The Dispatch

The Dispatch – February 26-27: Žygimantas Wilson’s War

Opposition Marches into March – Watchdog Found Firmly Leashed – Capitol Hill Mulls Sanctions? – Mayor Kaladze’s Fun and Sorrow – Bzhania’s Ex-Aide’s Mining Adventures – Tskhinvali’s Unpaid August Debts

Good Friday evening from Tbilisi, which remains in a state of crisis since the Georgian Dream (GD) government upped the ante of the political game and arrested UNM Chair Nika Melia. The opposition rallied in Tbilisi today, and critical letters keep pouring from Georgia’s western friends, with the word ‘sanctions’ being thrown around quite a bit.

MARCHING BRISKLY INTO MARCH  The first half of March on the opposition’s calendar looks quite packed, featuring the picketing of the  Parliament and the Government Administration buildings. It is yet to be seen whether and how they intend to motivate their supporters, as the outdoor temperatures remain low and the Covid-related curfew is still in force. This being Georgia, March still looks too far away, as much can change overnight. Some hope, the forthcoming visit of the European Council President Charles Michel on February 28 as part of his EaP tour could make some impact. We don’t hold our breath.

RETURN TO SENDER The weather may be changing, but the galls of international criticism do not abate. Žygimantas Pavilionis, Lithuanian Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, has grabbed headlines in Georgia due to his active – including on-site – commitment to contribute to the ways out of the crisis, and his straight-shooting talk. PM Garibashvili’s angry and controversial rebuke to Pavilionis seemed to have backfired, with Pavilionis going doubling down on GD during an online webinar, and pushing hard for sanctions. Government aligned Imedi TV’s attempt to portray the Lithuanian MP as a lightweight, besieged at home, also looked quite ridiculous after Pavilionis corralled an impressive list of colleagues from the US, UK, Germany, Poland, Estonia, and Latvia in a “solidarity statement”. In the meantime, the Baltic foreign ministers and the Lithuanian President started to play the “good cop” to Pavilionis’ sheriff. We do wish our friends good luck and sympathize with their plight. Talking to a room full of Georgian politicians must feel like a particularly difficult day in a tantrum-filled nursery.

SHOT OVER THE BOW “Incredibly dumb” was the Twitter jab that Adam Kinzinger (Rep., IL) leveled at PM Garibashvili’s move to arrest Melia. Just how dumb, is quickly becoming obvious: Chris Rocha, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Staff Director, said that there was “a lot of discussion on the Hill, both the House and the Senate, on the potential for sanctions.” He mentioned targeted sanctions against Ivanishvili and affiliated officials involved in political prosecutions – including travel bans for Ivanishvili’s family. Even if that gun may never fire, it has been now visibly hung on the wall at Capitol Hill.

WELL LEASHED WATCH-DOG We already had Mediacritic, a state-sponsored media watchdog, in our cross-hairs. Curiously, the body usually taking aim at the opposition media whose tone it does not like, was compelled to jump into Paviolionis controversy, scolding him and the media outlets for failing to mention that the Lithuanian MP faced criticism at home for the words he uttered in Georgia.  Our intimate conviction that Mediacritic is on the government’s leash now has court’s stamp in it – the court ruling over a lawsuit filed by the Institute of Development of Freedom of Information, a Georgian CSO, said Mediaacademy, established by the Communications Commission, to which the Mediacritic is subordinated, functionally constitutes an “administrative body” – despite the latter’s claims that it was an independent agency.

SALT BAE One ruling party leader has been putting quite a bit of clear water between himself and the GD’s new swashbuckling crew: that’s Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, GD Secretary-General, no less. His calls for dialogue and de-escalation contained no “buts”, and no offensive language, which is a lot by today’s low Georgian standards. Kaladze enjoys some public sympathy, partly because he does care what others in GD think of him. Also partly because as a former professional footballer, he knows how to listen to the coach – and apparently, he has some spin doctors to advise him. This is particularly obvious whenever he faces backlash for unpopular moves: yesterday he landed another joke at his own expense (another Georgian rarity) following reports that Tbilisi City Hall mishandled salting of the icy roads. Mayor Kaladze riposted on Facebook with his photo to resemble the infamous Salt Bae meme. Some thought it was in poor taste, but at least this is someone who can take a little distance from his overinflated ego. There are persistent rumors that Kaladze might cut the cord with GD and try to sake it out on his own for the upcoming local elections. That is unlikely to happen without Ivanishvili’s blessing – and certainly won’t on his paycheck.

MINING OWN GRAVE Lasha Sakania, the former aide to Abkhaz leader Aslan Bzhania, might want to make himself an astrological chart – the stars have been cruel to him lately. First, the young man’s career was compromised due to his involvement in arranging Abkhazia ‘piety’ visit for leaders of the Georgian nativist Alliance of Patriots party in August last year. His subsequent demotion as an aide of an Abkhazian MP Ilia Gunia apparently did not pay enough: he was now reportedly caught on Psou checkpoint driving his official car with cryptocurrency mining equipment. Sakania was promptly dismissed: crypto-mining is frowned upon in Abkhazia, as uncontrolled “mining” since 2016 led to severe blackouts. In detaining Sakania, Sokhumi struck political gold: now they’ll face fewer outrages over power outages.

AUGUST DEBTS The crisis that started unfolding in Tskhinvali in August last year over the alleged death under torture of an inmate Inal Jabiev still lingers. Dozens of people gathered at the legislature to demand a fair investigation. Earlier, they were promised the investigation was nearing completion. But the controversial ‘prosecutor general’ Uruzmag Jagaev does not seem to enjoy much trust. People were calling for his resignation since September 2020, and say he was implicated in Jabiev’s death. Faced with political problems, Anatoly Bibilov has been reportedly visiting Moscow over the past days, but little help seems forthcoming for now.

That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!

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