came to see the occupation line. Mr. Poroshenko also paid his tribute to the Georgian soldiers who died protecting the Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The Presidents of both countries signed the “Declaration on the Establishment of a Strategic Partnership” in Tbilisi.
The tensions escalated due to the fact that the official Georgian authorities directly asked for help from the relevant Russian institutions
Poroshenko called his visit to Georgia to be a “historical” one, the Georgia’s Prime Minister Kvirikashvili to be his “close friend”, and Tbilisi as “our strategic partner Ukraine puts a lot of trust in”. He has also stated that Georgia “feels like home”.
The meeting, however, did have an awkward twist taking into account the factor of the Georgia’s former President Mikhail Saakashvili. Earlier on the Georgian law enforcement agencies had twice demanded Saakashvili extradited to Georgia. A criminal investigation had already been launched into the Saakashvili’s case. However, even though many people both in Georgia and outside of the country believe that this criminal investigation has a political side to it, official Tbilisi’s stand is that the Saakashvili’s career advancement in the Ukrainian political system looked quite strange in regard of the strategic relationship between Georgia and Ukraine.
Almost immediately upon his return to Ukraine the President Poroshenko sidelined his opponent Saakashvili by stripping the latter of the Ukrainian citizenship.
The Saakashvili’s paradox is that he, being the former president of one country and the former governor of another one, is in fact a stateless person. Today his “spectre is haunting Europe”. He crosses borders of the various countries using some unknown documents.
Political truths are not black and white. According to some politicians and political experts in Georgia, bearing in mind their own strategic interests, Georgia and Ukraine value their relations and will continue to develop their partnership, and we can see the proof of this already today, including many examples in social and political spheres.
The 48th U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Georgia with his spouse on the dawn of 31 July for a two-day visit (http://medianews.ge/ge/maik-pensis-viziti-saqartveloshi-dasrulda/30255. The Pence’s visit to Georgia is a part of his European tour to Estonia, Montenegro and Georgia, the countries “concerned over the Russian aggression”. According to analysts, this visit means that the USA is again devoting deliberate attention to their new untraditional partners. During the visit all cooperation areas were carefully examined, however, occupation was named the main one, as reported to mass media by the Ambassador of Georgia to the USA David Bakradze.
It is also noteworthy that a day before the Pence’s arrival the “Noble Partner-2017” multinational military drills had been launched in Georgia. About 2,800 military personnel from eight NATO member-states and their partners including the US, UK, Germany, Turkey, Georgia, Slovenia, Armenia and Ukraine took part in the drills.