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Georgia Security Chief on Russian Occupation, Terrorism and June 20 Developments

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New chief of the State Security Service of Georgia, Grigol Liluashvili gave a 50-minute interview to Imedi TV’s program SWOT Analysis, where he talked about Russian occupation, threats of terrorism, June 20 developments and other pressing issues.   

Russian occupation

The security chief said that “[Russian] occupation is the biggest challenge for the country,” which harms both, Georgia’s democratic and economic development. Liluashvili noted that as 20% of the country is under Russian occupation, “it is a bit difficult” for the government to mitigate an unfavorable social-economic background, for example, through attracting foreign direct investment.

The security chief said that Russia tries to weaken the perception of Georgia’s stability through occupation as well as “to obstruct our country’s integration into Western/European values.”  

Speaking of the ongoing process of “borderization” and creeping Russian annexation, Liluashvili said that “our main concern and problem is that the dividing line actually exists and that foreign troops are deployed there, rather than moving of the occupation fortifications by two or three meters deeper into Georgia proper.”  

“Regrettably, by stressing that the dividing line has been moved further into Georgian territory by two meters, we even legitimize that this dividing line should exist at all,” Liluashvili said.

Grigol Liluashvili denied calls from opponents and civil rights activists to deploy special sub-division units at the dividing line, who could “hamper the process of “borderization” by the use of force.” The security chief said, “this is exactly what our enemy wants, if armed persons were to be deployed on the dividing line that would create a perception that the pseudo-border does exist.”

The security chief also said that “the best units of the occupying country” deployed along the dividing line complicate any humanitarian actions, which “may promote talks with Ossetian and Abkhaz brothers.” In this context, he also noted that “the free movement of people, their expressions and behaviors are subject to unprecedented control in occupied regions… A colossal censorship is underway to obstruct our living with Ossetian and Abkhazian brothers in a united brotherly state.”   

State borders, Pankisi gorge, Syria and terrorism

In the interview, Grigol Liluashvili also spoke about Georgia’s non-demarcated borders, the Pankisi gorge and the developments in Syria.

He said that Georgia’s non-demarcated borders “are the weak side of our national security, because we have unsettled issues even with our friendly neighbors. And recent developments regarding David Gareji Monastery Complex are the consequences of the grave legacy left by the [Soviet] system.” The new security chief expressed his hope that the commissions created with the Azerbaijani side will complete their work in a calm and peaceful atmosphere.

Answering the question about the Pankisi gorge, Liluashvili said that “Pankisi is not a threatening enclave as portrayed by the propagandists of hostile states. There are ordinary Georgian citizens living there.”

“Pankisi is not a threatening enclave as portrayed by the propagandists of hostile states. Ordinary Georgian citizens live there.”

The anchor then asked him about terrorism and recent developments in Syria. The security chief noted that the developments in Syria represent a potential threat to Georgia’s national security. In this context, Liluashvili said that if western states impose economic sanctions on Turkey, Georgian economy will also face certain problems, as Georgia’s foreign trade and accordingly, the Georgian national currency rate are closely tied to the Turkish economy.  

Commenting on the journalist’s opinion that “our [Georgian] society supports and romanticizes terrorism suspects,” Liluashvili said that it can be explained by the lack of terrorist acts and its consequences in the country. “Our citizens cannot understand what giving way to these terrorism threats may lead to,” he said.

Liluashvili added that “probably, it is due to our society’s Soviet-old mentality that [the society is] more loyal and sensitive towards criminals than victims.”

Army, youth and patriotism

In the interview, the new security chief also spoke about the youth, patriotism and military service evasion.

“Frequently, the values of patriotism and serving one’s own country are downplayed,” Liluashvili said, adding that “ a healthy, young Georgian man’s [attempt of] to shirk the duty of serving his homeland” should be considered desertion. He also stressed that “we should not be hostages of pseudo-liberal values.”     

“Frequently, the values of patriotism and serving your own country are downplayed.”

Liluashvili said that although young Georgian people are intelligent, they “lack a sense of nationality.” He also noted that wealthy families do not let their children serve in the army, because “it is not considered fashionable in our society.” 

He also added that “a child, who can never kiss the national flag, a child, who has no idea about the national anthem… and [does not hold] values, which can be felt through contact with national symbols, all these will be strange for our future generation.”

The security chief slammed the participants of a rally held by Girchi party, civil movement “Russia is an occupier” and the anti-occupation movement “Force is in Unity” in the village of Atotsi, near the line of occupation with Tskhinvali region in November 2018, who mooned occupying forces . Liluashvili said that none of them have served in the army, because “otherwise… a Georgian man would not have pulled his pants down, showing his backside even to the enemy.”    

June 20-21 developments

Speaking about the June 20-21 developments, Liluashvili said that “the existence of any force, which tries to achieve its political goals through destructive actions, is a huge challenge for us.”

“There was a real threat [of the government being overthrown] during the June developments; the country faced this risk; we have seen this before and we know that it brings no good. Accordingly, we will be very tough, intolerant, if any force, including political one, tries to repeat the similar attempt in the future. We will be intolerant towards this process,” he added.

“There was a real threat [of overthrowing the government] during the June developments.”

Liluashvili also noted that “the bad practice” of political opponents is responsible for the increased number of security forces that have been deployed to gatherings and rallies. “Our employees will always be there, where they will collect information and provide summaries and analysis to the relevant agencies in order to avoid escalation, [attempts to] overthrowing of the government or any other misfortune that may lead our country to collapse,” he said.  

War, peace and dialogue with Russia

Speaking about the Russian-Georgian relations, the security chief praised the current government’s pragmatic domestic and foreign policies, saying that largely due to the government’s efforts, the country managed to live in peace over the past seven years without losing its territories in exchange. “Thanks be to God, praise the Lord, this [peaceful] cycle was achieved thanks to the reasonable foreign and domestic policies of the current government.”  

Commenting on Georgia’s potential dialogue with Russia, he noted that within the framework of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM), together with international partners, the relevant agencies have been in talks with Russian representatives “at local meetings.” Liluashvili said that “if politicians decide to talk with relevant Russian representatives at a high political level, it will simplify the process of taking steps towards de-occupation.” He also noted that “90% of public servants, including politicians” have been the victims of bullying by political opponents, whose aims are to prevent the country from talking with Russia.  

Security or civil rights?

In the end of the interview, the journalist asked Liluashvili what he thinks about a potential trade-off between upholding human rights and maintaining security .

The security chief answered that “naturally, it cannot be categorically labeled unacceptable, but an appropriate balance should be struck. Balanced politics towards western values, including human rights does not mean neglecting security issues,” he said.

“If we put on the scales security risks [on the one hand] and recognized rights of particular individuals, on the other, the scales will overweigh in favor of security.”

“If we weight security [on the one hand] and recognized rights of particular individuals, on the other, the scales will tip in favor of security,” he continued, adding that he will not approve any government to use this argument for the establishment of dictatorship and the creation of “a machine which infringes upon human rights.”

In this context, Liluashvili criticized the former Saakashvili administration, saying that “by the way, the previous government successfully managed to do it, when any right granted to a person by the Georgian constitution was trampled down. “Everybody in prison” – it was the slogan of that government and I would not wish to live under a government where the scale in permanently tipped in favor of security goals only .”

On October 17, the Parliament of Georgia endorsed Grigol Liluashvili as new Head of the State Security Service, the country’s domestic counterintelligence agency with 85 votes in favor and 8 against.

The Georgian government named Liluashvili as new Head of the State Security Service on October 7. The post became vacant after its former head Vakhtang Gomelauri was appointed as the Interior Minister on September 8.

Liluashvili became the first deputy head of the State Security Service in January 2019. He served as the deputy head of the State Security Service since December 2017.

A year earlier, in 2016, Liluashvili entered the Parliament as a majoritarian MP from Vani and Khoni single-mandate constituency. In 2002-2016 he held various managerial positions at the organizations affiliated with Bidzina Ivanishvili, chairman of the Georgian Dream party.

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

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