Facts show that the conflict in Georgia can take on international dimensions at any time.
December 27, 2012, 20:38 EST
The ongoing political struggle between President Mikheil Saakashvili and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili in Georgia may affect global politics.
When Saakashvili’s United National Movement Party (UNMP) was defeated by the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition led by Bidzina in October’s parliamentary elections, it was clear that political tensions would escalate in Georgia.
Since Bidzina became Prime Minister and formed his own government, many of Saakashvili’s allies and members of the pre-October 2012 government have been arrested.
Last month, Bidzina escalated this and carried out mass arrests of pro-Saakashvili officials.
On November 7 former Georgian Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia, Brigadier General Giorgi Kalandadze and commander of the army’s 4th Brigade, Zurab Shamatava were arrested on charges of abuse of power. On November 16 Bidzina’s government arrested about a dozen pro-Saakashvili members of the Georgian Interior Ministry, including head of the ministry's Department for Constitutional Security and charged them with abuse of power.
On December 19 former Energy Minister Aleksandre Khetaguri and former Justice Minister Nika Gvaramia were arrested on charges of paying a bribe to avoid a tax inspection. Currently pro-Bidzina parliament is planning to legislate that President Saakashvili should no longer have the power to command the presidential security service.
Considering that President Saakashvili has strong backing of NATO, while the Georgian Dream coalition has a less hostile attitude towards Russia than the previous government, the foreign interference aspect of the ongoing political tensions in Georgia is an important aspect of the current situation.
Russia openly backs the rebel forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two breakaway regions of Georgia, while Western regimes back the central government in Tbilisi.
It is not only NATO and Russia that exercise influence in Georgia. The Israeli influence is also huge. There are about 80,000 Georgian Jews who live as colonists in occupied Palestine. Israel was also one of the key supporters of the Georgian government during its war with Russia in 2008. In fact Davit Kezerashvili, defense minister of Georgia during the 2008 war was an Israeli-Georgian. Since 2000, Israel has sold hundreds of millions of dollars in arms and provided military training to Georgian troops.
All of these facts show that the conflict in Georgia can take on international dimensions at any time.
Overall Moscow’s position in Georgia is weak as the vast majority of Georgians despise Russia for its open support of separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, Russia has strong intelligence presence in Georgia inherited from the days of the Soviet Union. The presence of almost all major ethnicities of the Caucasus within Georgia makes the country particularly vulnerable to foreign interference.
It is not yet clear what will be the final outcome of the struggle between Bidzina and Saakashvili. The main political leverage Saakashvili has at the moment is his constitutional right as president to dissolve the newly formed government and parliament. If Saakashvili decides to dissolve parliament, taking into account Georgian history of internal conflicts, the probability of armed conflict would increase. In this scenario the party that would gain most would be the pro-independence armed groups fighting Russian presence in the North Caucasus. The weakened central government in Georgia would allow the armed groups in the North Caucasus to utilize the Pankisi Valley for logistical purposes in their fight against Russia.
Taking into account the presence of takfiri groups in Turkey that are utilized by NATO against Syria, any destabilization of Georgia could rearrange the regional power structure in the Caucasus. The current situation points to the fact that the US could initiate armed hostilities in Georgia in order to deflect Russian attention from Syria and use events in the Caucasus as leverage against Moscow’s position on Syria.