Prime Minister Ivanishvili’s Foreign Policy Outline Encounters Strong Resistance from the Opposition
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 33
Widely considered the closest ally of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, former Georgian Ambassador to the United States and current Ambassador to the United Kingdom Tedo Japaridze has put forward a draft agreement aimed at bringing together the two largest parliamentary factions—Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream (GD) and the opposition United National Movement (UNM). The agreement is made up of 14 points the GD and UNM should consent to (https://www.civil.ge/eng_old/article.php?id=25697). In contrast to the “14 Points” of former United States President Woodrow Wilson that sought to steer post-WWI international peace arrangements, the “14 points of Ivanishvili” cover only Georgian foreign policy principles. The Georgian Dream coalition proposes this new foreign policy strategy in the form of an agreement between parties that would reflect a consensus among the main political forces of the country (https://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=25744).
It is obvious, however, that there is no consensus on foreign policy between the opposing parliamentary factions. President Mikheil Saakashvili’s UNM party has sharply criticized the document and accuses Ivanishvili of changing Tbilisi’s foreign policy course, abandoning the country’s integration plans with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and excessively acquiescing to Moscow’s demands (https://www.ekhokavkaza.com/content/article/24879862.html; https://www.civil.ge/rus/article.php?id=24353).
How well-founded are the presidential party’s concerns? The first points of the concept state that Georgian foreign policy should be based on the principle of a balance of national interests and international obligations. “Protection of sovereignty and territorial integrity in internationally recognized borders” is posited as the primary objective of the state. “Integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures,” including “accession to the European Union and NATO” are still stated as foreign policy priorities of the country. At the same time, Georgia is still prepared to participate in international peacekeeping operations, including NATO missions, in various parts of the world. Currently, the Georgian military forces deployed in Afghanistan are the largest among non-NATO member countries. Moreover, the United States is still identified as Georgia’s “main ally” in the document (https://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=25744).
However, the seventh point of the concept put the opposition on alert. It states that Georgia’s foreign policy “should not be directed toward performing the role of a strategic player in the process of ongoing confrontations on a global and regional scale.” The UNM fears that an adoption of this point will lead to Georgia losing its geopolitical attractiveness for all players in the Caucasus. “Every country, even if it is not large and has limited resources, should try to play its role in important international processes to protect its national interests,” UNM parliamentarian David Darchiashvili told Jamestown.
Point number nine of the concept evoked the largest protest among the parliamentary opposition, however. “It is in the interests of Georgia that it should not be among the contentious issues in the relations between the West and Russia,” the ninth of the fourteen points asserts. The opposition perceived this as a capitulation before Moscow. “Twenty percent of our country’s territory is occupied by Russia, and if we ourselves do not raise this issue, Georgia’s Western allies will find themselves no longer able to talk about the occupation of Georgian regions,” UNM’s member of parliament Nugzar Tsiklauri remarked to Jamestown.
The new policy concept also declares (point number ten) that the relations between Georgia and the peoples of the Northern Caucasus will be based on principles of good neighborliness and a long tradition of close cultural cooperation that should not be used to increase Tbilisi’s confrontation with Moscow. Many believe that this point indicates Ivanishvili’s preparedness to renounce Georgia’s recognition of the Circassian “genocide” (https://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23472). “Under no circumstances will we support a reversal of the decision of the parliament on this issue, since it was fair and was founded upon historical evidence,” UNM parliamentarian Georgy Gabashvili said in an interview with Jamestown.
At the same time, all political parties agree on the goals to deepen Georgia’s economic and political relations with the neighboring countries of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. Transnational projects, the expansion of relations with Caspian states as well as Georgia’s participation in international organizations are also among the non-contentious issues. Yet, Saakashvili’s team reckons that points seven and nine make it impossible for the UNM to sign the 14-point agreement.
President Saakashvili, in turn, had previously proposed that the ruling coalition adopt a constitutional amendment on the “foreign policy course of Georgia” (https://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=25695) that would legally the bind country’s orientation toward NATO and EU accession. This suggested amendment would also prohibit Georgia from joining the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union or the Eurasian Union, thus avoiding any military, political or economic unions in the post-Soviet space championed by Russia and President Putin. “Estonia and Lithuania adopted such an amendment to their constitutions immediately after the Soviet Union fell apart,” former Georgian Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Giorgi Baramidze said.
However, Bidzina Ivanishvili and his associates evidently do not want to constrain themselves with such obligations. “We are not in a position to burn all bridges,” the head of the Georgian Dream coalition in the parliament David Saganelidze noted in reaction to Saakashvili’s constitutional amendment initiative (see EDM, February 6). For many, Saganelidze’s words sounded like a confirmation of Georgia’s possible future participation in post-Soviet integrationist projects under certain circumstances.
Yet, some experts reckon that amendments to the constitution about the inviolability of the country’s foreign policy may be irrelevant in the Georgian case anyway. “In politics there are no eternal allies and inviolable priorities. Everything under the sun is changeable, everything flows and changes,” the rector of the diplomatic academy of Georgia Soso Tsintsadze told Jamestown. His remarks highlight the fact that the country’s values and foreign policy orientation are still highly contentious not only among the political class, but among the Georgian establishment as a whole.