On February 1, the first day of the legislative spring session, the Georgian parliament adopted a resolution in support of Ukraine that fell short of mentioning the Russian Federation. The ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party had tabled this resolution, which lawmakers adopted with 74 votes in favor and 33 abstentions. Opposition parties demanded a revision to the text that would explicitly name Russia as the culprit and aggressor in the crisis surrounding Ukraine. But GD refused to agree to amend the document (Imedinews, February 1).
The day before, the largest and most influential opposition party, former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM), announced an end to its boycott of the parliament, specifically so that its deputies could vote for a pro-Ukrainian resolution. But after GD’s rejection of the opposition’s amendments, almost all opposition lawmakers in attendance abstained from voting (Imedinews, February 1). UNM member of parliament (MP) Khatia Dekanoidze argued, in her February 2 interview with this author, that not mentioning Russia in the text was “shameful.” And she asserted that the ruling party’s parliamentarians “could not dare to irritate Russia” (see EDM, January 27).
Responding to the criticism from the opposition, GD’s party chair, Irakli Kobakhidze, called Saakashvili’s faction a “party of war.” He claimed that the opposition “clearly wants to see war in Ukraine and Georgia.” “The text of the [draft] resolution is worded exactly in accordance with our national interests,” Kobakhidze argued, adding that the opposition should not hinder the ruling party from “pursuing a foreign policy that will result in peace and security in Georgia.” Many of GD’s MPs recalled the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, accusing Saakashvili and his party of grave missteps that resulted in “20 percent of our country’s territories having been surrendered to Russia” (Interpressnews, February 1).
But as UNM parliamentary deputy Roman Gotsiridze emphasized, when speaking with this author, “How is Georgia’s assessment different from that of the Russian Federation (which also habitually repeats that the situation is extremely tense and that there is a danger of military action), if we do not say that the source of this is the Russian Federation?! Without mentioning Russia, we are repeating the same message as official Russian propaganda” (Author’s interview, February 2).
Georgian lawmakers launched consultations on penning the resolution on January 24, after UNM along with the opposition parties Lelo and Strategy Aghmashenebeli called on their GD colleagues to take a united stance in support of Kyiv amid the looming threat of a Russian reinvasion. Ultimately, however, the government of Irakli Garibashvili stood firm in its apparent decision “not to irritate Moscow” (Civil.ge, February 1).
It would be unfair to say that there are no “pro-Ukrainian” phrases in the resolution: The document decisively speaks of the “sovereign right of any state to join NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]” and the “inadmissibility of any attempts to limit this right by military-political instruments.” And it clearly expresses “solidarity with the friendly Ukrainian people, who are threatened with grave consequences due to military escalation.” But the resolution conspicuously avoids specifying who is “threatening Ukraine” or trying to “restrict its right” to join the North Atlantic Alliance. Nor does the document address the reason for why a “military-political escalation” may occur in Ukraine.
Georgian experts point to the discussion on the “Ukrainian resolution” as the most important incident in the long-standing dispute between GD and UNM on the issue of foreign policy. For instance, David Avalishvili, a columnist with the independent news and analytical agency Nation.ge, noted that Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement and Georgian Dream, founded and de facto led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, represent the philosophies of two competing parts of Georgian society. “One of them [supporters of GD] is frightened by the 2008 Russian invasion, does not believe in the ability of the West to protect the post-Soviet states from Russian aggression, and tries to act on the Georgian proverb ‘caress the bear to keep it from growing angry,’ ” Avalishvili posited. Whereas, he argued, “[t]he second part of society, which votes for UNM and Saakashvili, believes in the irreversibility of the collapse of the [Soviet] empire and the loyalty of the West to its declared values. This group also holds that Georgia should make its voice heard at this critical moment in history, while the free world is preparing to put an end to the struggle against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s revisionism” (Author’s interview, February 2).
The expert admitted that, judging by the results of the last three elections, in 2012, 2016 and 2020, the first viewpoint prevails over the second among Georgians. But much will depend on whether the opposition can succeed in releasing Saakashvili, who is imprisoned on the charge of exceeding his presidential powers (Author’s interview, February 2).
Indeed, UNM’s second motive for ending its boycott and starting work in the legislature was to create a special parliamentary commission to investigate the facts of Saakashvili’s “torture” in the Gldani prison and military hospital in Gori. The UNM leadership believes that a parliamentary commission could help free Saakashvili, after which the government would be forced to call snap elections or, at least, pursue a more pro-Western policy.
In a February 1 statement, the former president asserted, “Putin believes that restoring the Soviet Union in a new form is his sacred duty and his messianic mission. According to him, the new Russian Empire should consist of Russia itself, Belarus, the Caucasus and the northern part of Kazakhstan. As for Ukraine, it wants Ukraine, especially Kyiv, as the ‘mother of Russian cities.’ ” He further argued, “Putin believes that in Ukraine he should defeat not so much Ukraine itself but the entire Western civilization and, in this way, overthrow the modern world order based on democracy and the pursuit of freedom. In the case of Georgia, unfortunately, the West has been very fragmented and inadequate. Now, fortunately, the situation has changed radically” (Facebook.com/SaakashviliMikheil, February 1).
As a nation of just over three and a half million people and a GDP less than half that of the US state of Vermont, Georgia has few illusions that it can become a major player in European security affairs. Nevertheless, Saakashvili and his UNM continue to agitate to raise Georgia’s influence as well as push the government toward more resolutely supporting Ukraine and the West.