Saakashvili’s promised return to Georgia and controversy over Russian funding of Patriots Alliance
By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, September 9President Zurabishvili officially called parliamentary elections for October 31st, thus officially launching the election campaign. The last few days have been full of scandalous events. Among them are Mikheil Saakashvili's statement on his return to Georgia and the scandalous facts related to the Patriots Alliance:
Exposed Russian funding; arrival of party leaders in occupied Abkhazia and Batumi with election banners and maps of Georgia on which Adjara was marked with the same colour as the other occupied territories, with arrows showing the threat coming from Turkey.
Georgia's third president, Mikheil Saakashvili, announced his return to Georgia on social media on August 27th, posting a special clip on the issue, apologizing for past mistakes, saying he now sees everything clearly and can save the country from Ivanishvili's rule. This speech of Saakashvili, naturally, was followed by a great agitation.
Saakashvili's possible arrival provoked mixed reactions from both the opposition and experts. According to many, this will be an attempt to turn Georgian politics into a bipolar one again, with Ivanishvili on one side and Saakashvili on the other. Opposition parties claiming to be "third forces" will be shut down, and the government will again try to intimidate some voters by sending Saakashvili back to Georgia.
It is expected that the "National Movement" will nominate Mikheil Saakashvili as its candidate for Prime Minister. Some think it would be a wrong move and that the main opposition party should choose a candidate. According to others, if the National Movement needs Saakashvili to receive more votes, it should do so.
The fact that he is a Ukrainian citizen and is sentenced in Georgia, prevents Saakashvili from returning to Georgia and possibly becoming prime minister. Today, Saakashvili will be arrested if he returns, but after the election, if its results do not satisfy the opposition, the government will be accused of rigging the election and protests will start. In this case, Saakashvili's possible appearance will become a serious problem for the Georgian Dream.
The main scandalous figure of last week was the Alliance of Patriots. The party has been rumored to be pro-Russian since its inception, but documents have recently circulated that the Patriots Alliance is funded directly by the Kremlin ($8 million 430 thousand). The documents were released on August 24th by the Dossier Center, a Russian investigative project founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khadarkovsky. His report describes in detail the network that is engaged in relations with the Patriots Alliance.
On August 27th, the United National Movement demanded the withdrawal of the Patriots Alliance from the parliamentary elections. The opposition has spoken of Russia's direct interference in Georgia's election campaign, saying the Patriots Alliance is a Russian project and is acting against Georgia's national interests.
Earlier, on August 20th, it was reported that the leaders of the Patriots Alliance, Davit Tarkhan-Mouravi and Irma Inashvili, had crossed into occupied Abkhazia on August 18 for religious purposes in the Ochamchire district. An icon of the Virgin Mary was brought to St. George's Church.
This trip was, of course, a part of the election campaign (emphasis on the union with Abkhazia) and could not have taken place without Moscow's intervention. The announcement of this fact was followed by a dissatisfied reaction of the separatist forces in Abkhazia and the Abkhazian Orthodox Church rejected the icon gifted by the Alliance of Patriots.
The election banners placed by the Patriots Alliance in Adjara turned out to be even more scandalous. On the map of Georgia shown on the banner, Adjara was depicted as the occupied territories and indicated the threat coming from Turkey.
These banners were followed by protests from the pro-Western opposition, which the Georgian Dream described as a "provocation against the country" and the banners were removed from the relevant agency. Irma Inashvili herself declared the incident a provocation of the National Movement, saying they “had ordered other types of banners.”
It has also become clear that the government is not going to withdraw the Patriots Alliance from the elections and does not consider the published documents as a sufficient basis for that. The prosecution refused to consider the matter. The pro-Western opposition views the Georgian Dream and the Patriots Alliance as a united force, leaving the country under Russian influence.
If the "Alliance of Patriots" is openly pro-Russian, the "Georgian Dream" has declared a Western orientation, but will not take real steps in this direction. The Georgian Dream declares the National Movement and Saakashvili a pro-Russian force. It is clear that the main confrontation between the ongoing election campaign will unfold between Western and pro-Russian forces. The election campaign will be full of “dark PR” and will cover many scandalous events.
(Translated from Georgian by Mariam Mchedlidze)