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Interview with the Ambassador of Ukraine to Georgia I do not see Tbilisi playing with Russia

  • Interview with the Ambassador of Ukraine to Georgia I do not see Tbilisi playing with Russia

Kiev: The political crisis in Georgia, which became an echo of the June protests, continues. The Georgian Dream party in power, with an absolute majority both in parliament and locally, has virtually abandoned the promise to abolish the majority vote and introduce a clean proportional system with zero entry barriers. Therefore, according to representatives of the ruling elite, there will be no snap elections in Georgia. There will be another fall next year according to the current mixed election system.

Such a development of events does not suit either the opposition or the protesters. They recall that the compromise towards the end of the June protests in Tbilisi, which broke out after a speech by a member of the Russian Communist Party Sergei Gavrilov from the speaker of the Georgian parliament during a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy, was precisely the implementation of electoral reform.

The correspondent of the site "Today" visited Tbilisi. The protesters and the opposition will not back down from their demands. However, according to the ambassador of Ukraine to Georgia Igor Dolgov, the Georgian parliament has already made an attempt to pass amendments to the electoral law, but the decision did not get enough votes. In protest, 12 deputies left the faction of the ruling majority. In an interview with Today, Igor Dolgov said whether the Georgian parliament can still accept the changes that the protesters and the opposition are demanding, as well as why there are no grounds for rumors about Georgia’s rapprochement with Russia.


- Let's start with the political crisis that continues in Georgia. What triggered the protests this time?

- This is already known to all, is known to Georgian society, is known to foreign observers and, of course, to embassies. We continue to closely monitor the development of events, we try to contact with representatives of both governmental and opposition circles, non-governmental organizations. The Georgian parliament was not able to vote for amendments that would allow holding the next elections on a proportional system with a zero passing barrier, as was announced after the events in Tbilisi at the end of June. And this negative vote for changes to the legislation immediately caused great indignation of the population, first of all, of course, of the opposition parties that voted for these legislative changes, as it was proposed and promised as a way out of the previous crisis at the end of June. And this proposal has not been implemented.

So, the “Georgian Dream”, as a leading political force, which has a majority in parliament and in all regions without exception, which has its own government and the ability to carry out all legislative changes in the Georgian parliament, thus, demonstrated its unwillingness to continue dialogue with the opposition and implementation of those changes that were announced in advance.

There is, of course, an explanation of the situation on the part of the Georgian Dream leadership. But, I would also like to draw attention to the explanations and actions that both individual members of the "Georgian Dream" and individual MPs demonstrate and express. On formal grounds, not all majority deputies voted “for”. And this is understandable, since they were elected in the majority districts.


- Well, like ours ...


- At the same time, the “Georgian Dream”, as a leading political force, publicly assumed certain obligations, which also failed to be implemented in parliament. And all this provoked the events that were near the parliament building, and those actions that are ongoing.

The position of the leadership of the “Georgian Dream” today is unequivocal: there are no other options besides holding elections on the legislation that continues to operate. As there is no reason to talk about holding early elections. So, for today, the elections should be held on October 31, 2020 according to the current proportional-majority system. Obviously, under these conditions, representatives of opposition parties, and not only (because under the influence of dissatisfaction with such a development of events social movements have organized themselves, especially among young people), will continue to protest with the blocking of parliament, demands to change the electoral system and hold early elections.

And, of course, one must look at this not only from the point of view of emotions, political positions, fulfillment of promises and obligations. There is a formal side to the matter. Therefore, indeed, if the bill put to a vote was not adopted, then at this session it can no longer be considered. As in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Therefore, it is now impossible to put this bill to a vote. Obviously, one could speak of some other bills. But, from a procedural point of view, all this is not so simple. And as a result of this situation, 12 deputies from the ruling party "Georgian Dream" left the faction, thus protesting against the fact that amendments to the legislation were not adopted.


- The EU and the USA nevertheless called on the Georgian ruling elite to switch to a purely proportional electoral system.

- Both we, and representatives of the European Union, and other embassies have a certain framework in their activities. And we are talking about friendly advice, we are talking about what we see. But there are internal matters in which diplomats should not interfere, and will not do so.


- Is the Georgian government ready to negotiate with the opposition and go to early elections?

- Actually, one of the main elements of the appeal of the EU and US ambassadors, to which we join, is the need for dialogue with the opposition. The current situation is the lack of dialogue, moreover, the cessation of opportunities for its development. Therefore, unambiguously proclaiming the impossibility of changing the electoral system and holding elections in accordance with the legislation at the end of October next year, the ruling party leaves little room for dialogue. Therefore, we will observe how events will develop.

I do not want to draw any analogies, but the fact that the vote on changing the electoral law has taken place is also the result of events and political aggravation that took place in the summer, and the result of a certain compromise that was found. Today, this compromise is very unstable and fragile - it is actually destroyed.

- We, journalists, when we write about the pros and cons of the possible dissolution of diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Russia, we always cite the Georgian experience as an example.


- Since 2014, we have not had an ambassador in Moscow. Vladimir Yelchenko, who has successfully represented Ukraine at the UN for several years, was then recalled. The number of Ukrainian diplomats in Moscow has been significantly reduced. We are forced to maintain the number of consular workers outside of Moscow, especially in Rostov, because of the affairs of prisoners, captured and prisoners. This also needs to be understood. We need to remember Ukrainian captives. Unfortunately, this figure is high. A consul is a person who can reach a prison, go there and meet with our citizens. Therefore, diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Russia formally exist, but in the absence of ambassadors, they are limited to everyday activities.


- After several decrees of Vladimir Putin on illegal passportization, Ukrainian experts started talking about the launch of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian scenario by Russia in the Donbas. Do you agree with that? How did Georgia fight illegal passports?

- Let's start with what is happening in the territory of occupied Abkhazia. Formally, the situation is different there, because the quasi-state of Abkhazia is formally created, formally there is no occupation power, formally there should be no Russian troops. And if you look at the real picture, then there is a puppet regime, these elections are not recognized by anyone, this independence is not recognized by anyone. But at the same time, for those Georgians who remained on the territory of Abkhazia and did not escape after the 1993 war (and there were 250 thousand, and now, according to various estimates, 30-40 thousand), this occupation power creates the conditions under which life with Georgian passports becomes impossible. That is, internal restrictions and requirements are introduced, which stipulate that if a person living in the territory of Abkhazia has not received a local passport, he cannot participate in local elections, receive social benefits, have no access to education, etc. That is, through brutal administrative pressure, people are forced to take these passports. This is the same as in the Crimea.

How to counteract? Do not give opportunities to people who are going to travel with such fake passports, to travel somewhere further than Rostov. This is their final destination. And, as I understand it, our EU partners support such a policy regarding the non-recognition of passports issued in the occupied territories of Ukraine. And this is the path that today is the most effective and realistic.


- What is now with the policy of Georgia regarding the occupied territories? I remember how Georgian experts came to Kiev three years ago saying that they really regret how the occupied territories were actually cut off at one time.

- Not Georgian politicians and not Georgian authorities cut off these territories. These territories were cut off by the Russian Federation through direct aggression and the development of a military presence on these lands. We, too, may regret daily that Crimea is occupied. But here the solution is simple: either you are at war, or they are being taken from you. And we did not understand this right away, so Crimea is occupied. And therefore, we are now defending our territories in the Donbass. Therefore, we care about our population within the framework that is possible. These are, for example, service centers that appeared in 2015 for people who come from the occupied territories, where you can buy medicines, get a pension, or buy cheap products. The bridge that President Zelensky opened in the Village of Lugansk. I saw him destroyed, how he lay broken over the abyss, and how people, using some goat paths with bags and trunks, made their way through this checkpoint. Therefore, this path, of course, is one of the most effective today.

What we see here in Georgia is constant restrictions. The occupation authorities block the possibility of crossing the administrative border line for Georgian citizens living in the occupied territories. There was one on the entire administrative border, along the entire front line, so to speak, a checkpoint with Abkhazia, and one on the Tskhinvali direction. And then, there was a period when these points were closed by the occupation authorities.

What can and what will Georgia and the government of Georgia continue to do? The Step to a Better Future program continues. This is a program that creates opportunities for people from the occupied territories to receive medical care here, including very difficult cases where Georgia has been successful. For example, and in particular, this treatment of hepatitis C is perhaps one of the few examples in the world when it was possible to overcome this disease completely.

Access to education is what the Georgian government can offer under this program. Maintaining the language. The Abkhaz language disappears in the territory of occupied Abkhazia, but is supported here by the authorities and the government of Georgia. More could be done, and the government would like to do more. However, there is direct opposition from the occupation authorities and direct steps that limit these opportunities for people from the occupied territories.

- But the Step to a Better Future program has been working not so long ago ...


- Already a year. But its individual elements have always been introduced, for example, medical care, educational programs, etc.


- Does Georgia have a better chance of joining NATO, possibly even without occupied territories?


- In October, two retreat meetings of the North Atlantic Council took place. One of them was in Batumi, and the second - in Odessa and Kiev. The NATO Secretary General was unable to arrive in Batumi, the Alliance delegation was led by his deputy, who was then Rose Gotemüller, and this, if I am not mistaken, was her last official trip outside NATO.


- That is, in Ukraine, the representation of the North Atlantic Council was even higher.

“I would not say that.” The level of representation is not very good. But the fact that there is interest on the part of NATO, both in Ukraine and Georgia, is a fact. The fact that in both cases the North Atlantic Council visited the seaports of Batumi and Odessa is a clear signal that NATO will continue a separate program to strengthen security in the Black Sea. And not only with the help of the increased presence of the navy, but also with the fact that all the ambassadors of the Alliance member countries were in Batumi and Odessa. And here, in Georgia, and later in Kiev, and even later, Stoltenberg repeated that NATO, as an organization, made its decision back in 2008 in Bucharest. Ukraine and Georgia will be members of NATO. Therefore, you need to look more at yourself.

Listen to what Minister of Defense of Ukraine Andriy Zagorodniuk is saying now, which areas he has identified as priority. The new Minister of Defense of Georgia, when I recently met with him, clearly noted that in addition to interaction and compatibility, he, as a minister, needs to put his equipment in order, he needs to update the barracks, think about weapons development programs, and not only focus on procurement, but and see if Georgia can do something here at home. Therefore, who is closer or further from joining NATO is a biased question. Not because Ukraine and Georgia are different in size of country, or in the number of armed forces, or in terms of readiness. No, the question is not only that. There must be, above all, political will. And it is in this case not about the political will of Ukraine and Georgia, but about the political will of the countries-members of the Alliance. We all see and understand that there is no unity as before in the transatlantic element, there is no unity regarding the vision and role of the EU and NATO in security from the point of view of EU reform. The European Union also does not stand still, although it seems inflexible. He is developing.

- Yes, the UK is leaving the EU.


- This is not flexibility - it is forced steps. In any case, issues of joint defense and security for the EU are becoming increasingly relevant and important. Especially in those conditions when they saw that you can’t always rely on partners, you must have your own capabilities and develop them. Therefore, sooner or later this political will will concentrate and focus. Both Ukraine and Georgia need to prepare for this as much as possible.


- You know that for Ukraine the Alliance is launching a new cooperation program - “one country, one plan”. At NATO, we are invited to decide on five priorities that will form the basis of this plan. However, today's Ukrainian opposition and some experts note that the five components are few for Ukraine.


- You need to understand that there is a lot of work behind programs, plans and funds. These are huge mechanisms that have been functioning for years. And to say that, conditionally, until December 15 we worked this way, and from December 16 we will work differently, it is very unprofessional. Therefore, a lot here depends on ourselves. And the strength of the plan is not that it is, and not that it is alone. The strength of the plan is that it breaks the path to a goal into certain stages. And when you see these stages, it’s easier for you to control and understand what is missing to pass this piece of the road. And I can’t imagine such a super plan that would cover everything.

So, let's say, the Minister of Defense of Ukraine now says that we need to once again analyze which of the NATO standards we need to implement in the first place. He quite rightly says that we need to abandon the old charters. Can we do this without a clear vision of what weapons we will fight in ten years from now? No we can not. Can we say that all the training that takes place at the Yavoriv training ground and not only there will generate an expansion of these capabilities exponentially? Not. Because this company, or even this team, if we conduct training at the brigade level, returns to the places we left. And around, left and right, those who are not yet trained, working according to old standards and technologies. And the question is, how to jump? Because you will not be holding two armies, one according to NATO standards, and the other unreformed? These questions are very complex. Therefore, not everything depends on the number of plans or the number of pages in one plan. It all depends on the understanding that this is a multifaceted process and that none of the elements can be extended or forgotten about it. Then there will be no clear picture in 5-10 years.


- Last week in Brussels, the former Lithuanian prime minister and now EURONEST chairman Andrius Kubilius presented a new program for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova within the framework of the Eastern Partnership policy - Trio Strategy 2030. How people in Georgia look at inviting the EU to separate our countries into a separate track?

- Georgia not only agrees, but also does a lot to convey its interests to Europeans and implement them in those plans and cooperation schemes that are developing. Therefore, of course, both Ukraine and Georgia are interested in developing relations with the EU. Should this relationship be limited to the Eastern Partnership? For us, the answer was obvious from the very beginning, ten years ago. This is a mechanism, but not the ultimate goal and final point. And, in my opinion, nothing has changed in Ukrainian ideology and the system of foreign policy priorities. At least I am not aware of this. Therefore, the Eastern Partnership is a tool that has proven its effectiveness. But we look forward to more. We do not see a future limited solely by the Eastern Partnership. Although in this framework these common spaces, which we have already begun to talk about, need to be brought from plans to the realities of everyday life. Just as we came to a visa-free regime from some parameters on paper, to the realities, when you take a Ukrainian passport and go.


- Perhaps Ukraine needs to initiate the creation of a kind of club of countries that have suffered from Russian military aggression, and jointly turn to the international community for help? Because, as they say, one in the field is not a warrior.

- In fact, this is already there. In any case, with regard to Ukraine and Georgia. Georgia was one of the first countries to support us after the outbreak of Russian aggression. Moreover, Georgia did this not only through political statements, but also by providing assistance, and this is not only the rehabilitation of the wounded. Therefore, if you look at the declaration on strategic partnership between Ukraine and Georgia, which was signed in 2017, a substantial part of it is precisely aimed at consolidating the outside world in the fight against Russian aggression. If you look at the latest resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly or the Council of Europe, where there are resolutions on Georgia, Ukraine is necessarily a co-author, and vice versa.

I think that we have made great progress.


- Yes, the UK is leaving the EU.

- This is not flexibility - it is forced steps. In any case, issues of joint defense and security for the EU are becoming increasingly relevant and important. Especially in those conditions when they saw that you can’t always rely on partners, you must have your own capabilities and develop them. Therefore, sooner or later this political will will concentrate and focus. Both Ukraine and Georgia need to prepare for this as much as possible.


- You know that for Ukraine the Alliance is launching a new cooperation program - “one country, one plan”. At NATO, we are invited to decide on five priorities that will form the basis of this plan. However, today's Ukrainian opposition and some experts note that the five components are few for Ukraine.

- You need to understand that there is a lot of work behind programs, plans and funds. These are huge mechanisms that have been functioning for years. And to say that, conditionally, until December 15 we worked this way, and from December 16 we will work differently, it is very unprofessional. Therefore, a lot here depends on ourselves. And the strength of the plan is not that it is, and not that it is alone. The strength of the plan is that it breaks the path to a goal into certain stages. And when you see these stages, it’s easier for you to control and understand what is missing to pass this piece of the road. And I can’t imagine such a super plan that would cover everything.

So, let's say, the Minister of Defense of Ukraine now says that we need to once again analyze which of the NATO standards we need to implement in the first place. He quite rightly says that we need to abandon the old charters. Can we do this without a clear vision of what weapons we will fight in ten years from now? No we can not. Can we say that all the training that takes place at the Yavoriv training ground and not only there will generate an expansion of these capabilities exponentially? Not. Because this company, or even this team, if we conduct training at the brigade level, returns to the places we left. And around, left and right, those who are not yet trained, working according to old standards and technologies. And the question is, how to jump? Because you will not be holding two armies, one according to NATO standards, and the other unreformed? These questions are very complex. Therefore, not everything depends on the number of plans or the number of pages in one plan. It all depends on the understanding that this is a multifaceted process and that none of the elements can be extended or forgotten about it. Then there will be no clear picture in 5-10 years.


- Last week in Brussels, the former Lithuanian prime minister and now EURONEST chairman Andrius Kubilius presented a new program for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova within the framework of the Eastern Partnership policy - Trio Strategy 2030. How people in Georgia look at inviting the EU to separate our countries into a separate track?

- Georgia not only agrees, but also does a lot to convey its interests to Europeans and implement them in those plans and cooperation schemes that are developing. Therefore, of course, both Ukraine and Georgia are interested in developing relations with the EU. Should this relationship be limited to the Eastern Partnership? For us, the answer was obvious from the very beginning, ten years ago. This is a mechanism, but not the ultimate goal and final point. And, in my opinion, nothing has changed in Ukrainian ideology and the system of foreign policy priorities. At least I am not aware of this. Therefore, the Eastern Partnership is a tool that has proven its effectiveness. But we look forward to more. We do not see a future limited solely by the Eastern Partnership. Although in this framework these common spaces, which we have already begun to talk about, need to be brought from plans to the realities of everyday life. Just as we came to a visa-free regime from some parameters on paper, to the realities, when you take a Ukrainian passport and go.


- Perhaps Ukraine needs to initiate the creation of a kind of club of countries that have suffered from Russian military aggression, and jointly turn to the international community for help? Because, as they say, one in the field is not a warrior.

- In fact, this is already there. In any case, with regard to Ukraine and Georgia. Georgia was one of the first countries to support us after the outbreak of Russian aggression. Moreover, Georgia did this not only through political statements, but also by providing assistance, and this is not only the rehabilitation of the wounded. Therefore, if you look at the declaration on strategic partnership between Ukraine and Georgia, which was signed in 2017, a substantial part of it is precisely aimed at consolidating the outside world in the fight against Russian aggression. If you look at the latest resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly or the Council of Europe, where there are resolutions on Georgia, Ukraine is necessarily a co-author, and vice versa.

I think that we have made great progress in terms of using parliamentary interaction tools. In all parliamentary assemblies, our delegations in recent years have always acted in harmony and spoke in common positions. And the new Ukrainian delegations have already begun this interaction, they already know each other. True, changes will be taking place in the Georgian parliament now, because just among those who left the faction and resigned their posts were key figures for European politics that defined Georgian parliamentary politics at European venues. There will be others, and we will have others, and I am sure that this interaction will continue.

Therefore, in answering your question whether such a club is needed, I will say no. Already have a complete understanding. And we do not need clubs and signs that this is a club. We interact very well at those levels and in the formats that exist between our countries.



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