Georgia and Ukraine Try to Demonstrate Unity in the Face of Russian Aggression

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 58

Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili (Source: Government of Georgia)

On April 16, a multi-party delegation of the Georgian parliament, on a visit to Ukraine, traveled to the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, where, according to multiple Western governments and representatives of the International Criminal Court, the Russian occupying forces committed war crimes against the civilian population (see EDM, April 13). The speaker of the Georgian parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, was accompanied by the chairperson of Ukraine’s national legislature (the Verkhovna Rada), Ruslan Stefanchuk. All members of the Georgian parliamentary delegation from the ruling Georgian Dream party as well as from the opposition parties Lelo and Citizen expressed support for the Ukrainian people, who faced the “horror of an aggressive war” unleashed by the Russian authorities (, April 17).

“No words can describe the suffering [and] misery in Bucha and Irpen—an unspeakable [and] shocking tragedy in the heart of Europe in [the 21st] century,” Papuashvili tweeted. The head of the Georgian delegation also wrote that the visit “in brotherly Ukraine” demonstrates Georgia’s firm and united support. “We could not have done it otherwise, because our nations are very close to each other,” Papuashvili argued (Formula News, April 16).

Speaker Papuashvili said Georgians, too, have memories of “our own Buchas and Irpins” in occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia from the wars in [the] 1990s and Russian aggression in 2008.” He continued, “Our cities and hopes were also bombed and shattered. So, we, Georgians, very well understand your sorrow,” Speaker Papuashvili noted. But he did not mention the turning point in Georgia’s recent history—the massacre of unarmed demonstrators by Soviet troops on April 9, 1989, in the center of Tbilisi, near the parliament building. Moscow’s ruthlessness at that time motivated Georgia to intensify its struggle for independence from the Soviet Empire (Georgia Today, April 18).

In turn, Rada chairperson Stefanchuk explicitly underscored, “Georgia will not help Russia in any way,” before clarifying, “So said Shalva Papuashvili, when he saw Bucha and Irpin with his own eyes” (1tv, April 16).

The Ukrainian parliamentary leader’s pointed remarks hinted at the contradictions that have arisen between Kyiv and Tbilisi after the start of Russia’s large-scale war of aggression against Ukraine. On the day of the visit of the Georgian delegation to Bucha, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili proclaimed in a special address, “There will be no second front [against the Russian Federation] in Georgia.” He added, the “party of war”—by which Garibashvili meant former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) party—“will not be able to drag Georgia into a new war. […] The devastating consequences of the August [2008] war will not be repeated. Our government is a responsible government” (Interpressnews, April 16). It was after similar such statements previously, and also because of Tbilisi’s unwillingness to impose economic sanctions against Russia or interrupt any bilateral trade relations, that Ukrainian-Georgian relations deteriorated significantly following the start of the war.

The Georgian parliamentary delegation arrived in Bucha at a time when there was no longer a Ukrainian ambassador in Tbilisi: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy first recalled Ambassador Igor Dolgov “because of the immoral position of the Georgian authorities” and then completely removed him from the embassy (Oc-media, March 1). The Georgian ambassador, on the other hand, did not leave Kyiv even during active rocket attacks and fighting in the suburbs (Interpressnews, April 17).

In early April, Ukrainian military intelligence accused Tbilisi of creating “smuggling corridors” for the supply of sanctioned goods to the Russian Federation, including dual-purpose and military equipment. Allegedly, Russia was being supplied with night-vision devices and microchips via Georgian territory. However, the authorities of the South Caucasus country angrily rejected these accusations (, April 4).

In turn, the Georgian side earlier accused Kyiv of trying to provoke a war in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As evidence, Georgian officials cited the sensational statement of the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) of Ukraine, Oleksiy Danilov, who spoke in favor of opening a “second front” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia to disperse the forces of the “Russian aggressor” ( March 3).

Saakashvili’s UNM party accused Georgian Dream of “playing on Russia’s side.” And Georgia’s largest opposition faction refused to join the above-mentioned parliamentary delegation, in protest against the ruling party and government’s “anti-Ukrainian position.” Instead, a separate UNM delegation flew to Ukraine on April 13, without official status or an official agenda—as a group of individuals. But the opposition delegation notably included the fourth president of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili (who was then backed by Georgian Dream), UNM chairperson Nikanor Melia and a number of lawmakers (, April 17).

It is also worth noting that three Georgian opposition politicians are presently fighting in Ukraine against Russian troops. Among them are two former defense ministers, Irakli Okruashvili and Giorgi Baramidze, as well as Aleko Elisashvili, a member of parliament from the Citizens party (Netgazeti, March 13). On the other hand, there is no known indication of any representatives of the Georgian ruling party or its activists among volunteers serving in Ukraine. In recent days, news emerged of the tenth death of a Georgian volunteer, who fell in a battle near Kharkiv (, April 17).

Speaking to this author, on April 17, Ilia University political science professor Ghia Nodia underlined that generally, for the interest of the country, it is better that a single delegation represent not only the government’s position but also the position of other Georgian political factions. “I do not think it is possible to pin the responsibility only on one side or the other side. Though, I think primary responsibility lies with the ruling party because it is demonizing the domestic opposition as kind of criminal force,” Nodia stipulated. He further observed, “Relations between the government and the opposition are toxic, and the Ukrainian problem makes these relations even more toxic.”

Not all oppositionists refused to participate in the official Georgian parliamentary delegation to Ukraine. Salome Samadashvili, a deputy from the Lelo party, contended, “For us, it was not even a question that the [Georgian] parliament should demonstrate unity. We can disagree on many issues with the ruling party, but when Ukrainians ask us to demonstrate unity in supporting Ukraine, I think is very logical that every group representing the Georgian people should have been in the official delegation to support Ukraine” (Author’s interview, April 18).

Perhaps the Georgian parliamentary delegation’s April 16 visit to Bucha will help Kyiv and Tbilisi finally draw closer together in their defiance of Russian aggression. But it only deepened the confrontation between the authorities and the opposition inside Georgia itself.