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New revelations from Wikileaks concerning Georgian politics

By Ernest Petrosyan
Monday, September 5
Wikileaks continues to reveal more confidential materials on Georgia. A cable about Georgia, classified by Ambassador John R. Bass, was created on February 22, 2010--three months before local elections, and was released on August 30, 2011. This series of notes from the US Ambassador to Georgia was addressed to the Department of State and are dedicated to the 2010 Tbilisi Mayoral and local elections.

The cables report that "Recent internal United National Movement (UNM) polling shows officially-undeclared mayoral candidate Gigi Ugulava with a commanding lead over opposition rivals. The trend lines indicate that Ugulava's active grassroots outreach has paid significant dividends while opposition inaction, notably by chief rival Irakli Alasania (Alliance/Our Georgia - Free Democrats), has eroded their support and widened the gap in the UNM's favor."

Bass says that former PM Noghaideli’s decision to court Moscow further split the non-parliamentary opposition and increased its focus on fruitless background dealings and internal squabbling rather than campaigning.

Bass also refers to Christian Democrat Movement (CDM) Mayor candidate Gia Chanturia. “He had “no real interest” in running for mayor, as Chanturia admitted to an Embassy contact, but was allegedly “encouraged” to run by the Georgian Government, "as the Georgian Government promised it would support the energy project that he hopes to develop on the Black Sea involving refining and transit of CNG/LNG [compressed and liquefied natural gas]”, says Bass in his notes addressed to the Department of State.

Chanturia, once the Head of the Georgian International Oil Corporation (GIOC) served for nine years in ex-president Eduard Sheverdnadze’s administration, then was dismissed in September 2004. He left the country and continued working in Baku as Advisor to the Azerbaijani State Energy Company on Oil and Gas projects.

According to the same dispatch, Christian Democratic Movement leader, MP Giorgi Targamadze told a US Embassy diplomat that Chanturia had “little to no chances of winning the Tbilisi mayoral elections, and was focusing on endorsing its candidates in local councils instead."

The cable says that Targamadze “opens himself up to criticism of being a government’s puppet." The note continues with the statement, “Chanturia appears to provide the best of the limited options; a self-funded who will keep CDM relevant in Tbilisi but whose loss would do little to harm Targamadze personally or CDM’s brand.”

In a dispatch, Bass reports that Targamadze faced two difficult political tasks: to turn his personal approval ratings into solid political support; and to pivot from a detached, foreign-policy focused diplomat into a credible mayoral candidate who is able to articulate a coherent plan as to how he would run the city.

So far, Bass continued, Alasania has been unable to do either. Notwithstanding a difficult broadcast media environment and significant financial disadvantage. "Alasania has not focused on the low-cost activities he could use to generate support. He spends a large share of his time outside of Georgia. When in Tbilisi, Alasania rarely if ever spends time among the public or does any sort of retail level campaigning. In contrast, Ugulava is found in all corners of the city, meeting residents, listening to their concerns and explaining his plans for improving the city and their lives. Alasania has pushed back the re-launch of his campaign a number of times, and has effectively ceded three months of unopposed campaign time to Ugulava. Unfortunately for Alasania, his absence has left the public with little understanding of his platform or why he is running. Alasania has hired the American firm Aristotle consultants as advisors and plans to begin his campaign in earnest shortly. Alasania's advisors maintain that he has plenty of time to take on Ugulava successfully,” Bass reports according to Wikileaks.

The cable gives information about Levan Gachechiladze as well. “Levan Gachechiladze (Protect Georgia Movement) has apparently not made up his mind as to what he intends to do regarding the May 2010 elections. MP Paata Davitaia (We Ourselves), with whom Gachechiladze had a good relationship, told us that Gachechiladze also thought that a pro-Russia policy swing could potentially be a good idea for the non-parliamentary opposition. Davitaia expressed his disgust about the non-parliamentary opposition. Davitaia expressed his disgust with Gachechiladze's willingness to embrace Noghaideli's position. Davitaia said that others willing to join Noghaideli (Conservatives - People's Party) were doing so for the modest sum of about USD 50,000. According to Davitaia and other sources, Gachechiladze has been mulling a run for mayor as the candidate of the United Opposition.

Gachechiladze's entry into the race would certainly complicate Alasania's floundering bid. Privately, Alasania's team has repeatedly told (US diplomat) Poloff that Gachechiladze has assured them that he supports Alasania, but would only announce his support publicly at a "key moment". Nevertheless, Alasania insiders question Gachechiladze's commitment, noting that he could be "purchased" at any moment, and the Alliance simply does not have the funds nor inclination to meet what could be a substantial asking price”, Ambassador Bass reports according to the revealed by Wikileaks materials.