Ivanishvili's letter: meeting with the US ambassador, war, money and "non-participation in politics"
Ivanishvili’s letter regarding Degnan
Georgian oligarch, former prime minister, and ruling party founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, confirms that he met with US Ambassador to Georgia, Kelly Degnan. As Ivanishvili explains, the meeting took place at the ambassador’s request on March 21 and “lasted about three hours.”
In the letter, Ivanishvili also says there are forces attempting to drag Georgia into the war in Ukraine.
At the beginning of his letter, Ivanishvili states that he does not have an active role in the Georgian political process.
He writes that he left politics a year and a half ago, and still believes in this decision.
“I did not want to have any influence on the political process; this was and is the reason for my complete distancing from politics.”
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In the 12-point plan provided to Georgia by the European Union, one of the obligations that Georgia must fulfill in order to obtain the status of EU candidate is de-oligarchization. Government officials claim that “deoligarchization” does not mean Bidzina Ivanishvili, but no one doubts that he is the main oligarch in the country and runs the country from behind the scene. MEP Rasa Yuknevicienė said bluntly that “deoligarchization” means “de-Bidzinazation”.
About attempts to drag Georgia into the war
Ivanishvili repeats the opinion, continually heard from Georgian Dream representatives for several months, that Georgia is being dragged into the war in Ukraine by various parties.
Ivanishvili mentions the word “war” eight times in his letter.
“Against the backdrop of the most difficult political situation in the region … certain forces are actively trying to drag Georgia into the war, right up to the present day, unfortunately,” Ivanishvili writes.
Ivanishvili praises the ruling party, thanks to whose “correct and principled position […] the first stage of the threat of war has already been overcome.”
However, the danger of Georgia getting involved in the war remains, he warns the people of Georgia:
“Until it is over, there is a risk of getting involved in the war; the government and the public must take care to avoid this fateful outcome.”
Context: Do you want war?!
After the start of the war in Ukraine, Georgia did not officially join the West’s actions against Russia. The government’s main argument was that this is contrary to the national interests of the country, since Russia could retaliate against Georgia. From the first days of the war, representatives of Georgian Dream have been spreading and reinforcing the narrative that the West is trying to push Georgia to take aggressive action against Russia and thereby involve it in the war. “Do you want war?!” – this phrase, which in recent months has been used by government officials in response to any criticism, has become a meme in Georgia.
About the war in Ukraine
Although this is Ivanshvili’s first public statement since the start of the war, he does not address the war itself nor Russian aggression in the letter. “The most difficult political situation in the region” is how he refers to events.
He mentions the phrase “war in Ukraine” twice, but only in passing:
“Until the end of the war in Ukraine, there are certain risks…”
“Because the issue of holding a meeting with the American ambassador after the start of the war in Ukraine was publicly raised…”
Relations with strategic partners
Ivanishvili writes that today, when “the immediate threat of war has been neutralized as much as possible,” the ruling party can turn to other priorities, such as “ensur[ing] that Georgia’s relations with strategic partners, the United States of America and the European Union, are not damaged.”
Swiss bank pressure
Ivanishvili points out that a Swiss bank created problems for him due to the fact that Georgia did not enter the war.
“The problem… that arose in relations with the Swiss bank and is still going on today… has a direct connection with what is happening in Georgia. However, since Georgia has overcome the difficult situation and the immediate threat of war has passed, I prefer to keep the relationship between me and the Swiss bank a personal problem and not burden the public too much with it.”
Here Ivanishvili hints that he planned to spend funds frozen by the Swiss bank “on the needs of society.”
Context: dispute with a Swiss bank
This received a considerable response in Georgia. Statements were made by government officials and Ivanishvili’s supporters – they claimed that the Swiss bank actually took this money from the Georgian people, because Ivanishvili was supposed to spend this money on charity. There were also allegations that American interests were behind the Swiss bank, that the US was blackmailing Georgia into joining the war. Similar statements have been made by the leadership of the Georgian Dream party. For example, party chairman Irakli Kobakhidze stated that “we see some coordination, and this coordination raises questions.”
Meeting with Ambassador Degnan
Ivanishvili recounts his meeting with US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan in the very last paragraph of the letter.
He says the meeting took place on March 21 at the request of the ambassador and lasted about three hours. Ivanishvili does not reveal the details of the conversation nor the location of the meeting.
“Finally, since there was a question of whether there was a meeting between me and the American ambassador after the start of the war in Ukraine, I would like to clarify to the public that such a meeting did take place at the request of the ambassador on March 21, and lasted about three hours.”
Context: Georgian Dream's anti-Western campaign
Kelly Degnan has recently come under fire by the Georgian authorities. They have accused the ambassador of interfering in the internal affairs of Georgia.
This almost became a campaign after three deputies went as far as leaving Georgian Dream – Sozar Subari, Mikheil Kavelashvili and Dimitri Khundadze. They bluntly stated that they left the “dream” to openly protest the West and in particular Kelly Degnan who, in their opinion, is trying to drag the country into the war. It was they who first revealed that Degnan met with Bidzina Ivanishvili. According to the trio, Degnan tried to force Ivanishvili to get behind the war.
Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili appeared in Georgian politics in 2011 – he created an opposition political coalition called Georgian Dream, gathered almost the entire opposition spectrum, and opposed President Saakashvili and his government.
In the October 2012 parliamentary elections, Ivanishvili’s coalition won and ended the United National Movement’s nine-year rule. In November 2012, Ivanishvili became prime minister of the country.
Thirteen months later, after the victory of his party and the presidential election, Ivanishvili said that he had fulfilled his task, and left the post of prime minister voluntarily.
Since his resignation the country has had four prime ministers.
In April 2018, a few months before the presidential election, Ivanishvili returned to public life and became chairman of the Georgian Dream Democratic Georgia party.
On February 11, 2021, after winning the parliamentary elections [which the opposition boycotted], Ivanishvili retired from politics for the second time — as he says, now for good.
According to him, his primary reason for leaving politics is that “virtually all the goals he declared have been achieved.”
Ivanishvili is the richest man in Georgia. Forbes values his estate at $4.8 billion.