The messenger logo

Ivanishvili's Foreign Policy Orientation in Question

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, November 17
Georgia has two forthcoming elections, a parliamentary one in 2012 and a presidential one in 2013. All leading political entities claim a pro-western orientation. The recent appearance on the political scene of the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has reignited the orientation issue however as commentators speculate as to which side the businessman bats for. Ivanishvili says he dances on one side of the ballroom while certain analysts claim he dances on the other. Ivanishvili has been unequivocal that he is firmly western leaning, however the ruling majority permanently tries to label him as in close connection with the Russians.

Government officials claim that they are the only consistent pro western force in the country. Being against the government automatically means opposing the country’s pro western development according to the government's logic. It follows that the opposition forces now consolidating around Ivanishvili will bring the country into the Russian orbit. Officials call Ivanishvili a "Russian project", "Russia’s last hope" and so on.

Ruling government officials increased their accusations towards Ivanishvili and his team after a recent interview with Irakli Alasania where he mentioned that normalization of relations with Russia was more important than the prospects of entering NATO. The ruling party sends these messages in two directions. One is the west itself, Georgian officials want to prove to the west that Ivanishvili’s coming to power could lead to the reorientation of Georgia’s foreign policy in the direction of Russia. The second addressee of the message is the Georgian population for whom Russia should be an enemy icon. Such tactics were used by the ruling power in 2007 when the opposition movement was labeled pro-Russian and the west did indeed become concerned at such developments. However, after the confrontation with Russia the west became worried and has been permanently demanding that the Georgian authorities regulate relations with Russia in a peaceful way. However, under the circumstances it is impossible to imagine the Putin–Medvedev tandem sitting at the negotiation table with Saakashvili.

Meanwhile the mood of the population is tough to gauge. On the one hand there is a certain frustration towards the west. The pro-western orientation declared since the 2003 Rose Revolution did not yield many significant positive results for Georgia. So far it has been not integrated either into NATO or the EU. Nor did it secure Georgia’s safety or territorial integrity or prevent Russia’s military aggression against Georgia. There has been no significant improvement in the standard of living or the welfare of the population. The only advantage, if it can be called that, is that the Russian language has been substituted by English. As for Afghanistan, Georgian soldiers fought there during the Soviet Union as well and they were labeled then as fulfilling their international obligation.

Many Georgians in the regions remember the attraction of the Russian market when it was possible to sell Georgia’s agricultural produce there. This is not nostalgia or an ideological undermining of the Georgian situation. This is mostly simple economic common sense. There is a stable opinion in the population that the hopes and dreams about a western paradise did not yield any significant positive results for Georgia, whereas it accumulated Russia’s anger towards Georgia which turned to aggression exactly because of Tbilisi’s pro-western orientation. So the ordinary Georgian may well think that it is worth normalizing relations with Russia and this is not motivated from extra sympathy towards the northern neighbor but is prompted rather by the necessity of such a step.

So the labels used towards Bidzina Ivanishvili as a man with Russian contacts might not be damaging for his reputation at all. Quite the contrary, as Putin-Medvedev refuse to communicate with Saakashvili maybe Ivanishvili will be the person with whom Russia will conduct negotiations which eventually would lead to the normalization of relations between the two countries and Georgia can benefit from this from an economic point as well as political point of view.