TV Interview: Saakashvili on oponents, policies and future

Story Highlights
  • Should have kicked Ivanishvili out
  • Government - nincompoops, channel Ivanishvili
  • Tsulukiani - evil, wants soldiers behind bars
  • Direct democracy is the future, people voting PM electronically
  • Ivanishvili tries to grab TBC, "chief usurer"
  • No plans for high office, Lazika mayorhood would do

Former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili gave an extensive interview to Rustavi 2 TV talkshow “Accents of the Week” on April 2, touching upon the multitude of matters pertaining to Georgia’s domestic and foreign policy.

We have summarized some of the key elements for you.

On Ivanishvili: “we should have grabbed him and shown him out of the country”

Saakashvili dedicated a sizeable part of the interview to his nemesis – Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder and leader of the Georgian Dream, which pushed Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) out of power in 2012. He has argued that Ivanishvili represents “a very substantial threat” to the country.

He said the National Movement made a grave error not to see him out – “It was our great gaffe, we should have grabbed him by the neck and show him out of the country”, Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili said Ivanishvili governs like a feudal lord, expecting slavish submission. He argued, citizens should try to exit “the closed circle” and liberate themselves, by making decisions every day.

“If we just say – ‘we are sitting and waiting for October 2020 [parliamentary elections]’ – he will swing and swindle us [along the way], and in 2020 he’d come out with his guns blazing,” Saakashvili argued. He stressed, that this does not mean rejecting elections as the means of political combat, but “trying to get rid of Ivanishvili every day”, since “it’s been long time since he’s exited the confines of the law and has lost legitimacy”.

Speaking of 2018 Presidential polls, he said Ivanishvili “stole the elections” and “brought about this messed up woman [Salome Zurabishvili].”

“If we came out immediately after the polls and said that the elections were stolen, the West would have stood by our side…unfortunately not all of us were ready for this step….we were too confident that we could win those elections through procedural means,” Saakashvili explained.

Government of Georgia: working on orders of Ivanishvili and Russia

Saakashvili spoke dismissively of the current cabinet, saying he barely remembers the name of the Prime Minister, but had special treatment reserved for Tea Tsulukiani, the Minister of Justice,  who he characterized as “evil embodied”, claiming she works to put the Georgian military on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

By working towards this objective, Saakashvili argued, Tsulukiani serves the interests of both Ivanishvili, and Russia. “Putting our soldiers behind the bars is not an objective in itself, the objective is to achieve international recognition of these two territories [Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia],” he explained, adding that “the election of Zurabishvili was no accident, and it fits within the same strategy.” [Salome Zurabishvili controversially spoke about the responsibility of Georgia for launching 2008 hostilities].

“Several soldiers would be indicted, it would turn out that Georgians committed war crimes and as a result, several countries would recognize [Abkhazia and South Ossetia], this is their plan” – a Russian plan, in Saakashvili’s view, that is being implemented through Tsulukiani and Zurabishvili.

Russia-Georgia: Russia is not interested in a new provocation

Responding to journalists’ question Saakashvili said “due to internal reasons” Russia is not going to provoke Georgia into war. He also rejected the notion that he played a part in provoking 2008 war with Russia, and said “we had very equal footed relations with Putin, quite polite”.

Saakashvili also claimed, that his government was ready to discuss stationing Russian military bases in Georgia and abandoning the drive to NATO membership, in exchange for restoration of country’s territorial integrity. He said the subject was broached with Russians too.

Unfortunately, it was not clear from the interview, what the Russian response has been – if any.

President Saakashvili also noted that Georgia took positive steps towards Russia immediately after war – “first, we have opened the borders, allowing [Russian citizens] visa-free entry. It was my own, personal initiative. Second – we made a deal on free trade”, he said.

“We have been the ones who have convinced Russians to open their market [following the economic blockade] it was not Ivanishvili. Simply the chronology was such, that [the actual lifting of sanctions from Russia] happened already after Ivanishvili came [to power],” he claimed.

Plans in Georgia: Tending the vines, or a town city mayor…

Saakashvili stressed during the interview, that he links political future with Georgia, and returning to the country – even through there is a warrant on his arrest is issued by the court and his citizenship has been terminated – is the main point on his agenda. He said, however, that he no longer plans to hold a high political office.

“I will come to my vineyards, will gather my first harvest and perhaps, afterwards, I could become a mayor of Kvareli [a town in Kakheri region of Georgia], maybe I’d go to Lazika [deep-sea port on Black Sea shore, named Lazika by Saakashvili’s administration and renamed into Anaklia, during Ivanishvili’s administration] and become mayor there…perhaps I won’t run for any office, will consult a young and active government… How could Misha Saakashvili crave the spot of [current PM Irakli] Bakhtadze? Being the mayor of Lazika seems to me a better way to serve people, than sitting in Bakhtadze’s cabinet,” former president said.

Electronic governance: opting for direct democracy?

Saakshvili expressed his disenchantment with the parliamentary mode of governance and said people must be involved more directly in decision-making – especially through e-governance. He said “the parliament would slowly lose its representative function” and would remain to perform limited, but complex tasks – such as the approval of the budget. Other than that, in Saakashvili’s mind, electronic direct governance should prevail.

He said, Georgia would become the first country, where a prime minister would be voted in not by the Parliament, but by people, electronically. He also dreams of a system, when the PM thus elected would submit his cabinet to people for electronic approval.

TBC Bank controversy and Anaklia: Ivanishvili tries to grab the bank

Speaking about the recent controversy concerning the TBC Bank and Anaklia Deep Sea Port managed by TBC-led consortium, Saakashvili said Ivanishvili tries to “grab TBC Bank” to become the “chief usurer” of the country.

He praised Anaklia/Lazika project as the most direct avenue to Georgia’s rapid development, potentially allowing each family “to get three, four times richer”.

“Together with Zugdidi, Lazika would become a city of half-a-million… [as a result] it is not that we would be tied to Abkhazia, but Abkhaza would be tied to the rest of Georgia,” Saakashvili explained.

Drug policy: No need for prison terms, but smoking pot “makes stupid”

Speaking about the drug policy, one of the hotly contested debates of the day, Saakashvili said people should not go to prison for smoking marijuana. He did however, note, that “mass consumption of marijuana makes people stupid, but one wants to become stupid, it is their choice”.

“We should not imprison people for this [use of light drugs] but we should be speaking about this constantly to young people, we should be creating other possibilities for them [to engage], they should have so many things to do, they should be so competitive, that they shall not want drugs any more. We have learned the lesson, that no improvement comes from sentencing to prison terms,” he argued.

Sex tapes: we never used them

Saaksahvili also spoke about the dissemination of sex tapes of the politicians, which were allegedly recorded during his presidency. “Never in during my time [in office] any shot from the private life of people was aired,” but said “perhaps someone was indeed recording them”, but he, as a president knew nothing about it.

Asked what he would have done, if he heard that MP Beselia was thus recorded, Saakashvili said “I would have chopped some heads off.”

Robakidze and Girgvliani cases: “mistake not to fire Vano [Merabishvili]”

Former president was questioned about the two most damaging cases that happened on his watch – death of Sandro Girgvliani, who died following the beating by off-duty security officers, and killing of Buta Robakidze during police chase.

He said that after Girgvliani’s death “it was a mistake not to fire Vano [Merabishvili, interior minister at the time].” He said he was planning to fire the minister, “but many people came and argued that it was not a wise decision given overall [security] situation, and after two-three days of reflection I decided to take the hit myself”.

“But those who participated [in the case] were arrested and imprisoned,” he added, arguing that he did not pardon them personally but “reduced their sentence in half, as for all the ex-soldiers after 2008”.

Asked why did the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rule that the coverup of the case was centrally orchestrated, Saakashvili responded that Tea Tsulukiani – current justice minister – worked at the Council of Europe at the time as a staffer, and she wrote the ruling, since “she had a personal interest” in the case outcome.

As for Robakidze case, Saakashvili said such incidents “happen in every country”, and “no government has ever resigned over it”.

“I am not going to throw ashes over on my head, I did not participate in Girgvliani murder, neither do I have any connection to Robakidze case, it is a great injustice to blame these on the president”, he said.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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