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The Daily Beat: 27 March

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili publicly slammed Saakashvili’s recent award of the Sjur Lindebrække  Prize for Democracy and Human Rights in Norway and compared the ex-president to Anders Breivik. He recalled Saakashvili as an authoritarian, almost dictatorial ruler, creator of an oppressive murderous system, describing the Norwegian award for his human rights records as an insult to the Georgian people. “You remember that in Norway, Breivik killed many people? It is the same as some country rewarding Breivik with a human rights prize,” Garibashvili told the press. Prime Minister’s comparison left the Norwegian Ambassador in Tbilisi, Helene Sand Andresen, deeply appalled, forcing her to react, calling the comparison highly inappropriate. Mikheil Saakashvili was awarded in absentia the Sjur Lindebrække  Prize for Democracy and Human Rights in Norway. The prize was accepted by his son, Nikoloz Saakashvili.

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President Salome Zurabishvili expressed solidarity with the women victims who recently went public in accusing the founder and presenter of the pro-government TV channel PosTV, Shalva Ramishvili, of sexual harassment and strongly condemned it. Speaking at a press briefing, Salome Zurabishvili criticized representatives of the ruling party for supporting and justifying Shalva Ramishvili, saying that any such harassment had nothing to do with Georgian culture and traditions, but could only harm Georgia’s international standing. “The authorities not only fail to condemn violence, at least in words but encourage its perpetrators. Shame on you!” the president said in her “shame and blame” TV appearance.  

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the EU is set to step up the nonlethal military aid for Georgia, allocating some EUR 30 million from the European Peace Facility, the same off-EU budget vehicle Brussels now uses to supply arms to Ukraine. Amid growing worries about Russia’s destabilizing efforts, the EU intends to provide military, nonlethal aid to Russia’s two more vulnerable neighbors – Georgia and Moldova, the RFL/RL reported, referring to diplomats speaking off the records. The RFL understands that the Georgian plan, worth EUR 30 million envisages the transfer of modern trailers and trucks and an increased emphasis on heavy equipment transporters and cranes. The EU will also provide vehicles supporting the mobility of the Georgian defense forces’ field artillery communication systems.

Prospects of broader economic cooperation between heavily sanctioned Russia and EU-minded Georgia were discussed at a special forum in Moscow, the Russian ministry for economic development revealed. The Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly, headed by Leonid Kalashnikov and Dmitry Volvach, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Economic Development of Russia, were behind the event. The possible setting up of a special wine laboratory to certify wines under Russian standards and removing cognac spirits from the banned import list were among the issues discussed at the Russia-Georgia economic forum, the TASS state news agency reported. Russian officials highlighted the significant increase in Russia-Georgia trade turnover and stressed the importance of modernizing the Upper Lars checkpoint in expanding bilateral trade relations. For now, authorities in Tbilisi have yet to comment on this event, and no information is available on participants from the Georgian side.

While the government distanced itself from the Russo-Ukrainian war, the Georgian Orthodox Church unexpectedly weighed into the Ukrainian church conflict, stepping into intra-Ukrainian religious turmoil with wider political consequences. Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, addressed Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, expressing “concern” about the “current circumstances in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” and requesting him to help “reduce tensions” by the creation of conditions for peaceful coexistence, and then a peaceful step towards mutual rapprochement.” This initiative looks weird against the background that the Ukraine Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is facing a potential ban in Ukraine, and several of its clergy were denied citizenship for condoning the Kremlin’s aggression. The Georgian Orthodox church is still silent on the Ukrainian church’s independence conferred by the Patriarch of Constantinople, making this surprise intervention by 90 years-old ailing Georgian Patriarch even more controversial.

The Lithuanian Seimas Committee on Foreign Affairs issued a statement on Georgia, supporting its aspirations to join the EU and NATO and criticizing the ruling Georgian Dream party and the government for anti-Ukrainian rhetoric and perpetuating Stalin’s memory. The statement also calls on the authorities in Tbilisi to demonstrate unity in defending national interests, avoid any steps that may facilitate circumvention of sanctions on Russia and Belarus, and facilitate the transfer of the former Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili for medical treatment.

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