VoR: If I’m not mistaken, you took part in the Rose revolution?
Unfortunately, I did
VoR: Then what do you think about things happening in the country since the October 1 elections? Is it a counterrevolution in relation to the Rose revolution or anything else?
First of all, I would compare Georgia to the Baltic countries. It was more of an outward appearance maintained by Saakashvili to conceal a reality from the global community.
As for domestic policy, the current events are counterrevolutionary, indeed. Saakashvili’s regime had a kind of conjuncture when people over 40 were regarded as Soviets and were undesirable candidates for civil service or political career. If a typical Saakashvili minister was aged 30, now older generations (to which I and older people belong) took the helm back.
Speaking about our foreign policy – it will remain the same. The new Ivanishvili-led government stated several times that Georgia’s external course would not be reviewed.
VoR: Judging by the Russian media, Moscow is extremely optimistic about post-elections changes in Georgia and a possible thaw between the two countries. Do you see any chance for this thaw to happen? What should be done to make it happen? And does Georgia have anything to offer Russia for the latter to alter its stance?
I’d really like to see grounds for optimism, but I see no specific signs. Georgia has recently appointed a new envoy for Russia – ex-Ambassador Zurab Abashidze but no further actions followed either from Tbilisi or Moscow. What Georgia awaits, is the opening of the Russian markets but it hasn’t so far progressed in this direction. Moscow also awaits concrete moves from the Georgian government, so we have urged the Georgian government to be more active. I can feel that both Moscow and Tbilisi are disappointed. Moscow expected the new government to be less pro-American and more moderate while Tbilisi expected Saakashvili’s weakening to become a cure-all but this didn’t happen.
I think people now expect the new government to resolve issues left by Saakashvili. All experts, Russian and international, agreed that it was a Saakashvili- Putin personal conflict. So people expect the new Prime Minister Ivanishvili to become a miracle-worker and return Georgian goods to the Russian markets, bring back its breakaways territories and solve other problems. I can add that one expert calculated that Ivanishvili had made some 4.5 bln dollar worth pledges which is a fortune for Georgia whose budget is 5 bln dollars. He pledged to invest 1 bln dollars to agriculture, allocate 1 bln for pensions, 1 bln for free medical care and on other costs.
VoR: Don’t you think that a real obstacle hampering bilateral relations is not Saakashvili-promoted seeking of NATO membership which is still pursued but the issue of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Georgia has no reasons to expect Russia to review its 2008 acknowledgment of the republics’ independence. So, how a progress can be reached amid these circumstances?
Certainly, the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is the major problem for Georgia but I believe it to be rooted in NATO as I remember Russian politicians warning Georgia against the alliance for the last 10-15 years. Today, things are more complicated than they were before the 2008 conflict but we need to begin with something. Our Free Georgia party believes that the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is a bad choice as Russia and Georgia spat over it. I don’t know what will happen in five or ten years. Now we have common cultural and historic ties and that should be our beginning.
In general, I think that the best development option for Georgia is rapprochement with Russia. We had 20 years of relations with the US and what did we gain economically? Georgian economy is now falling apart – in the 1980s when it was part of the USSR it was the Union’s richest republic and now is the poorest with over 50% unemployment rate.