The Russian government has announced its decision to grant political asylum to Igor Giorgadze, former chief of Georgia’s state security, the presumed organizer of the 1995 assassination attempt that injured then-president Eduard Shevardnadze in the State Chancellery in Tbilisi. Indicted in Georgia on terrorism charges and wanted to this day for arrest by Interpol on a “red alert” mandate, Giorgadze has lived openly in Russia ever since. In recent years he was interviewed on many occasions by Russian state-controlled media, even as Russia’s government disclaimed knowledge of Giorgadze’s whereabouts.
Thus, granting Giorgadze political asylum formalizes the situation whereby the Russian government acts as an obstructer of justice at the international level and turns from de facto protector of a terrorism suspect into an official sponsor. Such open sponsorship is a political gesture in the overall context of Russian conflict operations against Georgia. The first deputy prosecutor general of Russia, Vladimir Kolesnikov, who announced the decision about Giorgadze (RTR Russian Television, May 22), was in charge of managing the “presidential” election in Abkhazia in late 2004-early 2005, dictating the runoff returns in detail on the ground in Sukhumi.
Giorgadze fled to Russia aboard a military plane from the Vaziani air base near Tbilisi within hours of the bomb blast that injured Shevardnadze. The Georgian investigation uncovered strong evidence of Giorgadze’s and other pro-Moscow officers’ key role in the assassination attempt. Igor’s father, ex-Soviet General Panteleimon Giorgadze, leader of the minuscule United Communist Party of Georgia, has continually visited his son in Russia since then.
Following the democratic regime change in Georgia, Russian state television channels (which are widely received in Georgia) repeatedly trotted out Igor Giorgadze in inflammatory interviews, holding Tbilisi responsible for the deterioration in Russia-Georgia relations and trying to incite Georgians against the elected authorities. These and other statements by Giorgadze and his associates echoed those by Kremlin-licensed pundits, such as Gleb Pavlovsky and Mikhail Leontiev, who shared airtime in several of those broadcasts.
Undoubtedly, the asylum decision on Giorgadze was a political decision by the Kremlin, not a technical one by law-enforcement agencies. It seems intended to energize the motley collection of Georgian fringe groups that Moscow seeks to marshal into a local fifth column, and of which Giorgadze seems to be a designated centerpiece. Staking on marginal groups and discredited figures is a sign of Moscow’s utter lack of credible political allies within Georgia.
These recently formed, increasingly loud, groups include:
— the Justice Party, headed by Giorgadze from Moscow;
— supporters of Ajaria’s former ruler (until 2004) Aslan Abashidze, who has also found a haven in Russia, and whose former interior minister Jemal Gogitidze has joined Giorgadze’s Justice Party;
— the Igor Giorgadze Foundation, headed in Tbilisi by Irina Chanturia-Sarishvili, a veteran politician with many twists and turns in her career;
— the Anti-Soros Public Movement, headed by Maya Nikoleishvili, agitating specifically against U.S. policies in the region and American influence generally;
— Forward Georgia, headed by Malkhaz Gulashvili in Tbilisi — a collection of several veterans of parliaments and governments from the 1990s;
— the “Samegrelo Movement,” headed by Alexander Chachia, which promotes the idea of a Mingrelian national identity separate from the Georgian national identity (a line of speculation also promoted by Abkhazia’s authorities).
These groups have joined forces at a series of pickets and rallies in Tbilisi in recent weeks. Such combined events gather a few hundred participants on average, often the same faces. The main demands and slogans call for close relations with Russia, denounce the United States, and — as an overarching theme — seek the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili, dissolution of parliament, and early presidential and parliamentary elections. These groups promise that a reorientation of Georgia’s policies toward Russia would help resolve the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, re-open Russia’s markets for Georgian agricultural products and wine, and reliably ensure access to Russia for Georgians to make a living there (Rustavi-2 TV, Imedi TV, RTR Russian TV, Interfax, May 1-24).
Operating with similar slogans, the Labor Party of Shalva Natelashvili occupies the left side of Georgia’s political spectrum and is a potential ally of those groups. The Labor Party is far larger than these groups, however. Moscow favors it but is not deploying it in the frontline at least for now. At present, Russian policy seems to have no options beyond using these eccentric small groups on Georgia’s political scene. Moscow is truly scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of political allies within Georgia.