Too many awkward moments in Georgia- Ukraine relations

To summarize the past few weeks, a new phase of awkward moments in Georgia-Ukraine relations began at the outbreak of the war, when Georgia’s prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, stated that he does not intend to join the sanctions against Russia, because it will harm the country and its citizens. This statement clearly disappointed the Ukrainian political establishment as well as the Georgian people. Despite the fact that Georgians demonstrated the unprecedented solidarity to Ukraine, such decisions and some other comments from local authorities, or the ruling party’s officials were unacceptable in Georgia and beyond. During the solidarity demonstrations, some people even called for the prime minister’s resignation due to his “shameful” remarks. Furthermore, the prime minister stated that Georgia has followed pragmatic politics since 2012, which is why Georgians are currently enjoying stability and peace in the country. Broadly speaking, it should be also highlighted the ruling party was vehemently opposed to any opposition party initiative, even rejecting to their request to allow Zelensky to address the parliament of Georgia. It is worth noting that Zelensky has already addressed the demonstrators gathering in front of the parliament. Furthermore, despite strong public and civil-society pressure, Georgia’s prime minister and other officials refused to visit Kyiv to express solidarity, and they even denied the Georgian president to visit European cities to express solidarity to Ukraine and discuss Georgia’s challenges and Euro-Atlantic prospects. Despite the government’s official rejection, Georgia’s president decided to have the important visits to Paris and Brussels, but not to Poland, as it was planned. Following these visits, Georgia’s president addressed the parliament, criticizing the government’s inaction in expressing solidarity. Moreover, she entered the parliament with a representative from the Ukrainian embassy, and Georgia’s Dream party bosses chastised her for not informing them beforehand and making the awkward situation. After this, the Georgian government filed a constitutional court lawsuit against the president of Georgia, alleging that she violated the constitution by visiting European cities without the government’s permission.

In addition, the president Zelensky thanked the Georgian citizens for rallying in support of Ukraine in a tweet on February 26, “Indeed, there are times when citizens are not the government, but better than the government,” Zelenskiy concluded emphatically.

On February 28, the plane that was supposed to transport the group from Georgia to Poland was denied permission to land in Tbilisi. This apparent refusal of the Georgian government to allow a group of volunteer fighters and medics to fly from Georgia to Ukraine became the primary reason why President Zelensky announced that he had decided to recall the ambassador from Georgia for consultations. In a video address, he also accused the Georgian government of “immoral behavior”. In addition, Denys Shmyhal, Ukraine’s prime minister, also tweeted about the situation, saying, “Brave Georgian brothers are waiting in the airport to fly out and help Ukraine… Freedom-loving Georgian people, help your prime minister make up his mind” and urging the prime minister to show the courage and allow the flight to take off. In response to these calls, the ruling party’s chairman, Irakli Kobakhidze, asserted that sending volunteers would imply direct involvement in the war, and that “the government should act responsibly.”

On March 12, the President Zelensky announced the “final” recall of the Ukrainian ambassador to Morocco, as well as the ambassador to Georgia. According to the president, the diplomatic front is the most important front, and every ambassador must work hard to achieve tangible results.  While referring the Ukraine’s ambassador to Georgia, Igor Dolgov, the president said” With all respect, there are no arms, no sanctions, no restrictions on Russian business. Please find another job”.

The Georgian public expected these awkward moments to end, but they did not. On April 4, Ukrainian intelligence accused the Georgian government of assisting Moscow in establishing smuggling routes through Georgian territory. The Ukrainian authorities are also concerned that Russia has offered Georgia some sort of trade, including the possibility of resuming air traffic between Georgia and Russia, which has been halted by Vladimir Putin since June 2019 due to anti-occupation protests (So called the Gavrilov’s night) in Tbilisi. Following these awkward situations, Georgia’s ruling party had the opportunity to put things right when Rada Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk invited the speaker of the Georgian parliament  to Bucha, the site of notorious Russian killings near Kyiv, Instead of using the opportunity to express solidarity to Ukraine by visiting Bucha , Georgia’s Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili has stated that he will not be visiting Bucha. The Officials from the ruling party even claimed that he was ill and was working from home. He later explained his decision:

“this support and the partnership of our countries, do not really deserve an attempt by high-ranking Ukrainian officials to separate the Georgian people and its government in their support to Ukraine, the demand for opening a second frontline in Georgia, unfounded diplomatic démarches, baseless allegations, or accusations on profiteering by Ukrainians’ misfortune, as it was stated in my Ukrainian colleague’s previous address… Against the background of the incomprehensibility of these issues, the official invitation seems inappropriate”.

On 11 April, Georgian officials finally stated that they are ready to visit Ukraine, and everyone had high hopes. However, the chairman of the ruling party issued a statement in which he declared a series of “ultimatums” in exchange for the official visit. First and foremost, Ukraine must appoint an ambassador to Georgia, then apologize for false accusations, and finally, Georgian “criminals” must be dismissed: Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, Gia Lortkipanidze, Zura Adeishvili, and even Davit Arakhamia, one of Ukraine’s main negotiators. In such a situation, it is extremely difficult to predict what will happen in the coming weeks and what new awkward moments will arise.

Lasha Gamjashvili

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