Georgian President Zurabishvili on Rustavi 2: pardon, political prisoners and the patriarch
In addition to this issue, she touched on the appointment of ex-President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili to high public office in Ukraine, relations with the church and the patriarch and dialogue with Russia.
Pardoning former Tbilisi mayor Ugulava, ex minister of defense Okruashvili
The president said members of the ruling party were notified of the pardon by Ugulava and Okruashvili in advance.
“When the confidence that this is necessary to do strengthened in me, I informed all the branches of government about my decision – such a decision should not have been unexpected,” Zurabishvili said, adding that Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze was informed, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia and chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream Bidzina Ivanishvili. At the same time, she emphasised that there were no joint discussions on the issue of the pardon of Okruashvili and Ugulava.
The president explained her decision with a desire to avoid a new round of the domestic political crisis, although she understood that she would not get anything good for it, and “if she herself were an ordinary citizen, she probably would not have understood this decision of the president.”
Zurabishvili said that there are forces in the country that do not like “neither elections in a calm environment, nor peace in the country, nor the improvement of the economy.” She said she sees her main goal at this stage as the peaceful conducting of parliamentary elections this fall.
Salome Zurabishvili pardoned former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava and former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili on May 15. The ruling Georgian Dream hastened to announce that the decision was not agreed upon and became known only at a briefing by the president.
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‘They weren’t political prisoners’
For all that, President Zurabishvili said that the use of the term “political prisoners” by Western partners in relation to Ugulava and Okruashvili indicates that they are not well informed, and this in turn is a result of the poor work of some Georgian diplomats accredited abroad.
Ukraine and Saakashvili
Salome Zurabishvili considers it ‘undiplomatic’ that Kyiv did not inform Tbilisi about the upcoming appointment of ex-President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, accused at home of a number of crimes and who is on the wanted list, to a public office. In her opinion, this should have been done in order to maintain interstate relations at a normal level.
The president considers the reaction of the Georgian authorities, who recalled the ambassador from Ukraine for consultations, to be completely normal.
Mikhail Saakashvili was appointed chairman of the national reform council of Ukraine on May 7. Immediately after this decision, the Georgian ambassador to Ukraine, Teimuraz Sharashenidze, was recalled to Tbilisi for consultations.
Georgia and the European Union
Salome Zurabishvili considers Georgia’s entry into the EU a real and uncontested goal.
“Another thing is that this is not planned either tomorrow, or in a week, or in, say, two months. But we must be prepared today for the fact that tomorrow it can be formalized institutionally. This is our strategy – just statements about how we want to be in the EU are not enough.”
The Patriarch and the church
The President of Georgia stated that she has very good personal relations with Patriarch Ilia II, who is the “moral authority of Georgia,” noting that she does not have enough words to describe how lucky the country is ‘to have such a shepherd.’
Zurabishvili stressed that she deeply respects the church, but the calls of some clergy in connection with the epidemic of coronavirus are interference in the affairs of the state and are unacceptable in essence.
“For example, allegations that the vaccine is [no good]. Firstly, there is no vaccine yet, and it is not known when it will appear in Georgia. Secondly, this is interference in the affairs of the state, in the sphere assigned to the Ministry of Health. Thirdly, the adherents of this approach can have very serious consequences. A lot of fake news about vaccinations, about the Lugar laboratory, which really saved us all from big trouble, are already widespread among the population. Such statements by church representatives inflict a direct blow on the demography of Georgia. It’s time to recover,” the president said.
Dialogue with Russia
In the interview, Zurabishvili raised the issue of dialogue with Moscow, emphasizing that she herself has always been a supporter of direct negotiations.
“There have always been two ways in relations between states – war and dialogue. I have always been and will be a supporter of dialogue. But dialogue should not be conducted for the sake of dialogue,” said Zurabishvili.
NATO-Georgia-Russia and the Anti-Terrorism Center
Zurabishvili touched on a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that after the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia, a joint anti-terrorism center should have been created in their place.
“It’s true. But Sergey Lavrov misses one significant detail. The anti-terrorism center was to be created with the participation of Georgia, Russia and NATO. And this is a completely different format with very interesting components, and the corresponding agreement would be very important. Perhaps in the future, in a slightly different situation, this format will become interesting again,” said Zurabishvili.
According to Sergey Lavrov, the Presidents of the Russian Federation and Georgia, Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Saakashvili, during one of the rounds of negotiations on the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia, agreed to establish a joint Georgian-Russian anti-terror center.