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Georgian Opposition Eyes Presidency
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The Georgian Defense Ministry yesterday denied information published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that ministry representatives spoke against the actions of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in South Ossetia at a recent meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Nonetheless, that information bolstered the spirits of the Georgian opposition, which demanded Saakashvili’s resignation. Kommersant decided to measure the depth of the internal division in Georgian society and the presidential prospects of opposition leaders.

According to the German newspaper, high-placed representatives of the Georgian armed forces told their colleagues at NATO that they “were against the military invasion of South Ossetia and tried to convince Saakashvili not to start a war,” since they understood their “powerlessness in a confrontation with Russia.” The same publication quotes diplomats in Brussels as saying that the statements were perceived as “attempts to shed the blame for Saakashvili’s lost war.”

Those quotations, reprinted yesterday in the Georgian and Russian press, are evidence of a schism in the Georgian elite. Considering the recent shakeup in the Georgian military, that attitude was to be expected. Immediately after the end of the war in South Ossetia, Saakashvili dismissed commander of the National Guard David Aptsiauria, who was well respected within the military. Deputy chief of the unified staff Alexiy Osepaishvili was demoted for “poor organization of the movement of forces during the war.” Infantry commander Mamuka Balakhdze was sent to Germany for retraining. The Defense Ministry made no secret of the fact that those change were only the beginning of a coming reform, leaving the military ripe for dissatisfaction.

However, Georgian experts say, the information about the disloyalty of the military leaders is unlikely to be true. “Of course, in the army, as in society, there are many people who are dissatisfied with the outcome of the war,” Merab Pachulia, director of the Gorbi sociological center, observed for Kommersant. “But the officers Saakashvili sent to Brussels would not dare to speak against him there.”
Another well-known political scientist, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic Studies Alexander Rondeli said that “The officers in Brussels talked only about how Georgia had no interest in that war, because everyone understood that it was senseless to go to war with Russia, but journalists interpreted that phrase the way they wanted to.”

The Georgian Defense Ministry called the information in the German newspaper “complete disinformation.” Nana Intskirveli, head of the ministry press center, told Kommersant that “There were no consultations in Brussels in which our officers would have taken part. Moreover, not a single officer from the general staff has left the country recently.”

Waiting for the Winter

By the time the Defense Ministry made its denial, the Georgian opposition had picked up on the disillusionment with the president. David Gamkrelidze, leader of the New Right Party, demanded Saakashvili’s resignation and early parliamentary and presidential elections. “If Saakashvili remains president and commander in chief,” he said, “even more problems and catastrophes will arise for us. The citizens of Georgia should decide what has priority – the country or Saakashvili.” Gamkrelidze laid the blame on the president for the fact that “prospects for Georgia’s accession to NATO are now more distance because no one knows what borders to accept it with.” Opposition Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili echoed similar ideas, saying that South Ossetia and Abkhazia were lost due to Saakashvili.

If other parties support those leaders’ demands, the massive protests that were seen almost all year in Georgia may begin again. “That is what is holding us back,” Republican Party leader David Usupashvili told Kommersant. “We understand that such actions in a situation like the one Georgia is in today will harm the country and ordinary citizens. So we favor early parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2009.
There should be a change of government and a change of parliament. And, with new legislative and executive power, we should decide on the issue of the president’s resignation. The demand for the president’s resignation will not find much support in society today.”

Sociologist Pachulia agrees. “It is senseless to demand Saakashvili’s resignation today. His approval rate is higher than before the war,”
he said. “The clash with Russia, in the opinion of many citizens, was provoked by Russia itself.”

Nevertheless, the Georgian opposition has begun consultations overseas, which, many experts say, is evidence of a change coming in Georgian politics. In the last month, the leaders of the Labor, Republican and New Right Parties have all been to Europe or the United States. Former speaker of the parliament Nino Burjanadze also traveled to Washington, where she met with representatives of John McCain and Barack Obama. Experts say she is preparing for her own presidential campaign. Burjanadze admits the possibility of returning to politics.
She has been cautiously speaking about forming her own party, which would happen closer to 2010, when the country prepares for elections.

Experts say Burjanadze’s discretion is explained by the fact that the U.S. has not decided whether it is satisfied with Saakashvili. “The statements of the Georgian opposition are only the beginning of the political fight in the country,” said Pachulia. “And now everything depends on who the West stands behind. It is too early to say whether that will be Burjanadze or someone else.” Rondeli added that “I don’t think the replacement of Saakashvili is an issue right now. The opposition wants to think that, so it is going to the U.S. for inspection.
Washington wants to keep Saakashvili. They understand that elections and a change of power would weaken the country more at a time when it has to be restored.”

Almost all experts agree that, if there is a change of government in Georgia, it will not take place earlier than the winter, after the U.

S. elections, “when Saakashvili may receive an offer from Washington that he can’t refuse.” Until then, Georgian authorities have time and Western money to use for their political rehabilitation.

by Olga Allenova; Georgy Dvali, Tbilisi

Source >  Kommersant Moscow

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