Georgia: Way to NATO

Lasha Tugushi, "Liberal Academy Tbilisi" Foundation (Georgia, Tbilisi)

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Georgia became the fifth non-member state to host the NATO Parliamentary Assembly session. The leaders of the country reaffirmed their course not towards the Membership Action Plan, but towards the very membership in the organization. On the last day of the session, an Azeri journalist was abducted in Tbilisi, that raised some questions regarding the role of the Georgian special forces in this situation

Domestic Policy. Azeri journalist kidnapped

At the end of May, an Azeri opposition journalist, 43-year old Afgan Mukhtarli, seeking shelter from the persecution in his homeland on the territory of Georgia, went missing. Later on the journalist was suddenly located in Baku. According to the State Border Service of Azerbaijan, Mukhtarli was detained during his attempt to cross the border avoiding cross-border control points and with no documents. He also tried to escape when he was being detained.

Baku’s court sentenced Mukhtarli to three months of the pre-trial detention. His lawyer told the reporters his client was kidnapped by a group of some unknown men who forcibly took him to a car near his home, and put a sack over his head. Later on he was taken to Azerbaijan.

Tbilisi experienced a round of the small-scale but energetic protests. Several dozen journalists rallied in the streets of the capital. The mass media heaped strong criticism on the authorities that placed this case under investigation as a “kidnapping” case. There are doubts regarding the transport and the exact way of how the journalist crossed the border, as well as regarding the role of the Georgian special forces who might have “helped” him in this matter. The protesters demand to punish those guilty.

The President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili slammed it as a “childish trick” that may hurt the country’s image, while its Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili urged not to jump to any conclusions and wait for the results of the investigation .

This story reminded the citizens of Tbilisi of te capital’s dark and harsh past, now long forgotten and remaining only in plays and films. As for the authorities, they clearly stumbled over a stone, which, given failing response, may strike a hefty blow.

Economy. Trading land?

Heated discussions are still taking place concerning the agricultural land selling to foreigners issue, and the corresponding regulation of this process in the Constitution of Georgia. 20 Georgian MPs signed a draft (followed by its registration), which significantly complicates the process of the land buying, while minimum and maximum limits are also established with a minimum of 5 and the maximum of 100 hectares.

When buying, it will also be mandatory to explain to the authorities the reason and the resources that a buyer aims to tend to the land, as well as to provide his or her residence history in Georgia for the last couple of years.

It is not MAP that Georgia needs, but a NATO membership. The country already has all the necessary instruments for this to happen.

More radical voices, both within the Parliament and outside of it, demand an absolute ban on the land selling to foreign private individuals and legal entities too, This idea relies not only on the law, but also on the Constitution in order to guarantee that no following Parliament will be able to easily dispose the land.

This approach is not shared by the liberal part of the society, where opinions are also divided. One part believes that everything can be sold but conscience (a famous phrase by the Georgia’s former Economy Minister Kakha Bendukidze), the other part allows certain regulations. Nevertheless, both flanks are united that this issue has nothing in common with the Constitution, and there is an odor of populism when it comes to this process.

Foreign Policy. Georgia in strategic waiting

It was only the fifth time in the entire history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that the exception was made regarding hosting a NATO Parliamentary Assembly session in a non-member country. Tbilisi turned into a political center for several days. The first four states who were non-member states at the time of hosting a session are among the NATO member states today. In the framework of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly spring session, a declaration regarding supporting the Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia was adopted. The resolution contains recommendations on the exact steps to be taken in order for Georgia to become a NATO member through the Membership Action Plan (MAP), said Paolo Alli, the President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

The government of Georgia positively reacted  to the text of the resolution, however, as was stated by the Georgian Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze, it is not MAP that Georgia needs, but a NATO membership. According to him, the country already has all the necessary instruments for this to happen.

The Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Andrii Parubii also took part in the summit. The Speaker visited Khurvaleti, a village split in two by the Russian barbed wire and thus a symbol of Putin’s Russia.

This was the first visit of the Head of the Ukrainian Parliament to Georgia within the last 10 years. Parubii met his Georgian counterpart Irakli Kobakhidze. The sides agreed to streghthen their format of Ukraine-Moldova-Georgia parliamentary cooperation.

It is also worth noting that the Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili visited the USA meeting the US President Donald Trump, the vice president Mike Pence and the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and had meetings in the Congress. As a result, the Senate adopted a resolution giving serious thought to those backing separatist regions in Georgia. According to this decision, the USA will not provide aid to the countries that cooperate with separatists. This and other encouraging decisions made in the defense and security spheres added an optimistic note to the country’s spirit.