The Foreign Policy Aspirations amidst the Recent Political Crisis in Georgia

Posted on 14. November 2014

by Ia Melkadze

ia-melkadzeThe Political Crisis

The month of November traditionally has something “hot” in store for Georgia’s political climate; this year seems to be no exception. Defence Minister Irakli Alasania, Foreign Affairs Minister Maia Panjikidze, and State Minister on European and EuroAtlantic Integration Alex Petriashvili resigned from the government earlier this week.

Irakli Alasania, who also heads the “Our Georgia – Free Democrats” party (the Free Democrats), was dismissed by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili because of the scandal related to the unlawful spending accusations within the Ministry of Defence. The other two (both Free Democrats party members) left voluntarily. With Alasania’s dismissal, his political party is also no longer part of the ruling “Georgian Dream” coalition.

The parliamentary dimension of the crisis has been overshadowed by the voluntary resignation of leading statesmen and their deputies, who question the Georgian government’s adherence to the European values, particularly in its conduct with respect to foreign policy.

The Values Crisis

The Former Minister of Defence Alasania stated that he personally, and the Ministry of Defence as an institution that’s heavily invested in Euro-Atlantic integration, were targeted because of the disagreement about the foreign policy goals. In his interview with the Georgian TV Channel Rustavi 2, he warned that Russia plans to influence Georgia’s pro-western foreign policy via different strategies. He further underlined the importance of the independence of state institutions and hinted at the increasing involvement of the former Prime Minister and Tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili behind the scenes of Georgian politics.

The resigned State Minister of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration also referred to an “approaching dictatorship”. In his emotional farewell speech, former Deputy First Minister of Foreign Affairs Davit Zalkaliani underlined the importance of Georgia’s European integration as well.

This was followed by a wave of Georgian politicians and high-ranking bureaucrats publicly proclaiming their support for the pro-western foreign policy and European values. Prime Minister Garibashvili’s speeches and appearances, in which he – rather vehemently – reaffirmed the Georgian government’s commitment to the European values and the integration project, flooded the news agencies in Georgia and beyond. This included conducting an ‘introductory meeting’ with the EU Ambassador to Georgia, an interview with CNN, holding meetings and issuing numerous press releases. He also held meetings with other potential officials who were “about to leave”: Deputy Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili, for instance, changed her mind about leaving her office after she met with the Prime Minister. Most of the ministers who did not resign, as well as the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, made statements in which they asserted that Georgia’s pro-western policy was not in danger.

In his statement made on the 5th of November, President Giorgi Margvelashvili also reassured Georgian citizens that the country would not divert from its pro-western foreign policy or from European values.

The loss of the three pro-western ministers has not gone unnoticed: the “Crisis in Georgia” has been in the headlines of the leading European and global newspapers and news agencies. The focus of the attention again turned to Georgia’s foreign policy.

What to Expect?

One of the major consequences of the crisis in Georgia is the ruling coalition’s loss of one of its long-standing members ahead the parliamentary elections in 2016. The question of the loss of the constitutional majority is still up in the air, as the negotiations with the individual members of parliament are still going on. But what is more important is that it became clear that the European and Euro-Atlantic integration is essential for Georgian society and that the politicians cannot thwart these aspirations, at least not publicly.

As for the new appointments, Prime Minister appointed Mindia Janelidze, his personal confidant as the Minister of Defence. The new Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was expected to shed light on the country’s foreign policy priorities, is now Tamar Beruchashvili, the former Deputy Foreign Minister.

The major opposition party, the National Movement (former president Saakashvili’s party), which came to power following the Rose Revolution in November 2003 before losing support in 2012 over human rights violations, had previously announced a political rally on the 15th of November to protest against Russian occupation. It is not clear whether the resigned ministers will join the opposition rally, but whether or not they do, this November appears to be a month of political confrontations in Georgia.