james appathurai

James Appathurai. (Interpressnews.)

TBILISI, DFWatch–A visiting NATO envoy warns Georgia that if the prosecution of former officials is seen as being politically motivated, this will slow down the country’s integration with the alliance.

James Appathurai said it is important not only to avoid political retribution, but also avoid the perception of such cases being politically motivated.

He said this standing next to the minister for Euro-Atlantic integration, Davit Bakradze, on Thursday, addressing the recent dismissal of Defense Minister Irakli Alasania. Alasania was dismissed shortly after he had defended the innocence of five of his staff who were detained on corruption charges. The formal reason for his dismissal was that he was trying to politicize a criminal case. The ex-minister himself thinks his dismissal was politically motivated.

If there is a perception that political retribution is widespread in a partner country, this will create a barrier for Georgia on the way to NATO integration, Appathurai said.

Two months ago, parliamentarians in the Council of Europe also criticized the trials against former officials, and like Appaturai, also placed their main emphasis on how the cases are perceived, which gives leverage to the former ruling party the National Movement to engage in PR and cast doubt on charges against their top people by portraying the cases as politicized, while the government has done little to change the perception abroad, but instead invited foreign experts to come to Georgia and assess the facts.

Standing next to the minister for Euro-Atlantic integration, Davit Bakradze, on Thursday, the NATO envoy told Georgian media that what is important now is transparency, implementation of reforms and international consultations.

The NATO envoy’s visit was as usual the focus of much attention from Tbilisi media, politicians and commentators, with his face appearing on every TV news broadcast and his quotes replayed and scrutinized as people looked for important nuances that may give a hint as to the country’s membership prospects.

While visiting, Appathurai, whose full title is NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, also had meetings with the new defense minister and Alasania’s successor, Mindia Janelidze and with the speaker of parliament.

Appathurai said that the course of the Defense Ministry hasn’t changed despite a change of minister, and discussed with Janelidze the substantive package which NATO recently offered Georgia.

“You’ll see more NATO in Georgia and more Georgia in NATO,” he said.