Yesterday, news of Georgia’s Prime minister’s resignation seems to have caught most of the country’s observers by surprise. Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who was the head of the government for the last three years, resigned amid internal tensions both inside the country and inside his party. At the root of those tensions, there is a man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, former leader of the country who also appears to be the richest man in Georgia. The same day, an important meeting took place in Armenia, Georgia’s neighbour, between prime minister Nikol Pashinyan and Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.

Though unrelated, these two events may announce some important changes in the politics of the Caucasian region. The resignation of prime minister Kvirikashvili arises as Ivanishvili recently announced his return in politics. The oligarch is a controversial figure, as his victory in 2012 happened after weeks of of Russian meddling into national election. A habit for the country who invaded Georgia in 2008, leaving it with two secessionists republic at its border, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Despite this act of war, which is usually considered rude, Ivanishvili surprisingly never a stand against Putin and neither dared criticizing its powerful neighbour. Having earned most of his wealth in Russian metal business may have caused his lack of incentives to “pick a fight with Russia”. A fight that Kvirikashvili chose to pick, restating a few weeks ago his will to enter NATO, a promise once made by the Atlantic alliance… in 2008, the year of the Russian invasion. Adressing the recent messianic return of Ivanishvili, the member of the European parliament Gunnar Hokmark thought that “it’s a bad thing for him to come back because there’s a hidden agenda and lack of transparency. I think Georgia needs to do better than to have an oligarch that sometimes is in the shadow or sometimes on the scene”. His concerns may have taken shape: protests eventually got rid of Kvirikashvili’s power, leaving much space for Ivanishvili. Linking those protests to foreign agenda would be however dishonest, as most the protests revolved around a genuine and important concern for Georgian people: the dysfunctionality of the Georgian justice system. One wave of protests was indeed provoked by the murder of two teenagers in a knife fight, the father of a 16 years old victim accusing the government of protecting the responsibles. Already weakened, Kvirikashvili reign eventually took hand, leaving Georgia in front of an uncertain future.

Political turmoil may be contagious in the region – although we can safely assume that Azerbaijan will stay out of this, as it is more or less a dictatorship… Armenia also faced political turmoil a few months ago, as a popular uprising led the prime minister Nikol Pachinian to the head of the government. Once a firm critic of its Russian neighbour, Pachinian progressively changed his mind, as Russia is an essential trading partner for the country. The former journalist now assures he wants to continue the revolution he started, still hoping for a more democratic and fairer Armenia. While emphasizing the existence of “a special relation with Russia”, he certainly cannot be accused of vassalage. At the same time, Armenian president Sarkissian although declared that he would like to see Russia to have a deeper presence in Armenia. Yesterday’s meeting in Moscow, held at the occasion of the opening of the 2018 World Cup, may have been a very important one for the future of this region who needs to find a way for its future, between the Russian neighbour, sometime friend, and the European Union drive to attract these countries into its span of influence – the European Union is Georgia main trade partner, and both signed a free-trade agreement, while Armenia and the EU closed a “Comprehensive and Enhanced partnership agreement” in 2017, and even discussed, more than a decade ago, the possibility of Armenia EU’s membership.

What a tough place, to be at the margin of two world, between the Russian bear and the twelve-stars flag.

Thomas Fraise

 

For further information:

The New York Times – Georgia’s Prime Minister Resigns After Protests and Party Infighting. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/13/world/europe/georgia-prime-minister-resigns.html

Public Radio of Armenia – Pashniyan, Putin meet in Moscow. http://www.armradio.am/en/2018/06/13/pashinyan-putin-meet-in-moscow/

Georgia Today – MEP Hokmark on Armenia, Georgia and Assad. http://georgiatoday.ge/news/10720/MEP-Hokmark-on-Armenia%2C-Georgia-and-Assad