Georgian opposition MPs have called on their ruling Georgian Dream colleagues and the Government to take a united stance in support of Kyiv as the threat of Russian invasion looms in Ukraine.
In a joint press briefing today, the United National Movement, Lelo and Strategy Aghmashenebeli lawmakers offered the Georgian Dream to begin parliamentary talks to pen a multipartisan resolution backing Ukraine.
The opposition deputies also urged Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to summon an extended session of the National Security Council with the participation of the opposition to examine the risks the continued Russian military build-up and possible invasion of Ukraine pose to Georgia.
The opposition, which claims the Government is appeasing Moscow, argued that taking a common stance in support of the fellow NATO membership aspiring country is the only correct way to go forward.
“Renewed Russian aggression is a very serious threat and a challenge in terms of general regional security and geopolitics,” stated today UNM MP Khatia Dekanoidze, going on to argue that Kremlin’s actions against Ukraine also pose significant risks to Georgia’s security.
MP Dekanoidze also called on Foreign and Defense Ministers, David Zalkaliani and Juansher Burchuladze respectively, to meet the lawmakers for consultations over the matter.
Meanwhile, MP Salome Samadashvili from the Lelo parliamentary faction stressed the importance of paying cross-party parliamentary visit to Kyiv.
“This would be a clear message to everyone, our Western partners as well as Russia, that Georgia and Ukraine do not plan to make concessions,” MP Samadashvili noted.
“Pragmatic foreign policy on Russia demands both from us and our Ukrainian friends to make it clear together for everyone that it is our choice to become members of the free world,” said the lawmaker, adding that joining NATO are “historic decisions of the Georgian and Ukrainian peoples that will not be revised.”
The Georgian Dream Responds
In response, Georgian Dream MP Irakli Zarkua today seemingly dismissed the proposal arguing the “radical opposition” can do “whatever they want, but we are the state, the ruling party, we have certain responsibilities in our statements.”
Reiterating support to Ukraine, MP Zarkua called on the international community to “protect” the interests of Kyiv and Tbilisi.
Another GD lawmaker, Davit Matikashvili however said “there will, of course, be a discussion” about a united stance of the Parliament, adding “if there will be a necessity for it, this agreed position will be stated.”
Later in the day, Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili expressed solidarity to “brotherly Ukraine in taking care of its sovereignty and the security of its people.”
The Parliamentary Chairperson denounced actions of “any country” that threaten the sovereignty or territorial integrity of others, falling short of explicitly mentioning Russia.
Speaker Papuashvili added he conveyed Georgia’s support to Ukrainian Ambassador Igor Dolgov during a meeting on January 17.
Silence “Says It All?”
While the Georgian Dream lawmakers have made several remarks in support of Ukraine, Georgian leaders, President Salome Zurabishvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, are keeping a low profile as Moscow demands written “guarantees” from the West over rejecting Georgian-Ukrainian NATO membership aspirations.
Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani tried to fill the void with a laconic tweet, highlighting: “Threatening any country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is totally intolerable. Georgia stands in solidarity with Ukraine and Ukrainian people. We stand with Ukraine.”
Reacting to the top diplomat’s Twitter statement, opposition European Georgia’s Giorgi Kandelaki said: “Georgian FM tweets support to Ukraine without mentioning Russia, as if it is Vanuatu threatening to invade Ukraine. And Georgia’s PM still has said nothing on this or Russia demanding Georgia itself never joins NATO. This says it all.”
Asked why PM Garibashvili has not made any statements about Ukraine, Georgian Dream General Secretary and Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze referred journalists to FM Zalkaliani’s tweet. “Ukrainian people always had [our] support, always have and always will have,” Kaladze highlighted.
Activists Rally to Support Ukraine
Meanwhile, the Georgian public and netizens have been vocal in showing solidarity with Ukraine. Scores of citizens, activists and opposition politicians gathered outside the Ukrainian Embassy in Tbilisi on January 23 in a show of support to Kyiv.
Coming out to speak with the demonstrators, Ukrainian diplomat Andrii Kasianov stressed Ukraine needs a strong international support amid Russian military threats and efforts to block its NATO and EU accession.
“Dear Georgians, Ukraine is particularly grateful to the Georgian people for your solidarity,” Kasianov said, adding “your presence today, in support of Ukraine, is a clear demonstration of the unwavering commitment and support of the Georgian people toward Ukraine.”
Georgian civil society organizations have also weighed in, with Transparency International Georgia and the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) stressing in their statements that the Georgian public stands in support of unity and sovereignty of Ukraine.
Tbilisi-Kyiv Relations: Background
Tbilisi and Kyiv had begun to thaw their strained relationship throughout 2021, exchanging several high-level official meetings as well as establishing the Associated Trio alongside Moldova.
A Georgian Ambassador returned to Ukraine in April 2021 following a year-long hiatus over Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s decision in 2020 to appoint former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as the Chair of Ukraine’s Executive Reform Committee.
But the relationship was seemingly strained somewhat again after Saakashvili covertly returned to Georgia in late September, and was arrested on October 1, on the eve of local elections. Saakashvili, convicted in two cases and charged in three more, denies charges and considers himself as a political prisoner.
During the phone conversation in November, President Zelenskyy told PM Garibashvili that rights of Saakashvili — a Ukrainian citizen — “must be fully guaranteed in accordance with international norms,” and highlighted that Kyiv wanted to have the ex-President returned to Ukraine.
Noteworthy, Garibashvili served his first Prime Ministerial tenure in 2013-2015 while Maidan events unfolded in Kyiv and Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. Grilled by journalists over his reserved statements on Ukraine, Garibashvili said back in December 2014: “I am the head of government and I should make a statement that will bring welfare to our country and our people instead of making a statement that may damage our country.”