Speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum panel discussion on 24 May, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili spent most of his time speaking about the war in Ukraine and about Georgia’s decision not to impose economic sanctions on Russia, saying that the country’s economy would suffer a significant loss. He also discussed Georgia’s EU integration and the health of Georgia’s imprisoned ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili.
In response to the moderator’s question regarding the imposition of sanctions on Russia and how much government’s stance vis-à-vis Russia hurts Georgia’s EU membership prospects he said: “…We would destroy Georgia’s economy, we would damage the interests of our country and we would damage the interests of our people if we impose some kind of economic sanctions on Russia”,” adding that no one had imposed sanctions on Russia after the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war.
He lamented that after the 2008 war no one in the world had “adequate reaction. “So my question is: where is the logic? Our war is not a war and Ukrainian war is a war?”- he asked, adding: “we were quite disappointed that business as usual continued with Russia after 2008 war”.
He said: “My dear friends, you continued business as usual with Russia, no one imposed sanctions on Russia. For your information and the information of the audience, the European Union paid 2.5 trillion dollars between 2008-2022 to Russia, no one stopped the business, nothing happened.”
Irakli Garibashvili then pointed out that “Georgia’s trade turnover with Russia is less than $1 billion”, while “the European Union trades with Russia in just four days is what we trade in one year.”
Responding to a question about the restoration of direct flights with Russia and US State Department’s reaction to that (“Are you just annoying friends, these flights… could you live without them?..), Garibashvili noted that Georgia is grateful to Western partners, but “has the sovereign right to have its own national interests”. He said: “this is part of economic and trade relationship with Russia” and “we never said that we would stop trade and economic relations”. He noted that “one million ethnic Georgians, Georgian citizens, diaspora” live in Russia and said that “to have direct flights with Russia is very normal” adding that “this does not mean that we are engaged in some kind of political consultations with Russia”.
He also noted: “Many countries have flights with Russia, but we made it very clear that no sanctioned companies and no sanctioned aircraft will be allowed to operate Georgia.”
Speaking about Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration Prime Minister said that the “Georgian Dream” government had “done everything” in this direction over the past decade. He cited the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union, the Free Trade Agreement and visa-free travel as GD government’s achievements.
“This is my interest, to do the maximum, to bring my country closer to the EU and NATO,” he said, adding: “Let me remind you that if anybody in Georgia did something tangible, and brought tangible results this is my government, this is political party that I represent.” He added that it was the decision of the current government that the European Union and NATO integration were enshrined in the Georgian Constitution.
War in Ukraine
Commenting on the full-scale war launched by Russia in Ukraine, Prime Minister Garibashvili said that “it is indeed very difficult time” and that Europe had not seen such a challenge since the Second World War. “Therefore this war affects all of us,” -he said. He also noted that ” today approximately 20% of Ukraine’s territory is already occupied by Russia” and “this is the status quo of today”. “What will happen tomorrow, I don’t know, I can’t say, I think nobody knows.”
Noting that “unfortunately we don’t see any signs that this war is going to end soon”, Prime Minister Garibashvili criticized the international community for not doing enough to hold “peace talks”: “We don’t see enough efforts from the international community to take proper measures, to encourage consultations, to encourage peace talks”. Asked who should take these steps, Irakli Garibashvili replied that ” everybody, both sides”.
He also recalled the statements made by the Ukrainian authorities about the opening of the “second front” in Georgia: “They publicly said the want to see a second front in Georgia” adding: “we have had enough wars, after the restoration of independence we had two wars in the 90s, a civil war and then in 2008 with Russia”.
“We have maintained security, peace and stability. This is the most important thing. My job and my obligation is to protect the national interests of my country, to protect my people,” said the Prime Minister, reiterating his support for the Ukrainian people.
Responding to a question about the health of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, PM said he did not really want to talk about the former president because “he is the past”. “But since you asked me, I’ll give you a short answer – former President Saakashvili made big mistakes and committed grave crimes”- he said, adding that Saakashvili has been not in a prison, but in a private clinic for more than one year.
He also stressed that there’s been “lots of speculations… lots of fake news around the world”, as if he was being poisoned and tortured in Georgia. He then noted that the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg “rejected all his requests” and “confirmed once again “that the Georgian government does care for his health and conditions, and treat him according to the European standards.”
Asked about his possible death in hospital and whether this would be detrimental to Georgia’s EU ambitions, Garibashvili said: “I don’t want to comment on that. I wish every citizen, every prisoner a long life, and what I can tell you is that – we protect the rights of every individual, every citizen, including every prisoner.”
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