vasiliy likhachev

Vassiliy Likhachev, Russian Duma member and PACE observer. (Photo: Council of Europe.)

TBILISI, DFWatch–The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has imposed sanctions against Georgia after a Russian election observer was denied entry before the presidential election a month ago.

The organization has decided not to hold any committee meetings in Georgia for the next two years, but may lift the sanctions as soon as the country can guarantee freedom of movement for its representatives when on PACE business, according to a short statement published on the organization’s website.

Russian Duma representative Vassiliy Likhachev was to have observed the October 27 presidential election, but twice canceled his trip after being warned by Georgia that he would risk arrest and a fine if he crossed the Georgian border.

The reason is a law introduced by Georgia in 2008 after the war with Russia, which makes it a crime to visit either of the breakaway regions Abkhazia or South Ossetia without permission from Tbilisi. Next time the violator visits Georgia, he or she will be detained and fined.

Likhachev visited Abkhazia in 2009 as an international observer, in connection with the de facto regime’s presidential election.

September 21 Georgia’s representative in Strasbourg told European Left leader Tiny Kox, who is also active in PACE, that Georgia’s 2008 Law on the Occupied Territories would apply to Likhachev, and that he therefore might risk arrest upon arrival in Georgia. Kox then told Likhachev who decided not to go on the trip to avoid the risk of being arrested.

In mid October, PACE again placed Likhachev on a list of observers to Georgia, and Kox insisted that he must be allowed to go. Kox contacted a member of the Georgian parliament and asked to solve the matter before the arrival of the observers on October 25.

Likhachev told Itar-Tass that if he was still denied entry, the PACE Monitoring Commision would impose sanctions against Georgia. He had suggested to Georgian foreign minister Maia Panjikidze that the 2008 law could be modified so it does not apply to international observers. But the issue was not resolved, and Likhachev canceled his trip for a second time.

Panjikidze explained at a press conference last Wednesday that the law made it impossible for the Russian Duma member to enter Georgia, and everyone should respect Georgian legislation.

She sought to downplay the significance of the sanctions, and said the Council of Europe has imposed sanctions on Georgia before. It doesn’t spell the end of relations between the Council and Georgia, she said, and pointed out that the sanctions only apply to committee meetings within PACE, not other aspects of the Council of Europe’s cooperation with Georgia.

In the Georgian parliament, ex-president Saakashvili’s National Movement party last week blamed the governing Georgian Dream coalition for the sanctions.

“If Georgian diplomats had worked more actively we would have seen better results today,” National Movement parliamentarian Giorgi Vashadze told Channel One on Saturday.

Georgian Dream parliamentarian Gia Volsky said Georgia should explain better to the Council of Europe why they didn’t allow the Russian observer to come to Georgia, and send additional documents to PACE.

In 2012, while the National Movement was in majority in parliament, Georgia’s Central Election Commision denied accreditation to two groups of Russian observers for the parliamentary election, one from the Duma and one from Fund for Free Election, because of an amendment to the election code which introduced a ban on election observers from any country that fails to acknowledge that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are parts of Georgia. Russia has recognized both regions as independent states.