Georgia’s prime minister sends mixed signals

  • 2013-09-24
  • By Steven G. Traylor

RIGA - Some two weeks ago, Georgia’s Prime Minster Bidzina Ivanishvili was in Tallinn to meet with his counterpart, Prime Minster Andrus Ansip, for a discussion to encourage his Baltic Sea neighbor to foster support for Georgia’s entry into the European Union.

Earlier that same week, Ivanishvili was also in Riga, meeting with Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis. Different stop, same discussion.

Back in July, Ivanishvili was in Vilnius. Georgia’s anticipation was of initialing early Association Agreement documents designed to lead to a further westward path and closer ties to Europe.

Thus, the prime minister has made the rounds of current EU member states and former Soviet Republic vassals in garnering support and political dialog for Georgia’s time in the international limelight in the coming months: as an invited guest for consideration in late November in Vilnius for the Eastern Partnership group.

In the European sphere of influence, Ivanishvili is saying “OK, we are ready to meet in Vilnius.”
Georgia has been a candidate member of the Eastern Partnership since 2009, along with Ukraine, Armenia, Moldova, Belarus and Azerbaijan. The Georgian politicians like to sound out support, get public recognition from other EU countries and to speak with the friends.

At present, the run-up to the November summit is currently taking place in Lithuania for what is billed as an “informal” meeting prior to the big show on Nov. 28-29. Georgia is expected to be front and center – and ready to talk seriously in Vilnius.

The neighbor to the East has a different road map

In June, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan was invited to Vilnius too, to make a formal presentation on membership to the trading bock called the European Union. The EU’s GDP equals nearly that of the United States at some 16 trillion dollars.

Sargsyan likewise has made his political motivations known, and on Sept. 3 was in Moscow meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin – all smiles and handshakes as the Armenian president was making political shock waves in Yerevan. Apparently, Sargsyan has a different map, or is not reading from the same script as are Ukraine and Turkey, who are also looking for EU support.

In Vilnius, the president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite, is the first Eastern European leader to hold the rotating Chair(person) of the Presidency of the Council of the Europe Union. Lithuania also has a special relationship with other former Soviet Republics, and is likewise trying to distance itself from the “sphere of influence” of mother Russia.
President Grybauskaite stressed during the Inter-Parliamentary Conference for Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defense Policy recently meeting in Vilnius that security and well-being were indivisible. “And that is why I firmly believe that the signing of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, as well as the initialing of agreements with Moldova and Georgia at the Vilnius Summit this coming November would not only advance closer trade and economic relations, but would contribute to building a European continent that is secure, stable and prosperous. It would also reaffirm the credibility of Europe,” said the head of state. 

In Tallinn the Estonian PM said, “We support a democratically developing Georgia that is integrating with Europe. We know of the experience of our own state that the best way to integrate with the West is a fast and democratic development of the state.”

Between the Black Sea and the Caspian, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan play a critical role in the geo-politics, as the gateway to central Asia, and Moscow and Brussels are in an ongoing tug-of-war that is represented by each country’s foreign policy.

Like in the United States, where the two-party political system is commonly noted as ‘red state’ vs. ‘blue state,’ between the Republicans and the Democrats, Putin is thinking that Armenia (and others) should be in his column.
Armenia sent a message to the European Union, that “our future lies with the Russians,” in the Customs Euro Asia Economic Community (EurAsEC). Some believe though that this decision was coerced.

The run-up to the Vilnius meeting is a critical time for Georgia to demonstrate its true commitment to the European path.
But the question still remains: what script is the billionaire PM Ivanishvili reading from?

Ivanishvili sends mixed signals

On Sept. 5, he said in a statement: “It seems that there are people who need an explanation about what my statement meant yesterday. This is why I will state once again that if the Eurasian Union had any compliance with our country’s interests, without contradiction to Georgia’s pronounced core strategy, we would discuss the issue in the future.”
The day before, Ivanishvili was asked how interested Georgia was in joining the Eurasian Union, and the prime minster said: “As for the Eurasian Union, I carefully watch and learn. On this stage we do not have any position. If we see in the future that it can be interesting for the strategy of our country, then why not. On the current stage, we have no position.”
This seems like a contradiction in his official position. Which is it?

An independent political viewpoint by Marmuka Areshidze is given in the newspaper Qronika, and it is that Ivanishvili is misinformed. “Some people think that Ivanishvili lies when he says things on this or that topic, but he is not informed. He is truly not informed. Unfortunately, this is not only because of the people surrounding him. It is because of the lifestyle that he has developed during his 55 years,” Areshidze said.

With the signaling of Armenia to “look to the East,” Yerevan political shockwaves have been stated by many, including Richard Giragosian, a political scientist and director of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan. He says “President Sargsyan’s Customs Union policy is perhaps the gravest geopolitical error in Armenia’s post-Soviet history and, if implemented, one that would have lasting consequences for Armenia.”

This is no time for the soon-to-be-retiring Ivanishvili to be suggesting Georgia is on no other path than the path of westward ho!, as the cowboys used to say in 1870s United States’ wild west, as they headed across the plains looking for new and greater economic opportunities, and away from the east. A similar call could be shouted out for Georgia, one that goes: “Prime Minister Ivanishvili, head West! Europe awaits you and your country.”