President Zurabishvili Says No Ambitions to Lead Opposition

President Salome Zurabishvili is not going to be “the leader of the opposition” in the upcoming Parliamentary elections in October, she said following her speech at the Chatham House event “Georgia’s European Opportunity” on February 28, answering a question about her role in helping the opposition.

“Some people would like me to take this term [role] and I don’t think it would be reasonable decision,” she added. Her statement follows speculations about her possible involvement in the election race as her presidential tenure ends later this year.

In the context of the upcoming elections, she also commented on the jailed former President Mikheil Saakashvili, saying holding the free and fair elections does not depend on his imprisonment. Zurabishvili argued Saakashvili is in prison “for real reasons” and “he is not Navalny.”

As for her speech, President Salome Zurabishvili highlighted Georgia’s deep-rooted ties with Europe and the progress it has made in that direction, despite Russia’s disruptive influence and continued occupation.

She stressed the importance of Ukraine’s ongoing struggle against Russian invasion and the need for international solidarity in support of Ukraine.

President Zurabishvili also raised concerns about the impact of Russian propaganda, which she argued is aimed at undermining the cohesion of Western societies. She stressed the importance of countering Russia’s malign efforts, highlighting Georgia’s experience in dealing with similar tactics.

The President emphasized the critical role of Ukraine’s victory in shaping Georgia’s and Europe’s future. She noted that despite Russia’s attempts, Ukraine has not been defeated, and on the contrary, it is “already victorious in many respects.”

When asked about the Georgian government’s controversial stance on the Ukrainian-Russian war, President Zurabishvili noted a change in rhetoric following the country’s designation as an EU candidate in December 2023. She added that Ivanishvili’s return to formal politics had also brought “some changes” to informal governance.

According to the President, Ivanishvili’s return to the formal stage means that he will have to be accountable.

President said political forces in Georgia should be ready with what they will offer to the public if the government fails to implement the EU commission’s nine steps, and added that the upcoming parliamentary elections will be “Europe or not Europe.”

In response to a question about China-Georgia relations, President Zurabishvili noted the increasing presence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Georgia over recent years, particularly in infrastructure projects. She suggested that this trend is partly due to the cost-effectiveness of Chinese investments. and also because “our Western partners are less present and probably we need more engagement” from them.

In this context, she also discussed the significance of the Anaklia Deep Sea Port, stating that its development is crucial for ensuring that Russia does not have exclusivity over the Black Sea.

The President was also asked about the possibility of a pro-Russian Patriarch succeeding the current Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and about the attitude between Georgians and Russians who emigrated en masse to Georgia after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“I think that the Orthodox Church, like in any other Orthodox country, is very close to the power and tends to follow the changes of accent [emphasis],” the President said, expressing hope that the church would follow the pro-Western rhetoric and elect a pro-Georgian and pro-European Patriarch rather than a pro-Russian one.

As for the Russians in Georgia, the President emphasized that “they do not learn Georgian, they do not have much empathy for Georgia to recognize that this is the occupied country, twenty percent of its territories.”

The President added that Russians must say that they do not approve of Russia’s imperialist behavior. In this context, she also said that Russians should put their kids in Georgian schools in Georgia, and not in the Russian schools so they become the part of the country. She emphasized the Georgian government’s responsibility in this regard.

The President noted that while there may be some pro-Putin people among Russians in Georgia, they are not necessarily so. She also noted that the influx of Russians to Georgia has contributed to positive economic figures. Among the positive effects, the president also highlighted “very talented” young Russians specializing in “technology, computer science” who can have a positive impact on Georgia’s economy, but “all in all, it [Russian immigration] needs to be controlled more than we control it.”

Answering a question about the possibility of re-election of Donald Trump and its possible impact on the U.S. support to Georgia’s sovereignty, she said she cannot and will not discuss the elections of Georgia’s major strategic partner country, and ” I want to remain confident” that support to both Ukraine and Georgia will remain bipartisan.

This article was updated on 29.02.2024 at 16:00 to reflect President’s answers to questions regarding the Patriarchate, Russians in Georgia, and the upcoming U.S. elections.

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