Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 147

Vazha Lortkipanidze accepted yesterday (after a two-day “pause for deliberation”) the post of State Minister, Georgia’s approximate equivalent of a prime minister. Most ministers are likely to be changed as part of the government reform. Under the constitution, the president–not the state minister–nominates the cabinet members. Lortkipanidze’s appointment and that of the ministers is subject to parliamentary approval. A special parliamentary session is planned for the second half of August. Niko Lekishvili, who served as state minister from December 1995 to date, has now been elected first deputy chairman of the governing Union of Citizens of Georgia, which is chaired by Shevardnadze.

Born in Tbilisi in 1949, Lortkipanidze holds degrees in mathematics and in applied social research from the Tbilisi and Moscow universities. He was the First Secretary of Georgia’s Komsomol in 1983-86 during Eduard Shevardnadze’s tenure as leader of Soviet Georgia. During Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s rule, Lortkipanidze found a discreet niche in a Tbilisi research institute. Following Shevardnadze’s return to Georgia in 1992, he appointed Lortkipanidze as head of the presidential administration and, in 1995, as ambassador to Russia–his latest post. In that capacity, Lortkipanidze has been Georgia’s chief representative at the Russian-mediated negotiations with Abkhazia, successive rounds of which are being held in Moscow.

Georgia’s nationalist opposition has long considered Lortkipanidze as pro-Russian and is again describing him in those terms now. Hard-line opposition groups are attacking Shevardnadze over the appointment. In Moscow, unnamed “senior Foreign Ministry officials” welcomed the promotion of Lortkipanidze, “a man of strong Russian sympathies …who will do a lot in the interest of Russian-Georgian friendship and cooperation.” Lortkipanidze commented that he would serve the interests of Georgia and that he does not regard those interests as clashing with Russia’s.

Lortkipanidze’s Abkhaz counterpart in the Moscow negotiations, Anri Jergenia, predicted yesterday that Lortkipanidze’s appointment “will not significantly affect” Tbilisi’s policy toward Abkhazia. Lortkipanidze is “not an independent figure” and policy is made by Shevardnadze and the parliament, Jergenia commented. “We did not reach agreement in the negotiations with Lortkipanidze and won’t reach agreement from now on either.” (Prime-News, Radio Tbilisi, Russian agencies, July 29 and 30)