TBILISI, DFWatch–The Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili Wednesday appeared to drive his blue Nissan to the airport together with his wife without the protection of guards.
He explained that it is the fifth week he hasn’t been using the services of the president’s guard. However, the Special State Protection Service (SSPS) clams that they are protecting the president as usual, and have started an examination of the actions of the president.
A spokesperson for the president said Tuesday that Saakashvili no longer uses SSPS’s services.
Wednesday, before leaving for Azerbaijan, the president in a video clip posted on the Internet seemed to be arriving in his own electric car without guard.
Traveling with him was first lady Sandra Roelofs; and at the airport also Gigi Ugulava, Mayor of Tbilisi with his wife, Nika Gilauri, former Prime Minister and other leaders of the United National Movement joined them.
“It is five weeks since it became clear that the protection service has serious problems. I move without protection. No one can interrupt our movement; they cannot restrict us from meeting with people and fulfill our duties,” he said, adding that there is no need for drama or speculations.
The images of the president riding his electric car became the hottest topic in Tbilisi on Wednesday. On social networks, people who watched the clip noticed police cars and guard jeeps moving along with him on the road to the airport.
SSPS on Wednesday issued a statement that it is untrue president has been deprived of his weapon and is unarmed.
“SSPS provides ordinary protection measures for the president as normal and the service takes responsibility for providing his protection, until there is in place a special protection service to defend the president,” the statement reads.
According to Georgian law, if the president rejects special protection, SSPS is automatically obliged to provide security for the president.
In addition, the law provides Georgian president with state protection. Currently the state is obliged to protect his safety in any case. The Georgian president is obliged not to interrupt state structures in fulfilling their duties.
Irakli Sesiashvili, chair of the Defense and Security Committee in parliament for the Georgian Dream coalition, says that the president’s actions ‘somewhat has signs of sabotage.’
He says that SSPS employees knew about his decision and they provided preliminary protection of his locations following appropriate regulations and to provide security on the whole perimeter.
“The president should know that his protection is not dependent on his own desires. This is an obligation for the state,” he said, and urged the president that ‘such PR actions’ may become reason for punishment of certain persons.
About 3 000 persons used to provide protection services for Saakashvili before the parliament election in 2012.
After the change of government, this number was reduced to up to 400. In addition, the new budget reduced the president’s reserve funds from USD 30 million to USD 6 million and reduced financing for the president’s administration from USD 10 million to USD 6 million. The president’s palace, located on a hill overlooking Tbilisi, has switched off external lighting and is not as visible at night as it used to be.
Members of the administration claim that the reduced budget doesn’t allow for paying electricity bills.
In December, 2012, the new government withdrew one of the president’s Gulfstream V private jets.
While his party was in government, the president was often criticized for living a luxurious life, like purchasing two private jets, often noticed during shopping at expensive shops abroad.
But after the Georgian Dream coalition came to power, he has had to get accustomed to new conditions with less financing and other living conditions.
He has also modified his own role as a leader: more frequent visits with the population and allowing all media outlets to ask him questions.