Is It Possible To Reset Relations Between Ruling Georgian Dream And The West? – Analysis

Perhaps for the first time Georgian-American relations are surviving the most critical period for 32-year long diplomatic relations. The span of these relations includes switching from the US humanitarian aid for Georgia in 1990s to the signing of the Strategic Partnership Charter in 2009. Adoption of the law on “Conductors of the interests of external forces” by the ruling party “Georgian Dream” (GD), who withdrew that same law in March 2023, under the domestic and international pressure, has become a trigger for the most serious confrontation with the West during the last decades.

The first tranche of visa sanctions against nearly 34 GD officials and private citizens, announced by the U.S. State Department on June 6, was Washington’s response to the statement of Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze that Georgian-US relations need «reset” to make them closer. It’s noteworthy that in 2023, the United States sanctioned four Georgian judges. Therefore, the latest US sanctions were quite expected, given the increasingly negative dynamics of Georgian-American relations in recent years. It appears that the parties are misreading the attitudes of each other. On May 2, Tbilisi turned down a US invitation to Prime Minister Kobakhidze for an official visit due to a “pre-condition” to temporarily halt parliamentary discussion of the “foreign agents” bill. Georgian Foreign Ministry stated that meetings with preconditions do not embody the spirit of cooperation, to be based on mutual respect and trust. When in Tbilisi on May 14, Assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs James O’Brien openly warned Georgian authorities about “consequences” should the law enacted.

Contradictions also permeate the relations between Georgia and the European Union. In the nearest weeks, Georgia is likely to see some sanctions from the European Union because of the much-talked-of law. They may include suspension of the visa-free regime for Georgia, which could be painful for many citizens of Georgia, especially the youth, which is in the vanguard of the ongoing street rallies. Sanctions will definitely affect some key sectors of Georgian economy.

Scarcely the law on greater transparency of NGOs and the media receiving over 20% of their funding from abroad and their registration as conductors of foreign interest is the sole motivator for such a unanimously sharp reaction from the West. The law has only spurred the conversion of the West’s verbal discontent into punitive measures. The latter stem from the relatively independent domestic and foreign policies pursued by GD in recent years, especially after the outbreak of war in Ukraine. According to the European Commission’s statistics on Georgia, the alignment of its foreign policy with the EU’s common foreign and security policy, has decreased from 61% in 2020 to 31% in 2023. Recently, U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron have added their voices to the calls from other western leaders on GD government to “return to the Euro-Atlantic path.” GD vehemently brushes away allegations of the West and domestic opposition that the one single law will drive Georgia off the Euro-Atlantic path and frequently refers to the similar laws and regulations existing in the West, or planned to be enacted.

The reasons behind the current crisis in Georgia-West relations should be sought deeper in all layers of those relations during the GM’s ruling, which include differences in approaches to implementing a number of reforms required by the West. In recent years Georgia has begun to speak with the US and EU in the language of “sovereign democracy.” Georgia’s sovereign rhetoric under the GD’s slogan “To Europe with Dignity” was translated into actions, which implied implementation of the EU and US recommendations in a way, that GD considers proper and safe for the country and its ruling.

After the outbreak of conflict in Ukraine, GD government had opted for the “survival policy” having disregarded somehow “value-based policy,” much to the displeasure of the West, which expected Tbilisi to be more proactive in the assistance to Kyiv. GD stunned Western circles with its refusal to fully join the Western sanctions against Russia. It also refused to send military supplies to Ukraine and barred an organized dispatch of Georgian volunteer fighters to Ukraine. Unlike authorities of Moldova and Ukraine, GD denouncedthe vetting mechanism to check the integrity of judges – one of the nine conditions set by the European Commission for Georgia for opening the EU accession talks this year after granting EU candidate status in 2023.

Certainly, the Georgian government has taken the risky step of spoiling traditionally amicable ties with the West. The cautiousness of the GD government with Russia and the conflict in Ukraine, relatively independent dealings with the West, and leaning towards multi-pronged policies, including closer ties with China, will hardly be welcomed in the West.

A growing discontent of the US and the EU with the state of affairs in Georgia is also caused by the risks the aforementioned law may pose in their opinion to the huge western investments in the development of western democracу in Georgia. A letter of 14 US senators vividly demonstrates this concern. The West has really invested a lot in nurturing a new pro-Western counterelite in Georgia to replace the old traditional elites. Besides, the western circles, as they stated, were irritated by the strict-worded speech of GD founder and now its honorary chairman Bidzina Ivanishvili at the gathering of GD supporters on April 29. Ivanishvili pledged to do away with governing of Georgia by foreign forces with a transparent hint at the US and EU.

The West is transparent about its desire to see a multi-party legislature and a pro-Western coalition government after the parliamentary elections in Georgia on October 26. However, this desire runs counter to the GD’s plans to remain in power for another term to, as they argue, avert possible problems, including military conflict.The adoption of the law can be considered as one of the backstops to achieve this goal. At the same time, it is worth noting that accusations by the West about Georgia’s rollback from democratic development under the GD’s ruling are not confirmed by a number of competent studies. The 2024 Atlas on Freedom and Prosperity Around the World -2024 by Atlantic Council, which analyzes the 2023 Freedom Index lists Georgia among the 45 best countries that are assigned Free status.

Before the parliamentary elections, the resources and opportunities for rebooting the GD-West relationship are almost exhausted. The withdrawal of the law, which the West seems to be expecting from GD, is unlikely to happen, since it would have entailed serious political and reputational damage for GD. The only chance, but unlikely, is the abrogation of the law by the Constitutional Court. The already imposed and expected punitive measures of the West against GD and possibly Georgia also narrowed the possibilities for resetting GD-West relations.

Amid the war in Ukraine, increasing confrontation with Russia, and complex geopolitical challenges in the region, the West is likely to opt for helping those political parties that promise to strictly follow Western policy if in power, rather than to attempt rebooting relations with GD. However, the results of the parliamentary elections may overturn these calculations.

Check Also

Syrian armed groups divided over Turkey-Syria normalization push

In recent days, widespread protests have erupted across many Turkish-controlled towns and cities in the …