On May 26, chairman of the Ukrainian Servant of the People ruling party’s parliamentary faction, David Arakhamia, published a Georgian-language post on his Facebook page regarding Georgia’s Independence Day. In recognizing the South Caucasus country’s independence, Arakhamia wrote, “Compromise at the cost of defeating a great goal is not allowed. It is regrettable that the symbolic expression of the European choice does not shine on this solemn day” (Facebook.com/DavidArakhamia, May 26). In this, he was hinting at the fact that the European Union flag has ostensibly disappeared from the Georgian Parliament building, and his statement comes amid calls from the Georgian opposition for its return as a show of good faith to Brussels (Tabula.ge, May 25).
Arakhamia further argued, “No one can change the historical choice of the Georgian people. Russia, the enemy of freedom, will be defeated by the unbroken spirit of the people fighting for freedom. Georgia and Ukraine will be freed from the tormenting evil of occupation” (Facebook.com/DavidArakhamia, May 26).
Originally Georgian by nationality, Arakhamia lived in Gagra, a town in Russian-occupied Abkhazia, for some time. In 1992, during the Georgian Civil War, he moved with his parents to Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Arakhamia is the director of the Ukrainian branch of information technology company TemplateMonster, as well as the founder of the volunteer “People’s Project,” which has been actively supporting the Ukrainian army since the beginning of the Russian invasion in 2014. Now, the Ukrainian politician of Georgian descent is one of the most influential individuals on President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s team (Dsnews.ua, March 12, 2021).
Arakhamia has often criticized the Georgian authorities for their “pro-Russian” policies. After Russian President Vladimir Putin abolished the visa regime for Georgian citizens and restored direct flights between the two countries, Arakhamia did not hide his indignation: “Cancellation of the visa-free regime for Georgian citizens? Today, no self-respecting country cooperates with Russia.” He further asserted, “The whole world imposes sanctions [against Russia], the International Criminal Court issues an arrest warrant for Putin, and at the same time, Putin announces a visa-free regime for [Georgian Prime Minister Irakli] Garibashvili. Bravo! I look forward to the news about the replacement of the [Georgian] lari with the [Russian] ruble. Nothing will surprise us anymore” (Facebook.com/DavidArakhamia, May 10).
Earlier, in March 2023, Arakhamia claimed that “the whole world understands that the preservation of democracy in Georgia, whose government is full of Russian agents, is a key task of the global community. … The Georgian people understand this. Tens of thousands of young people in Georgia understand this. But the prime minister [Garibashvili] pretends that he does not understand (1tv.ge, March 13).
Presenting his annual report to the Georgian Parliament last year, Garibashvili accused Arakhamia, along with the Georgian opposition, of “practically issuing an ultimatum to Europe, that if Georgia received candidate status, they would be very disappointed” (Radiotavisupleba.ge, June 22, 2022).
Arakhamia responded that, while he had not made any such visits to campaign around Europe, in the United States, he had been busy formulating the concept that “Mr. [Bidzina] Ivanishvili is a pro-Russian oligarch with a puppet regime, who is sacrificing the Georgian nation, which wants [to be in] Europe.” Arakhamia added that Georgian citizens should not pay any attention to the “blatant lies” of their government, specifically those from Garibashvili who “spreads unreliable information” at the behest of “one oligarch.” He concluded, “We Ukraine, Ukraine’s authorities, will do our maximum to help Georgia become a part of the European Union. … I am convinced that together we have a great future in Europe” (Netgazeti.ge, June 22, 2022).
Yet, while some have speculated about his future plans, Arakhamia has refuted reports that he aims to jump into Georgian politics. Even so, his popularity among pro-Western Georgians is on the rise, and, at some level, the political “infrastructure” already exists to involve Arakhamia in Georgian politics—if not today then in the near future.
Paata Chekurishvili, a former member of the Georgian Parliament (MP) and leader of a civil activist group that is promoting Davit Arakhamia as the future Georgian prime minister, said in a May 27 interview with this author that the “pro-Russian regime of the Georgian Dream ruling party” has weakened the opposition political elite in Georgia with many years of deliberate work—blocking sources of their funding; engaging in political persecutions, arrests and disproportionate raids on demonstrations; and using extremely repressive methods and punishing detainees with unfair court sentences (Author’s interview, May 27).
“In light of all this,” Chekurishvili contended, “the possible entry of Davit Arakhamia into Georgian politics is perceived as a positive event for the majority of Georgians.” He further asserted, “For a long time, the majority of the opposition electorate linked their hopes for real change in the country to Mikheil Saakashvili and the opposition party ‘United National Movement’ founded by him” (Author’s interview, May 27). The former MP also voiced that, after Saakashvili’s arrest and the sharp deterioration of his health in prison, opposition-minded Georgian citizens, who, up until now, have remained in state of despair, see a new hope in Arakhamia’s possible involvement in Georgian politics. Indeed, nowadays, Georgian politics clearly lack a political figure similar to him, with whom the majority of Georgian citizens could associate the real opportunity for a strategic partnership with Ukraine and transatlantic unity—thus bringing prosperity and security to Georgia.
Chekurishvili also underlined: “Most importantly, Davit Arakhamia, as a refugee from the Abkhazia region, is connected with the hopes for the reintegration of the territories of the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions occupied by Russia. … The current situation in Georgia can be compared to the previous revolutionary circumstances: the completely discredited collaborationist regime … and, as a counterweight, the 85 percent of the population, who, during these past months, confirmed their commitment to transatlantic aspirations at demonstrations and rallies more than once” (Author’s interview, May 27).
Nevertheless, in the absence of a strong grassroots organization, as Chekurishvili noted, the appearance of a general public leader at this moment would not change much on its own: “However, there remains one more important factor in the path of inevitable political changes in Georgia: the absence of a general public movement in the political field at this stage. Without this most important political tool, tangible changes will seem unrealistic.”
Ultimately, the “Arakhamia factor” will greatly influence the upcoming Georgian parliamentary elections in 2024, even if the Ukrainian politician of Georgian origin has no real plans to return and become a leader of the country of his birth. And, overall, this influence will be crucial in maintaining Georgia’s pro-Western course and in emboldening the opposition.