Saakashvili Prosecuted by His Own Past And Not Putin’s “Accomplice” Ivanishvili

"Thanks to constitutional amendments made in advance, Saakashvili was moving toward complete Putinism, in leaps and bounds.", Oct 16, 2014, Tbilisi, Georgia

The concerns raised by Georgia’s friends and partners in relation to former President Mikheil Saakashvili’s indictment reiterate that our friends are not neglectful of ongoing developments in my country. I take their position as support for Georgia and a desire to see my homeland emerge as a developed and effective democracy.

I understand the reaction of former President Saakashvili’s political friends. It is hard to see your one-time political ally ruined and charged with a crime. I know and understand well what triggers their concerns. They fear that signs of political persecution and retaliation may emerge in a country with weak democratic institutions that has little experience as a democracy. I can relate to these fears, given that for years they have been recipients of misinformation from Georgia about how democracy was thriving in our country. And now they find it hard to believe that the new government has no intention of straying from its path to democracy.

This is why the new Government of Georgia should not leave their questions unanswered, however unfair or unsubstantiated they may be. Some of the issues and doubts which have arisen are difficult to fully clarify and neutralise; continuous and effective monitoring of individual processes is not an easy task, nor is it easy to double-check all the facts.

For example, in light of a lack of democratic traditions and the weakness of the country’s democratic institutions, some may find it hard to believe that Georgia’s political leadership does not interfere with the work of the law enforcement authorities and the judiciary. In this case, opponents may not settle for the government’s arguments (pointing to among others to numerous reports and substantial evidence of freedom of the media and business from political pressure, judiciary reform, presidential and local elections in line with European standards, and how the court has by no means always agreed with the prosecution’s opinion on controversial political court cases) and opt for long-term observation to make final assertions.

At the same time, some issues are easily clarified. One such example is an assertion widely advocated by defendant and former President Saakashvili and his friends, stating that he is not being prosecuted by the Georgian judiciary in line with the rule of law, but rather by Russian President Putin, who acts through and in concert with former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, "the largest Gazprom shareholder”, to ruin the chief democratic leader in the wider region. Those who do not have, or do not want to have, the basic facts of this case may easily fall for this simple Hollywood plot. And yet the attitude of some politicians who lack neither information nor experience is simply stunning.

Generally speaking, no one is immune to mistakes, myself and Bidzina Ivanishvili included. Not all political steps are guaranteed to be realistic, successful, and beneficial for the country. This issue may give rise to differences of opinion and debate. I am ready to engage in such debates and discussions and, if relevant arguments are in place, to face up to my errors. Debating whether or not Bidzina Ivanishvili has been consciously, methodically, and consistently pursuing Russia’s interests ("Russia’s patriot”) or striving to ensure Georgia’s return into Russia’s orbit ("Georgia’s mistaken patriot”), however, is immature and embarrassing.

It is an offense to me, as Bidzina Ivanishvili’s political partner, chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, cofounder of the Georgian Dream Coalition, to claim that my former political leader and the country’s former Prime Minister has been serving another state and committing treason. Therefore, I feel it is my duty to respond to this issue and remind those misled about a few facts.

Ivanishvili: a Georgian nationalist besides his unprecedented mammoth philanthropic activities, little was known about Ivanishvili’s views, values, and plans before the autumn of 2011. Over the past three years, however, every detail about his past and present have been part of the public domain, so any questions about Ivanishvili’s motivation when it comes to his homeland and people are easily answered. Let us call to mind some of the easily verifiable facts regarding Ivanishvili’s allegiances.

What does Georgia mean to Bidzina Ivanishvili? Georgia is first and foremost Ivanishvili’s homeland, where he was born and raised in a family of ordinary working people. Ivanishvili left Georgia at the age of twenty-nine to continue his academic activities. But, as soon as he became able to benefit his country, twenty-two years ago, Ivanishvili, a rookie businessman at that time, sent 400 tractors to support Georgia, which was devastated by the war. In the 1990s, when trials and tribulations befell Georgia, he saved many members of the Georgian intelligentsia from poverty and starvation and issued monthly assistance to hundreds of people.

Over two decades, his charity foundation has financed the restoration and renovation of hundreds of churches and monasteries, monuments of culture, the construction and renovation of schools, universities, medical institutions, theaters, libraries, roads, bridges, and much more. He has been financing social projects for years, helping nursing homes and orphanages, as well as earthquake victims. All this took place when Georgia was trying to deliver itself from Russia’s orbit. Back then, not many Georgians knew his name, and few outside his family knew him personally.

Bidzina Ivanishvili has to date spent over three billion USD on charity in Georgia, delivering already on this stated commitment to use at least 90 percent of his wealth for the building of the Georgian state. Ivanishvili’s dedication to Georgia and to the future of our country cannot be doubted.

What does Russia mean to Bidzina Ivanishvili? Russia is a place where he worked on his academic paper, where he became a businessman, made most of his fortune. Ivanishvili left Russia after the end of President Yeltsin’s rule and never returned there over the last twelve years. He is remembered by Russian business circles of that time as an extraordinary character who would not put up with any dishonesty or unlawfulness. As for being "the main Gazprom shareholder”, the truth is that Ivanishvili bid farewell to his last Gazprom stock seven years ago, coincidentally, when he severed business ties with President Saakashvili also. His other assets in Russia were alienated immediately after Ivanishvili entered active politics, prior to the 2012 parliamentary election. Russia belongs to Ivanishvili’s past.

What do Georgia’s freedom and European choice mean to Bidzina Ivanishvili? He supported Saakashvili and his team who, having come into power after the 2013 Rose Revolution, gave political priority to fighting corruption and ensuring the country’s democratic modernization and Euro-Atlantic integration. He provided unprecedented financial assistance to state agencies. With a view to strengthening anti-corruption activities and attracting professionals into public service, for two years he financed funds to pay salaries to ministers, senior government officials, judges, and other public servants, as the state at that time could afford to pay only symbolic salaries. Yet, no one has ever claimed that he tried to interfere in any way with political processes or decision-making in government. Moreover, to avoid unnecessary rumors and speculation, his name was kept out of the spotlight; it was widely believed that these salary funds were financed by the George Soros Foundation.

At that time, under Saakashvili’s presidency, Ivanishvili provided the Georgian armed forces with significant financial aid to draw closer to NATO standards. Between 2004 and 2008, it was he who financed the procurement of equipment and military uniforms for the Georgian army and the establishment of military bases meeting high standards and commended by our American partners. (Unfortunately, most of them were demolished during the 2008 war.)

As long as he believed that President Saakashvili and his team led the country toward the democratic West and fought the remnants of the Communist and colonial past, Ivanishvili even donated 90 million USD to public funds intended for the direct support of Saakashvili and his government. Four hundred schools were built, renovated and equipped with that money, so that Saakashvili and his team could take all the credit, which they did; Saakashvili prided himself on this project for a long time.

In all, Ivanishvili spent hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Saakashvili and his team over four years, with the aim of expediting the country’s democratic modernization and Euro-Atlantic integration. (Out of curiosity, I would like to know how Saakashvili now explains this support in view of his current claims.)

However, after police forces reformed thanks to Ivanishvili’s efforts were used by Saakashvili against his own people on November 7, 2007, and Saakashvili turned to electoral fraud to remain in power in January 2008, Ivanishvili refused to maintain relations and severed ties with him. Then there was the August 2008 war, a case of premeditated Russian aggression and yet another imprudent gamble on the part of Georgia’s President.

By 2011, however, Saakashvili succeeded in persuading the West that without him Georgia would give up on strategic partnership with the US and Europe and wind up under Russia’s thumb. Thus, though losing his status as "the beacon of democracy”, Saakashvili nonetheless kept his image as "our guy with no alternative”. I will not relate in detail what was happening in the country at that time. The results of the truly democratic presidential and local elections in 2013 and 2014, respectively, as well as crimes confirmed in court, speak for themselves.

One year before the 2012 parliamentary election, however, President Saakashvili had different plans altogether. My party was one of those in opposition at that time and was practically brought to its knees. What seemed to be alive was a pseudo-opposition: parties used by Saakashvili to create an illusion of democracy and throw dust into the eyes of Georgia’s friends abroad. Thanks to constitutional amendments made in advance, Saakashvili was moving toward complete Putinism in leaps and bounds, from the office of president to the office of a newly-omnipotent prime minister.

In my opinion, Ivanishvili’s emergence in the political arena and the collapse of President Saakashvili’s plans were the last thing Saakashvili himself and President Putin wanted. The Georgian Government straying from the path to democracy and losing true popular support; its leader discredited and denied access to the leaders of the democratic world – this was the true Russian dream, which would have come true had it not been for Ivanishvili’s unexpected political emergence.

It was in the middle of this hopelessness in late 2011 that Bidzina Ivanishvili emerged to bring about a political explosion. I became close with Ivanishvili immediately after his entry into politics, and I saw the risks that accompanied his decision. At the age of fifty-six, without any experience in giving a newspaper interview or a public speech, he engaged in live televised debates. He rapidly became a target for the authorities: his personal guards were disarmed; he was refused authorization to use his private helicopter; the lives of his family members were threatened. (Not to mention his revoked citizenship, laws adopted with the single purpose of bankrupting his bank, and hundreds of millions in fines.)

Equally heavy was the political pressure. This one-year election race was characterized by unprecedented tension. On several occasions, there was a temptation to force a political culmination and end the election season prematurely, sometimes due to the great terror unleashed by police forces on opposition supporters; at other times due to the pressure of hundreds of thousands of committed demonstrators. However, Ivanishvili did not only put together a broad civil movement, but also succeeded in leading this unity in a direction planned in advance that implied replacing the ruling regime through the ballot box, without bloodshed.

 He had a simple argument in mind: in replacing Saakashvili’s regime, the country needed to grow stronger and draw closer to Europe, and not the other way around, growing weaker, swaying from the European path, and becoming easy prey for Russia. Even the slightest civil unrest would give Russian armed forces an excuse to cross the occupation line. This is why nothing but settling the score through the ballot box would be acceptable.

Saakashvili and his friends have their explanation of what happened, though… They insist that Putin gave orders to Ivanishvili: "You go ahead. If you survive, I will help you sell and make a good profit on the small part of your wealth left in Russia, which you’ll spend immediately on charity anyway.”

And after everything, after having come to power, enjoying an immense amount of trust among our people, Bidzina Ivanishvili took an unprecedented step: Following an intense period of reforms to insure the foundations of democratic political process, he resigned from office and left politics on the second day after Mr. Saakashvili was defeated in the presidential election.

Some of his decisions, his early departure, for example, seem inexplicable and unacceptable to many, myself included. Yet one thing is undoubtedly true: This is a man who has dedicated his whole life, talent, skills, and finances to serving his homeland. He pursues philanthropic activities of unmatched magnitude. He has risked his own life like an ordinary soldier serving his country. The number of years he has spent caring for his country and people is far greater than those of Putin and Saakashvili put together.

Clearly, the listed and other merits of Ivanishvili in service to our country and people certainly do not mean that he is always right. What they do mean, though, is that he does everything for his country, its freedom, and the strengthening of its European choice. Therefore, one may accuse him of anything but certainly not of serving an adversary country and purposely harming his homeland with intention!

Henceforth, I trust that the only person who finds any grounds to continue this Putin/Gazprom/Ivanishvili soap opera is Saakashvili, and I can understand him. After all, a person charged by the prosecutor’s office is not obligated to tell the truth and testify against himself.

PS: I am convinced that some conspiracy theory fans will not settle for the facts and arguments listed above. They will continue their research titled "Putin’s Role in President Saakashvili’s Defeat”. This is why I would like to appeal to them to attach an afterword to their work and call it "Putin’s Role in President Saakashvili’s Victory”: 

A) Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia in Tbilisi to help Saakashvili topple President Shevardnadze, November 22, 2003, and

 B) Secretary of the National Security Council of Russia in Batumi to help Saakashvili topple local ruler Aslan Abashidze, May 5, 2004.