On Monday new charges were brought against former President Mikhail Saakashvili and former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. This time the ex-President and his minister have been linked to the beating up of lawmaker Valery Gelashvili in July 2005, according to Prosecutor General’s Office report.
Merabishvili held the ministerial post from December 2004 to July 2012. He was arrested in Tbilisi in July last year and is still kept in custody, charged with abuse of power and several other offences.
Saakashvili was president of Georgia from January 2004 to November 17, 2013. He has already been charged with misappropriation of funds, with abuse of power and other criminal offences.
Nana Devdariani, former Head of Georgian Central Electoral Committee, now the Director of the Center for Global Studies (Tbilisi):
If we consider the majority, well, figures tell the whole story. The population of our country is four and a half million people. Of these more than three hundred thousand have been detained, jailed or have been otherwise repressed by the state law enforcement system. These people have families, relatives and friends.
So, the majority of people in Georgia have already been demanding – and for quite some time, too — that justice must be restored. Yet, there are people, who are quite clearly in the minority, who still support the nationalist movement, and who grow sarcastic asking – from which moment in our history do we need to start restoring justice? Their point is that even the Communist Party of Georgia has not been put on trial, whereas you can often hear that nationalist movement should be banned.
Now, coming to Saakashvili. Saakashvili was a ruler who had all power under his personal control. It was he who used to decide on virtually every matter, including which color houses had to be painted in Tbilisi…
So, naturally enough, he was well informed, if not directly involved, in all major criminal acts committed by his government. It’s a well-known fact. And everyone here has been expecting criminal investigation into his role for quite some time, yet, sometimes, it starts to resemble a comedy, or a farce.
It’s little surprise that Saakashvili has long ago taken all his billions, everything he stole and looted, out of the country. So, when, in compliance with the legislation he himself had introduced, the property which allegedly belonged to him and his family, was to be arrested, there appeared to be only an old and beaten car which used to belong to his grandmother. It could have been amusing if it hadn’t been so sad. In fact, people here are waiting for Saakashvili, and his team, to be held accountable for what they had committed…
But how realistic are these expectations? After all, Saakashvili can count on strong support from the US?
Nana Devdariani: Well, that’s true, that they had used all their PR skills heavily on Saakashvili. But even that might not be of great help. Look, to make it short, if we look at all dictators who lost their power in the course of the so-called ‘velvet’ or ‘color’ revolutions, almost all of them had enjoyed some support from the West. So the support from the West has come to sound comic. Every time we discuss democracy we end looking into the national interests of the United States.
But on the other hand, more corruption schemes have been revealed not only in Georgia, but in other countries. For instance, the recent case of Carl Bildt, high ranking European official. As it turned out Saakashvili paid Bildt’s lobbyist company several million dollars for lobbying [while Mr. Bildt held the position of the Foreign Minister of Sweden]. So, Mr. Bildt and his company continue to lobby Saakashvili. There’s a good saying – there is nothing secret that would not come to light. Now coming to light are the facts which some ten years ago used to be known to merely a couple of people.
Saakashvili who left Georgia in mid-November 2013, several days before the expiration of his presidential term (and immunity), has since stayed mainly in the United States and Europe. He said he had no intentions of cooperating with the investigation, neither would he turn up for being questioned.
Mikhail Alexandrov, Senior expert at the Center for military and political studies, MGIMO, Russia:
I must say that it is very serious. The whole situation around Saakashvili is very serious. The point is that Saakashvili was not just a leader of a small country, he was a protégé of the US, which actually supported him in various ways and gave him a go-ahead for various things that he did. And later they covered him from the criticism inside the country and outside of it, when he left his post.
And now it turns out that Mr. Saakashvili is a criminal. And not simply a corrupt official, but a person who can be accused of murder, who can be accused of torture and who is actually regarded as a thief in his own country, and it turns out that Mr. Saakashvili was supported by the official Washington. And everybody around will naturally ask – did they support a criminal, a thief, a murderer?
It is very discrediting information that discredits the US and its policies, because they claim that they support democracy, human rights, good governments. And what we see is vice versa – an absolutely different situation. They simply supported not even a dictator – a person who violated human rights, but the person who used such techniques as political repression, even killing his political opponents, torturing them, putting them into jail and, moreover, stealing the Government’s money.
It will be a great embarrassment for Washington if he is actually convicted of these crimes. That’s why we see that Washington is very unhappy about these court procedures that started in Georgia concerning Saakashvili.
Dr. Alexandrov, do you think we could remind our listeners of how it all started?
Mikhail Alexandrov: I think it started with the fact that the US was not satisfied with Shevardnadze. Shevardnadze was a very experienced and a cunning politician who managed to maneuver in various ways. And he didn’t want to become simply an American puppet. He tried to conduct what we call a multi-vector policy and maintained very good relations with the US, but also he didn’t break up the relations with Russia.
And just before he was ousted from the office, he made a number of very serious economic deals with Russia – with the Russian electric energy companies, with the Russian gas companies. And also, he insisted on withdrawing only two Russian military bases from Georgia, leaving the two others. And this didn’t correspond with the actual plans of the US to advance NATO to the east and to draw Georgia into this military\political combination against Russia.
They needed a person who would break up the relations with Russia completely and more unequivocally towards the West. They started to look around and Saakashvili seemed to be a very appropriate person. He was an opportunist, he also was married to the Westerner and he lived and worked in the West for some time, I think, at that moment. Later he moved to the political elite of Georgia.
He was actually promoted by Shevardnadze himself, who regarded him as a person who had some potential. Shevardnadze wanted to rule the country for some time to come, but the US wanted to take simple and drastic decisions. And that’s why they saw that Saakashvili is a suitable candidate to take Shevardnadze’s place and they supported him.
We remember this first so-called color revolution in the post-Soviet space happen in Georgia. It was an illegal coup, actually. At that time the Russian Government didn’t understand what was happening. It actually helped the US to perform this coup d'état. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov came to Tbilisi and actually calmed down the tensions, because he talked Shevardnadze out of using force against those demonstrators and protestors who ousted him from the office.
So, this ended like that. But then, we saw that Saakashvili started to undermine the Russian interests in Georgia one by one. First, he went after Adjara, then he tried to take control of South Ossetia. In 2004 there was the first small war there. And then, he ousted the Russian military bases from Georgia. Of course, he subdued all the opposition, even those who were not exactly pro-Russian, but simply against him.
They were all subdued and threatened, and even Burjanadze was silenced, because she was afraid. If Zhvania was killed, anybody could be killed either. And also, some prominent figures from the former Saakashvili allies, they actually fled the country, like Alasania, for example, who went to Paris, and other smaller figures in the political establishment also fled the country. Some of the people were charged with preparing a pro-Russian coup d'état and were put into jail for 10-13 years, which is a tremendous period of jail sentence. So, these were quite cruel methods of the subjugation of the opposition.
Precisely! But, somehow, Saakashvili was there, he ruptured all the ties with Russia but Georgia has not become a NATO member.
Mikhail Alexandrov: Yes, because of the question of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As a matter of fact, NATO cannot admit Georgia into its membership, because the next day Georgia would say that – look, our territories are occupied and NATO should defend us against the Russian aggression. So, admitting Georgia means starting a war with Russia. That’s why NATO actually doesn’t want to admit Georgia at this point of time.
So, Georgia should recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And then, probably, NATO will accept it. But at this moment and with the current Georgia policies of regarding these two territories as part of Georgia, I don’t think NATO will ever admit Georgia.
Now that you’ve mentioned Nino Burjanadze, the ex-speaker of the Georgian Parliament, the other day she said that Kiev authorities are committing all the mistakes and all the blunders Saakashvili had committed…
Mikhail Alexandrov: Burjanadze is now positioning herself as the real opposition not only to Saakashvili, but to the present authorities in Georgia who are unsure in what direction they should move. These new authorities of Georgia are very timid with regards to Saakashvili and his associates who are actually responsible for various crimes against the Georgian people.
And Burjanadze sees the political opportunity here, where she could move. Of course, she criticizes not only Saakashvili by saying that, but she criticizes the policies of the current Georgian Government, because she says that the Georgian Government didn’t condemn the war of 2008 against the South Ossetia, which was the major crime committed by Saakashvili. And look, if this happens, if the Georgian Government condemns this war, it will mean putting part of the blame on the West for supporting Saakashvili and supporting this war. And that’s why the current Government of Georgia is a bit timid and doesn’t want to recognize this obvious fact.
But Burjanadze sees the political opportunity and she goes further, than the current Government. And she also wants to take revenge over Saakashvili who actually removed her from power, and actually put a political pressure on her, intimidated her when she was in opposition.
Now it is a good chance to show everybody that the advice that Saakashvili is giving to Ukraine is wrong and what actually has led to this situation now in Ukraine, where Crimea has detached itself from Ukraine and Donbass is also detaching itself from Ukraine, it is the result of the advice that Saakashvili is giving to the current Ukrainian Government. Basically, his advice is wrong and counterproductive, and leads not to the effective results but quite the opposite. I think that is the reason why she made this statement.