The Daily Beat: 20 February
Shortly after the parliamentary bureau endorsed the new draft law “On Foreign Agents” for the parliamentary committee review, the ruling Georgian Dream party spokesperson Mamuka Mdinaradze said his party will support it. The committee on legal issues was charged with leading the review alongside foreign relations and security committees. The Speaker turned down opposition MPs’ requests to also involve the committee on human rights, or on European integration. Mdinaradze said the parliamentary majority shares the principles of the draft law and is generally ready to support it, while some details might be the subject of discussions. He downplayed as “speculations” and “lies” the comparisons with similar Russian legislation. The ruling party rallied behind the bill just as the calls to withdraw it are mounting from Georgia’s European partners, domestic civil society, and media.
President Salome Zurabishvili will not sign the bill on foreign agents, believing it is contrary to the country’s integration into the EU and is pro-Russian, the president’s administration stated. The statement also highlighted the sensitivity of the timing of the bill’s registration, as it coincided with a visit of the US Congress delegation to Georgia. If Zurabishvili refuses to sign, the ruling majority has sufficient votes to overcome the veto.
The parliamentary delegation of the ruling party refused to attend war anniversary events in Kyiv and declined the official invitation, MP Irakli Zarkua from the ruling party announced on Monday. “When they try to drag us into the war, calling [on us] to open the ‘second front,’ when they call criminal Saakashvili a ‘political prisoner’ – this leaves no room for diplomatic relations,” Zarkua noted. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Parliamentary delegation headed by the speaker visited Kyiv once. Unlike many western leaders, the Georgian president and prime minister have not.
The US. Senators Janna Shaheen and Dick Durbin are visiting Georgia. Over the weekend, they met with representatives of opposition parties and CSOs, discussing democracy, the media environment, and the current political situation. On Monday, the senators met with the president and prime minister, focusing on US-Georgia relations, the EU perspective, and regional developments. President Salome Zurabishvili stressed the strategic importance of the EU candidacy for Georgia, noting the harmful and pro-Russian nature of anti-Western narratives, the president’s press office said.
Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili took part in a panel discussion at the Munich Conference alongside Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders. PM Garibashvili predictably focused on reminding the West of its reset with Russia after its invasion of Georgia in 2008. Dodging the question of the former president’s health condition, PM characterized Saakashvili as a “good actor” and a dangerous criminal. On the sidelines of the Munich Conference, Prime Minister met some high-level counterparts, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, and Commander of the US European Command and Allied Supreme Commander in Europe General Christopher G. Cavoli.
Chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, linked the high rate of population outflow from Georgia with the EU visa-free regime, saying it was responsible for the negative migration balance. According to Kobakhidze, “when an economically strong country facilitates the visa regime for the population of an economically weaker country, this fact naturally contributes to the outflow of the population.” Statisticians have challenged Kobakhidze’s logic as flawed, showing that the migration pattern does not seem to be strongly linked to visa liberalization.
Data for the Day
The national statistics office revealed that Georgia’s foreign trade increased by 29,1% in January 2023, compared to the same period of the previous year, and stands at USD 1,46 billion. Russia tops the list of Georgia’s largest trading partners with USD 263,6 million, followed by Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
Russia also confidently leads in terms of remittances. As of January 2023, over USD 444 million has been transferred to Georgia. More than 60% of overall transfers were made from Russia and amounted to more than USD 267 million, the National Bank data shows.