On January 23, MPs from Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, voted to re-elect Tiny Kox, a Dutch politician, as the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Is this controversial?
Oleksandr Merezhko, Ukrainian MP from the ruling “Servant of the People” party was the challenger. It is tempting to take the refusal to support Merezhko as a sign of an ongoing feud between the ruling parties of Tbilisi and Kyiv.
How did the Georgian Dream explain its vote?
The ruling party chair, Irakli Kobakhidze backed Kox before the vote. He explained that:
- Re-election of the sitting chair was “the accepted practice” in the Council of Europe.
- Merezhko was unacceptable for the Georgian Dream due to his involvement in proposing “absolutely unacceptable amendments related to President Saakashvili to a resolution at a previous PACE session.”
What PACE resolution is Kobkakhidze talking about?
The resolution titled “Further escalation in the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine” condemning the annexation of the Ukrainian regions by Moscow and declaring the Russian regime “a terrorist one” was adopted by PACE in October 2022.
Georgian Dream MPs’ refused to vote resolution and criticized the Assembly for including language about imprisoned ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili in the text. Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, Shalva Papuashvili wrote to PACE President Kox, criticizing the inclusion of the controversial paragraph.
Is it true that PACE Presidents often serve two terms?
Yes. The PACE Presidents are usually backed by the families of the European parties and often keep their post for the second term. In the final tally, Kox got 175 votes, against Merezhko’s 44. This suggests a significant majority. The ballot is secret, so one can’t assess whether MPs voted rather by party block or by a national vote.
So why the controversy about backing Kox?
Tiny Kox has been accused by political figures in Georgia of acting in Russia’s interests. In 2020, President Mikheil Saakashvili accused him of being “Russia’s agent” who has been “on Russia’s payroll for two decades.”
Why did Saakashvili say that?
Kox was leading the delegation of PACE observers during the 2020 Parliamentary elections in Georgia, hotly contested between Saakashvili’s UNM and the Georgian Dream. After the polls, which observers said were marred by irregularities, Kox criticized the opposition for refusing to recognize the results from the get-go. Although the final report was critical of specific shortcomings of the elections, the assessments of the elections by the Mission were criticized by some as failing to give a full picture of the integrity of elections.
Were any grounds to the accusation of Russian ties?
In 2022 a thorough investigation by Dossier, an outlet supported by Russia’s persecuted oil tycoon, Mikheil Khodorkovsky, gave Saakashvili’s earlier claims some credence.
The Dossier investigation said Kox was a part of the so-called “Kremlin lobby,” consisting of senior European officials, including several other Presidents of PACE, who promoted Russia’s interests at various European fora.
- The report claims that his activities before the war channeled Russia’s interests at least since the summer of 2014.
- It also claimed, that Kox’s initial election as President of the parliamentary body was influenced by a GRU agent, one Valeri Levitsky. Levitsky, later on, served as a Consul General in Strasbourg, before being expelled from France in 2018 as a Russian spy.
- Currently, Levitsky holds a high position in the State Duma of the Russian Federation. The report describes in detail the efforts on the Russian side to promote Kox to the PACE President’s position, and the contacts between him and the Russian side outside the usual purview of his responsibilities. The report also exposes other senior PACE figures.
- Kox supported the restoration of the Russian Delegation’s credentials at PACE in 2019 despite heavy criticism.
Did Kox comment on the report?
Tiny Kox denied knowing Levitsky or having any Russia spy links. After the renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2022, Kox has been vocal in his condemnation of Russia and support for Ukraine. He also backed Russia’s exclusion from the PACE.
So is Merezhko more friendly to Georgia?
Kox’s rival, MP Oleksandr Merezhko, Vice-President of PACE, is a member of Ukraine’s ruling “Servant of the People” party and was a member of Zelensky’s team in the run-up to the 2019 presidential elections in Ukraine. Merezhko made a number of controversial statements concerning Georgia after Russo-Georgian war of 2008.
- In his article “Does South Ossetia has a right to self-determination” written in September 2008 Merezhko wrote: ”South Ossetia in its current form fully meets the main criteria of statehood” and therefore, “regardless of recognition by other countries […] South Ossetia is a state, a subject of international law.” On these grounds he argued that “Georgia’s forceful actions against South Ossetia can be quite legitimately qualified as armed aggression.” He further argued, that Ukraine should recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Does he still think so?
Merezhko changed his stance since.
- In 2020, in a conversation with RFE/RL, Merezhko stated that Russia, invading the territory of Georgia in 2008 under the guise of peacekeeping, actually carried out an armed aggression against Georgia with the occupation of part of its sovereign territory.