Thursday

21st Nov 2019

Interview

Russia 'ready to destabilise half of Eurasia'

  • Margvelashvili (l) with EU Council chief Donald Tusk in Brussels earlier this week (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Russia does not have a veto on Georgia’s foreign policy and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili does not rule the country, the Georgian president has said.

The president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, spoke to EUobserver in Brussels after meeting Nato and EU leaders earlier in the week.

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  • Ivanishvili said Georgia must wait for Russia to realise the time is right to let it join Nato (Photo: EUobserver)

There is no imminent prospect of Georgia joining either of the clubs.

But Nato said it will boost military aid to Georgia at its summit in Warsaw in July. Top Nato and EU officials also urged the country to ensure that its October elections are free and fair.

Margvelashvili’s visit came after a controversial statement by Ivanishvili.

The billionaire banker, who made his fortune in Russia, created the ruling Georgian Dream party and is believed to exert strong influence on the government.

"We must … wait for the right time, when Russia realises, and when our allies see that it's time for Georgia to become a member of Nato and the EU," he said on TV on 2 June.

His comment indicated that Russia had a veto on Georgia’s foreign policy. The president told EUobserver that this is not the case, but he said Russia is a “factor” in policymaking.

'Russia can't veto Nato membership'

“Russia can’t block Nato. It can’t veto Nato [membership]”, he said.

“But what we are seeing is that Nato is in a conservative phase of its development. It’s rethinking its objectives and trying to redefine itself and Russia is one of the factors in that context,” he said.

He said the war in Ukraine showed that Russia is ready to activate any of the frozen conflicts in its neighbourhood in order to retain influence there.

“It’s ready to destabilise half of the Eurasian continent if need be,” Margvelashvili said.

“It’s not about predicting where the next problem will be. It’s about creating an effective early warning system in the region”.

South Ossetia referendum

One Russia-occupied part of Georgia, South Ossetia, is to hold a referendum on joining Russia in the next few months.

Margvelashvili said the vote would be “a mockery” of a real referendum. But he said Georgia would “never” use military force to stop it.

Russia annexed Crimea in Ukraine on grounds that it had ancestral ties to Russia. Former Russian leader Stalin was born in Georgia. But Margvelashvili said the symbolism of Stalin's birthplace had nothing to do with Russia’s opposition to Georgia’s Nato membership.

“Karl Marx [who wrote The Communist Manifesto] was born in a Nato country [Germany], so I don’t think that’s so important,” he said.

Dirty tricks

Meanwhile, opposition parties in Georgia have raised the alarm that Ivanishvili is trying to stay in control by seizing media and by using dirty tricks.

Rustavi 2, a government-critical broadcaster, is waging a court battle to protect its independence.

Courts have jailed defence ministry officials linked to one of Ivanishvili’s political opponents. A sex tape posted on YouTube also embarrassed the opposition.

Margvelashvili told EUobserver: “I personally never faced any kind of resistance or received any kind of dictate from Bidzina Ivanishvili.”

He said that Ivanishvili “definitely has influence”, but he added: “Georgia is a functioning democracy with working institutions”.

He said on Rustavi 2 that he “cannot comment on an ongoing case”. But he added: “I am definitely concerned about freedom of the media and Rustavi 2 is the most watchable channel in Georgia”.

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