Weekly column by Konstantin von Eggert
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili confounded his critics, won a place in history and preserved his political future. All this was achieved on October 2 when he admitted that his United National Movement had been defeated in the parliamentary elections.
Konstantin von Eggert
Saakashvili’s critics at home, and especially those in Moscow, predicted that he would never concede defeat and that he would do anything and everything possible, including cancelling the election results and arresting his opponents, to keep his party in power. However, OSCE and Council of Europe observers, and the winners themselves – the “Georgian Dream” coalition headed by Georgia’s richest man Bidzina Ivanishvili – have all admitted that, although irregularities did take place, the poll was free and fair.
Saakashvili’s announcement is significant, because under the constitutional reforms promulgated in 2010, the president loses most of his executive powers in October 2013, when Saakashvili steps down as head of state. These powers will pass to the prime minister, who is appointed by the parliamentary majority – which means it is Mr Ivanishvili who will be driving Georgian policy soon. That is, provided his “Georgian Dream” coalition of a dozen parties is still extant in a year’s time.
Russia’s official position was expressed not by President Vladimir Putin, but by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. It was in 2008, on his watch as president, that Russia went to war with Georgia, effectively annexing the formerly autonomous Georgian areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia recognizing their independence as sovereign states.
Medvedev said that Georgian society “evidently wanted change” and expressed hope that “more responsible and constructive forces” will shape policies in Tbilisi. Soon we’ll probably have a better idea of what he means.
Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia in the murky 1990s is dogged by his opponents’ accusations that he is the Kremlin’s Trojan horse in Georgia. He vehemently denies this, repeating time and time again that he supports and will continue President Saakashvili’s course towards NATO and EU integration, that he will not force Georgia to rejoin the CIS, and that he will never recognize the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – clearly a precondition for the restoration of diplomatic relations with Moscow.
The Kremlin’s propaganda machine, particularly TV, demonized Mikheil Saakashvili, portraying him as a bloodthirsty tyrant. The video of him chewing his tie before a TV broadcast during the 2008 war was used by Russia’s state-run media to prove that Moscow’s opponent had lost all touch with reality.
By conceding his party’s defeat and making a point of respecting the will of the Georgian people, Saakashvili proved that his authoritarian modernization programme meant more than just eliminating corruption within the police force, and building new high-tech government buildings – potent visual symbols of his new, reformed and westernized Georgia.
He deprived the Kremlin of the enemy it loved to hate. Moreover, when he steps down, he will probably throw himself into parliamentary politics and become leader of the opposition. This may lend him, personally, new legitimacy and give his political career a new lease of life. Georgia seems to be following in the footsteps of Ukraine and Moldova as a maturing democracy in which the peaceful transfer of power is becoming the rule.
As far is the former USSR is concerned, Vladimir Putin’s government has thrown its weight behind supporting autocracies of varying hues and degrees of repression – from relatively moderate Armenia to ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’ of Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The Georgians, if successful in keeping the democratic flame alive, are setting an example to the beleaguered post-Soviet democrats. Moreover, Georgia is becoming increasingly popular among Russia’s urban youth and students – one of the driving forces behind the protest movement.
Valentina, an acquaintance of mine, is a third year Moscow University student. She told me recently: ‘Whenever I or my friends and college mates hear ‘Georgia’, the reaction is nearly universally positive – food, people, culture and now democracy! The Georgians succeeded where our rulers failed”. The Kremlin may well hear more from Saakashvili – and Georgia’s growing fan-base in Russia itself.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.
Konstantin Eggert is a commentator and host for radio Kommersant FM, Russia's first 24-hour news station. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
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- lmThis man is bad news in any form.07:29, 06/10/2012Someone all ways telling Von Eggret something, did anyone notice he all time includes this line in his post?
- Panthera PardusHold on a second here..10:33, 08/10/2012you can say anything you want about Putin but he never started a war shelling civilians like Saakashvili did - South Ossetian were not making terror acts in Georgia at the time the war was started, they seceded yes, but that was in the past and it was matter closed - never heard of South Ossetian bombs planted in Georgian town, so there was not even a remote justification - not even a fake one as it is typical in Western democratization war.
It is sad to read a columinist of enrian writing "The Kremlin’s propaganda machine, particularly TV, demonized Mikheil Saakashvili, portraying him as a bloodthirsty tyrant." - I was commuting between Moscow and Germany at the time of the war and I can assure that the shelling of civilians was covered only by Russian TV (as opposed to "free western media") - so what is the lesson learned here?
- email@example.comSakaashvili's 'Victory'... Wow...19:58, 08/10/2012Nutcase Sakaashvili, your kith and kin in spirit, is finally given a hook from the stage by his own people and you take it as a 'victory'. Right. According to ABCNews, a generally 'Due West' institution, 88% of Georgians want improved relations with Russia and thus, voted him out. Might that not have had something to do with this strange fool's removal from power? What a guy to admire and laud. Probably you enjoyed the tapes of his 'Pro-Kremlin' prisoners being beaten and humiliated as much as he did. They were made, after all, according to the source, for his entertainment. Sure, bring him back someday. YouTube will not be the same without his ridiculous antics. And yet, on second thought, as we saw in the not distant past in your country, madmen on the stage, while occasionally amusing, can also be very dangerous indeed. On the contrary, let' be glad he's gone.
- Earth ManSeriously.........15:05, 12/10/2012Are you writing this column for 5-year olds?
I think focusing more clearly would be beneficial for all.......... we are running out of time here.........
- firstname.lastname@example.orgBrace yourself...01:33, 16/10/2012And now let's brace ourselves for the assessment that in fact 'the opposition' won Sunday's elections 'in spirit'. This man's writing is as predictable as a knee-jerk.
Why is this German allowed to promulgate his blatantly anti-Russian views at this Russian news organization? His column should be properly titled 'Due East' since he writes always and slavishly from the point of view of a sour-grape German who believes, like Sakaashvili, that the US puppets EU and NATO, under the banner of 'freedom', should march ever EASTward until Russia no longer exists 'in spirit'. That was Hitler's factual, military objective. And the new enemies of Russia, like Von Eggert and Saakashvili, seek to achieve the same goal by other means. Fire him. He should be writing for a German paper, not a Russian one.
- ratnikshort memory10:23, 17/10/2012And Sakashvilli started the conflict with Ossetia hoping to get away with it during the Olympics. And he committed war crimes there. And he is a coward as proven by his behaviour a few days later. He is simply a satrap for the US and not a real leader at all. No wonder he is losing favor with his people as elections prove despite all his anti-democratic actions all well documented. Even the Americans are embarassed by him. Tell the truth.
In light of the present situation in the Middle East, Russia and Israel find themselves facing common challenges. Under these newly emerging situations, Russia sees its partnership with Israel as a potential asset in resolving acute regional issues. From a Russian perspective, the compatibility of Israeli and Russian interests could contribute to such a partnership.