Zourabichvili Faces Tough Parliamentary Hearing

It is expected that a parliamentary hearing 
will determine Zourabichvili’s position in the
Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili is expected to brief the Parliament’s leadership on May 23 over Russia’s recent proposal over a timeframe for the pullout of its two remaining military bases in Georgia, amid talks between the Russian and Georgian sides in Tbilisi on Monday. This hearing in the Parliament will also take place against the background of rocky relations between some  leading MPs and top officials in the Foreign Ministry, which were further strained on May 21, when Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgi Gomiashvili announced his resignation, accusing parliamentarians from the ruling National Movement party of mounting pressure and groundlessly criticizing the Foreign Ministry.

Military Bases

The Georgian and Russian sides will resume talks over military bases on May 23 in Tbilisi and experts from the Foreign Ministries of both countries will discuss new proposals which were recently submitted by Moscow and have been hailed by Tbilisi as “more constructive.” Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze and Russian Foreign Ministry’s special envoy Igor Savolsky will chair their respective sides at the talks.

Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze hinted on May 20 that there are signs that negotiations in Tbilisi will be constructive. “The recent proposal by the Russian side, especially some of its parts, are really acceptable for us and we hope talks on Monday will be constructive,” Nino Burjanadze told reporters.

Salome Zourabichvili will inform parliamentarians about the details of this new proposal by Russia at a hearing on May 23, which will take place at a meeting of the Parliamentary Bureau, behind the closed doors. The Bureau unites the Parliament’s top officials, including the Chairperson, leaders of the parliamentary factions and Chairmen of the Parliamentary Committees.

An incident involving a brief arrest of four Russian servicemen in Batumi by the Georgian police has triggered protests by the Russian side ahead of these talks in Tbilisi. The Russian Embassy in Georgia issued a statement on May 21 condemning this arrestand blamed the Georgian side for attempting to hinder the process of negotiations between the two sides over the withdrawal of the bases.

Four servicemen from Russia’s 12th military base stationed in Batumi, Adjara Autonomous Republic, were handed over to the military base command being detained for a couple of hours in the Batumi police station late on May 20. Georgian officials in Batumi said that the Russian servicemen were drunk and were arrested for “hooliganism” in the street.

“The servicemen were arrested [by the Georgian police] without any reason… The circumstances [of this arrest] indicate that this measure was undertaken [by the Georgian side] in order to further complicate the atmosphere of the upcoming talks between the Georgian and Russian sides over the military issues [scheduled for May 23 in Tbilisi],” RIA Novosti news agency quoted the Russian Embassy’s statement.

MPs vs. Minister
Recent disagreement between the parliamentarians and the Foreign Minister is yet another point which makes these Monday parliamentary hearings the focus of the Georgian media.

When a group of parliamentarians from the ruling National Movement party refused on May 20 to endorse Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgi Gomiashvili’s nomination as Georgia’s Ambassador to Switzerland, the Georgian media was prompted to begin speculating that this refusal was mainly a protest by the Parliament against Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, as Gomiashvili was always regarded as the Minister’s protégé.

The signs of strained relations between Zourabichvili and some of the parliamentarians first appeared last September, when Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Relations Kote Gabashvili accused Zourabichvili of, as he put it, “inactivity” that resulted in Georgia losing its right to vote at the UN. Later, Georgia restored this right after repaying part of its membership fee.

The Parliament’s criticism further increased last December, when the Foreign Ministry issued a decree instructing Georgia’s Embassies abroad to first inform the Ministry itself before providing any information to the Parliament or to any other state structure. This move by the Foreign Ministry was viewed by many parliamentarians from the ruling party as an attempt to restrict lawmakers’ access to information from the Embassies.

The series of disagreements continued in April with the involvement of Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze. She criticized the Foreign Minister’s decision to recall Georgia’s Ambassador to the Benelux countries Konstantine Zaldastanishvili, during the Parliamentary Chairperson’s official visit to Brussels, as “unethical.”

Foreign Minister Zourabichvili was even criticized by several MPs for a failure to finalize an agreement with the Russian side over the withdrawal of military bases from Georgia.

When news broke in April that the EU rejected the idea of replacing the OSCE Border Monitoring Operation at the Russo-Georgian border with an EU project, Zourabichvili, who had been a career French diplomat, became the focus of criticism again. Reportedly, France led the EU’s rejection of Georgia’s border monitoring request.  

At a news conference on May 21, when Deputy Foreign Minister Gomiashvili announced his resignation, he alleged that some parliamentarians were against his appointment as Ambassador to Switzerland because of suspicious bank accounts which some Georgian politicians have in Switzerland.

In an interview with Rustavi 2 television on May 21 he also alleged that recent “attacks” by the Parliament against the Foreign Minister were triggered by the fact that the Foreign Ministry “is the only” state structure which “is staffed by professionals” and “not on the principal based on party-membership” hinting that the ruling National Movement party has no levers to influence the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, who returned from her European trip on May 21, has not yet made any comments regarding her deputy’s resignation or his statements. Zourabichvili’s position will be known after a tough parliamentary hearing on Monday, which is expected to determine her future position in the cabinet.


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