Georgian PM Vows to Continue Pro-Western Course

WASHINGTON D.C. – Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili on Tuesday promised that his government would continue down its path towards Western integration and guaranteed that free and fair parliamentary elections would be held when Georgians go the polls later this year.

Kvirikashvili, who took over as prime minister from his much-maligned successor Irakli Garibashvili in December 2015, reiterated that Georgia sees its future with the EU and NATO.

"There is a very clear will of (the) Georgian people ... to be pro-Western, pro-European," Kvirikashvili told the AP on the sidelines of his ongoing trip to the US.

The Georgian Dream coalition, of which Kvirikashvili is a member, has continued the policies of the previous government that was headed by the staunchly pro-Western Mikheil Saakashvili. Though the Georgian Dream has come under heavy criticism for failing to stand up to Russia over its continued support for the Moscow-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the new government has continued to carry out key privatization reforms and moved towards deepening its political and military integration with the West.

New robust trade and political agreements with Brussels and closer moves towards NATO membership have placed Georgia firmly in the group of former Soviet nations deeply opposed to the revanchist policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have been frozen since August 2008 when Russia invaded and fought Georgia in a brief, but bloody, five-day war. Russia’s far larger and better-equipped combat forces quickly overran Georgia’s American-trained military units and ended with both Abkhazia and South Ossetia declaring independence, backed by Russia’s vast military and financial support.

Kvirikashvili said his government wants to maintain an open line of communication with Moscow, but it will not accept Russia’s actions towards Georgia.

"This does not mean that we do not need to try to normalize relations with Russia, but not at the expense of Georgia's territorial integrity and ability to make its own sovereign decisions," Kvirikashvili said.

Kvirikashvili is in Washington to meet with US Vice President Joe Biden and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, John McCain.

On the sidelines of his meeting with US government officials, Kvirikashvili took time to address Georgia’s upcoming elections, saying the country’s main political parties had agreed to cooperate with one another in order to guarantee a transparent electoral process that would easily meet international democratic standards.

"Our goal is to have one of the freest and fairest elections in the history of Georgia," he said.

Recent opinion polls show the Georgian Dream holding a narrow two-point lead over Saakashvili’s United National Movement. Georgian voters have become increasingly disgusted with the current government’s handling of the country’s struggling economy and growing concerns that widespread corruption has begun to reappear in state institutions.

Russia’s continued border violations along the contact lines that separate Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia’s administrative control have infuriated Georgians, leaving many to blame the ruling party for having reacted weakly to Moscow’s frequent provocations.

Local observers have noted that roughly 60 per cent of Georgian voters remain undecided for the October 8 elections. Many consider the current field of parliamentary candidates to be too closely aligned with the controversial political legacies of Saakashvili and his arch nemesis, eccentric billionaire oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream coalition.

26 April 2016 17:33