Ukraine & Georgia’s strategic relations challenged by “civil disobedience” rhetoric

By | Rachel Brooks

February 23, 2021 

Commentary 

Image credit: “Georgian parliament, Finnish flags” by henribergius is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Saakashvili and Doglov have come to odds within the past two weeks over calls made by the former Georgian president Saakashvili for civil disobedience in Georgia. Doglov criticized Saakashvili’s statements made via Facebook on February 8, since removed, which backed Georgian protestors of COVID-19 regulations. The Ukraine MFA referred to this as “an interference” in the internal affairs of Georgia, which is Ukraine’s strategic partner in the region. See Civil news for more on the story. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine warned its public officials against “calling for acts of disobedience in Georgia” in a direct allusion to the former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s recent statements. Saakashvili’s statements caused a stir in the Caucasus, circling many news outlets. Saakashvili, who is now a citizen of Ukraine, called on the people of Georgia to “take to the street” to demand repeat parliamentary elections and “hold permanent disobedience rallies” against the coronavirus restrictions in place. 

Saakashvili took to his Facebook to fire back at Doglov, in a lengthy statement that broke down the alleged infighting Doglov caused for Saakashvili, who defended his comments, and stated that he was “fighting for the liberties of the people of Georgia.” 

“Ukraine’s ambassador to Georgia, Mr. Dolgov, who was appointed by Poroshenko four years ago for the sole purpose of fighting me, survived Zelensky and continues to damage Ukraine’s image in Georgia and throughout the post-Soviet space.” wrote Saakashvili on his Facebook on February 9. 

“This is the same Dolgov who, in unison with Poroshenko’s team, worked to ensure that Ukrainian MPs did not go as observers to the elections in Georgia last October. Today, he attacked me with angry rhetoric for fighting for the freedom of the Georgian people. And this, it turns out, is detrimental to Ukrainian-Georgian relations.” 

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine once again warns the citizens of Ukraine, who are public figures, against calls for disobedience in a friendly foreign state of Georgia. Such statements can be seen as interference in the internal affairs of our strategic partner. The Ukrainian state has never resorted to and will not resort to such interventions and strongly opposes such actions in the international arena.” wrote the Ukraine MFA, in a statement published in Ukrainian on February 10. The response was entitled:” Commentary of the river worker of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine as well as Zvinuvachen Mikheil Saakashvili at the address of the Ukrainian Zovnіshnіpolitichesky Vidomstvo.”

“The accusations against the Ambassador of Ukraine to Georgia Igor Dolgov have no evidence, except for the emotions of the prosecutor. Ukrainian diplomacy will not be distracted by them and will continue to effectively counter Russian hybrid aggression, mobilize the world in support of Ukraine, open new markets for Ukrainian exporters and successfully defend the rights of compatriots abroad.”

The MFA then went on to describe a series of positive diplomatic missions by Ukraine in Georgia policy. The Ukrainian MFA appeared to attempt to prevent any political infighting between the diplomatic relationship of Ukraine and Georgia. 

“One of the recent high-profile cases in which Ukrainians abroad needed the protection of their country was the detention by Georgian authorities of a yacht carrying two Ukrainian citizens, Volodymyr Dyachenko and Yuriy Khomych, and Georgian citizen Mykhailo Baturyn. The accusations against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine of inaction, in this case, are unfounded and mislead the public,” wrote the MFA. 

“This issue is among the main priorities of the Ukrainian embassy in Tbilisi. The embassy held numerous meetings with Georgian officials and prosecutors to secure their release. The consul of our embassy helped to connect the detained Ukrainians with their relatives. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and the Embassy in Georgia sent relevant notes and made petitions to take the detained citizens of Ukraine on bail. Ukrainian diplomats do everything possible and impossible to release yachtsmen because the Ukrainian state never abandons its own.”

The response statement then concluded with a call to action from Georgia. 

“We take this opportunity to once again call on the Georgian authorities to consider this case quickly and impartially, to change the measure of restraint, and to release the said citizens of Ukraine.” 

Ukraine and Georgia are two countries both braced with the Russian occupation of Caucasus regions over the last two decades. In this mutual struggle, Ukraine and Georgia have reportedly exchanged military forces. 

For example, in 2018, Radio Free Europe reported that Georgian forces were seen to fight in Ukraine to “avenge the 2008 war” with Russia. In a documentary review of these events, Radio Free Europe stated that hundreds of people were killed in battles with Russia over Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The conflict ended with a Russian remnant presence in these regions. Radio Free Europe stated then that Georgian fighters, seeking revenge elsewhere, made their way to Eastern Ukraine to fight alongside Ukraine’s troops against Russian-backed separatism of other regional territories. 

 Ukraine and Russia’s conflict began in 2014. Radio Free Europe documented the lives of Georgian soldiers interviewed on the front from the 2016 to 2018 era. Those who were interviewed attested that they were there to support Ukraine against the common enemy of Russian occupation and that they would not rest until they had finished what they had begun in 2008. 

Ukraine and Georgia united over a common enemy for at least the past seven years would be compromised by the potential of political infighting. This comes especially at a time when Georgia’s internal politics have been shaken by the uncertainty surrounding Georgian Dream party founder and leader billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.

 Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume 18: Issue 18 reported on February 2 that Ivanishvili had announced his permanent departure from politics. He had announced that he was leaving the GD party as both a leader and a member. Despite his departure, Ivanishvili has expressed his confidence in the strength of the party he created. Ivanishvili left his party in a vote of complete confidence that his opposition, led by Mikheil Saakashvili and the United National Movement, stood no ground to challenge the vision of the GD party. As Ivanishvili departed, he declared that he would liquidate his fortune and empty 90 percent of it into the Cartu Charitable Foundation that he founded. In these bold statement moves, analysts were left to question whether Ivanishvili had really relinquished his political power, or if he was merely shifting his influence. The Eurasia Daily Monitor made note of the statements of Professor Ghia Nodia, a professor of politics at the International School of Caucasus Studies, who stated that the GD’s future boils down to whether remaining party leaders believe in Ivanishvili’s departure. The shadow of doubt may be cast as Saakashvili has urged Georgians not to believe that Ivanishvili has truly left the political scene. 

Ivanishvili’s departure itself creates some political ripples. The departure appears as a strategy to prevent the prolonging of western sanctions against Ivanishvili himself. With Ivanishvili’s departure, Eurasia Monitor interviewed political scientist Giorgi Khukhashvili. Khukhashvili noted that Ivanishvili’s departure would end western sanctions against the informal governance of Georgia, but he stated that if the GD does not compromise with its opposition, Georgia will become a one-party state. This would be an undemocratic regime that could influence the west to sanction the Georgian government itself. Saakashvili’s opposition, and other factions of the opposition, warned that they will take to the streets by the thousands to protest Georgia’s becoming “North Korea” under this undemocratic regime.  

Prime minister resigns 

Following the resignation from the Georgia Dream party of Ivanishvili, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned. This was reported by Reuters on February 18. If Ivanishvili was counting on the strength of the GD to prevent the opposition from creating any real problems for Gakharia, this logic was foiled with this sudden resignation, which prompted celebrations from the opposition who called for early elections. Ivanishvili’s boast that the opposition would give his party and the government held since 2019 no real problems were further dampened by the fact that Gakharia resigned over disagreements among his own team over the detention of prominent opposition politician Nika Melia.

“I believe that confrontation and rivalry within the country endanger the future of Georgia’s democratic and economic development,” Gakharia tweeted. 

“Therefore, I have announced my resignation in the hope of reducing polarization and de-escalating the situation.” 

Reuters reported that the U.S. The State Department has expressed grave concern over the recent developments within Georgia. Western criticism of political development may further add strain which would give the opposition advantages from an external place. 

Saakashvili’s opposition and position of relevance have been strengthened by these recent developments as Georgia attempts to depressurize a volatile situation. Saakashvili has held the chair of the executive committee of the National Reform Council in Ukraine since May 7, 2020, citing the Kyiv Post. This is a progression of his influence in Ukraine’s politics since May 2015 when he served as governor of the Odesa Oblast. 

Ukraine mediates a precarious situation 

In its strategic role, Ukraine plays a difficult diplomatic mediation for Georgia as the continued press of Russia into the territory adds a geopolitical strain. On February 12, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesperson released an official statement on the illegal incarceration of Georgian citizen Zaza Gakheladze by the Russian occupation regime in Tskhinvali. Ukraine was swift to condemn the decision by the Russian occupants of the Tskhinvali region to imprison Gakheladze for 12 years. 

“This illegal “decision” grossly violates the norms and principles of international law and the obligations of the Russian Federation under the ceasefire agreement of August 12, 2008. (For more information see “The situation in Georgia, United Nations 2008-2009.”) The “decision” also demonstrates Russia’s real intentions to destabilize security and humanitarian situation in both the temporarily occupied territories of Georgia and the entire region,” wrote the Ukraine MFA. 

“Russia politicizes humanitarian issues and “juggles” people’s destinies, holding them hostage for its unlawful political purposes. The European Court of Human Rights decision of January 21, 2021, confirmed that the Russian Federation occupied a part of the sovereign territory of Georgia and is responsible for gross human rights violations in this territory.” 

Looking ahead 

This month, the Atlantic Council stated that the rising tensions between the European Union and Russia are beneficial for Ukraine’s political position. The Atlantic Council stated that EU-Russia relations have “plunged into crisis” over the circumstances of EU foreign affairs chief Joseph Borrell’s “humiliating” visit to Moscow. The treatment of the EU’s top diplomat was viewed as “calculated disdain” by the Atlantic Council. Borrell’s response was to threaten more sanctions against Moscow. As this tense relationship is evaluated, Ukraine’s position as a mediator of post-Soviet interests and enterprise between the Caucasus region and the western world is of grave interest. The mutually beneficial relationship between Ukraine and Georgia is therefore held to new evaluation as continuing political stability between the two nations now may be more critical than even of recent history.