DC Blues for ex-FM – Tbilisi Embroiled in Ukraine Controversies – By-Elections too Shall Pass
Past days in Georgia saw some old prophecies come true. But apparently, the country still faces a problem of false prophets – the ones that, abusing their authority, try to discipline the crowds into submission with threats of imminent wrath from false gods. Here is Nini with the usual updates from Georgia.
FANCY RETIREMENT After months of (accurate) rumors, it has now become official: Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani moves to new pastures, perhaps greener, as the Ambassador to Washington. Ilia Darchiashvili, till now heading the Government Administration, was tapped as his replacement. Zalkaliani who spent decades in the foreign office, served as Vice-PM in parallel. His loyalty to the Georgian Dream government is as impeccable as any turncoat’s can be (in 2014 he quit in protest over the sacking of his erstwhile party colleagues, but quickly came back to the fold – and favor). So the move to DC is as honorable as any well deserved foreign rotation can be. Out from the capital city stress, in with hobnobbing the big-shots on the Hill.
WHO’S THE NEW MAN PM Garibashvili now has even more personal control over foreign policy. Darchiashvili has been his right-hand man and is his paisan: just like Garibashvili, new FM hails from Kiziqi (pronounced kee-zi-q’i) , a historic part of the eastern Kakheti region. By the way, the new Parliamentary Chair Shalva Papuashvili?! You guessed it right, also Kiziqi man. Solid, no-nonsense, rustic and loyal.
CV But aside from his roots, the Curriculum Vitae of the incoming top diplomat is surprising: 41 years-old, with and MBA, having undergone educational training in relevant fields, Darchiashvili spent about a decade in banking (for once, not Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Cartu Bank, but Bank Respublika (later affiliated with Societe Generale). In 2012, he gets a stint as financial officer job at the Georgian embassy in Poland, only to return to the capital two years later and take multiple high-level positions in the government agencies and Ministries, mainly dealing with regional development. From 2017 to 2021, he is back to foreign ministry, chills as an ambassador-at-large in 2016-17 and then suddenly becomes an Ambassador to Poland. In 2021, after Garibashvili’s return as PM, Darchiashvili ascends as the Head of Government Administration.
A less-than-illustrious career for the Foreign Minister, with curious gaps and lurches, then. Is he having trouble holding down the job? Can he prove capable of holding his own in a challenging political environment? We have to yet see. So far, at least on Ukraine, Darchiashvili has followed the general (and controversial) GD rhetoric to the letter – Read more.
PROPHECY Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili managed to get embroiled in yet another controversy, describing the fate that befell Ukraine a “punishment” (without describing what its supposed crime was, and without naming the perpetrator). “As I said on February 25, if someone would be oppressed and punished by this war, it would be Ukraine. [I said] that thousands of Ukrainians would be killed, their territorial integrity would be violated, and this is the case,” PM Garibashvili noted. Then he went on to repeat his older remarks, saying Russia has been occupying Ukrainian territories “and unfortunately we see there’s no one to stop it so far ” (a dog whistle for “impotent West” narrative). Some Georgians come to think, that PM Garibashvili is shifting the blame to the victim, and setting himself (and Georgia) up for voluntary sacrifice of everything (including its freedom) in the name of what he calls “peace”.
TWO FACES OF PUNISHMENT But the Prime Minister keeps insisting on his value system, and GD party chef Irakli Kobakhidze jumped to his defense. “A punishment can be both just and unjust,” argued Kobakhidze, donning his law professor cap. “It is about punishing Ukraine through Russian military aggression, which has no justification,” he explained. Still, GD Chair could not help but remind the public what a difficult situation Ukraine currently finds itself in, and how the authorities do everything to spare Georgia the same fate: Ukraine “already had to say no to NATO, which was the starting offer, imagine, a starting offer towards Russia. Of course, this is the most difficult situation. Our task is to spare our country from all of this.” More.
SMUGGLERS Apparently, the scandals can also find Tbilisi rulers without them necessarily making controversial statements: on April 4, Ukraine brought against Tbilisi allegations so bad that even fiercest government critics choose not to fully believe: according to Ukraine’s Military Intelligence, sanctions-hit Moscow is establishing a smuggling channel through the territory of Georgia, which is greenlighted by the government. As if things were not bad enough between Tbilisi and Kyiv. Georgian authorities vociferously deny the report, with GD politicians making now usual allusions to plots by UNM-linked people in the Ukrainian government. Finance Ministry issued a more level-headed statement, claiming all sanctioned goods are subject to strict controls. Well, if you – like us – want to look on the bright side, Tbilisi at least openly said it was actually doing something about sanctions.
BYE-ELECTIONS Past Saturday saw rare elections in Georgia that were not followed by some sort of a crisis. By-elections were held in two big self-governing cities of the country: in Rustavi, a new MP was to be elected after the GD majoritarian depute won the mayoral election and switched office. Here, Georgian Dream candidate Irakli Shatakishvili had an easy victory: more than 90% of voters voted for him, and for a reason: the mainstream opposition did not put forward a competitor after Former Lelo MP Badri Japaridze withdrew.
But stakes were higher in Batumi, where the elections of the majoritarian councilor were to decide the balance between GD and its potential allies vs the opposition in the local council (Sakrebulo). The seat became vacant after the controversial death of the United National Movement mandate-holder. While here, too, the GD candidate won with a huge advantage – 69.013% against the UNM candidate who ended up at 30.987%, the usual reports about violations still accompanied the victory. Still, no hype during the campaign leading up to the race that should have been tense, and neither was there much noise after the votes have been counted. The opposition obviously decided not to waste too much energy on smaller battles – apparently, in Georgia, only the final battle is worth fighting, otherwise, there is no battle at all.
That’s the full lid for today. May the next issue come out in a more peaceful world. Join us every Tuesday and Friday for the incisive coverage of Georgia’s political life.