Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili says the main goal of the new government is to improve the economic situation and to strengthen the course of Euro-integration in the foreign policy, as well as to make certain steps to improve relations with Russia. DF Watch spoke with the Georgian Prime Minister about his government’s plans, the recent detentions of former higher officials, and other issues.
DF: Where do you see the resources to deepen relations with our traditional partners?
B.I: I think the key to improving foreign relations is to solve internal problems and put the state in order, but not facade-like processes, which have taken place. No matter how much they [the former ruling party] yell and how much they distort what we do, our partners still know well what has happened on a higher political level. Mid level politicians may have some questions, but the main key is our actions.
Of course, our strategy is to deepen relations with EU, NATO and the US. We should establish normal relations with every neighbor, and the key to all this is to build a real democratic state and [create] real economic growth. But not the way they used to do, the so-called democratic Singaporization. They even wanted to establish libertarianism in Europe. When I have met Europeans they have told me: At last we see a normal man.
DF: What do you think our export potential is? How can we be interesting to the European market?
B.I: Everything. Now the main focus is on agriculture and energy, but I plan to set up a creative working group and to review creative projects, to review what should be done. Innovative technologies should be established. If we want to develop, we should work on this. It’s clear we can’t have 60 research institutes, but we should have a few of them and keep the same pace as the rest of the world.
DF: What are your expectations for the immediate future regarding Russia-Georgia relations?
B.I: I’m very optimistic that we will put our relations in order, but it will take time. I think trade and cultural relations will get in order really soon. When it comes to restoring territorial integrity and establishing friendly relations with Russia, this will take time. We shouldn’t hurry. It will take years and won’t be possible in a few months.
As for the meeting, I think it was really interesting. The form of the meeting was very interesting; that the first deputy of the Foreign Affairs Minister represented the president of Russia and the fact that they responded to us regarding appointing a special representative for Russian relations, this is very important. It’s true that they needed some time for this, and in our team some wanted to make statements about it, but I stopped all of them, and we got the first results. It is a first channel; representatives could sit down and talk in a diplomatic language.
There have been many attempts by Russian representatives who wanted to speak with me unofficially, but I refused, because I wanted it to happen officially, so as not to raise suspicion about backroom dealings. It was good, what happened in the end.
Russia also confirmed that regular flights should be restored, trade relations restored, and this was really good for a first meeting, because it boosts the optimism. But it won’t happen fast.
DF: The detentions of former officials are still continuing. On the one hand, there is a necessity to investigate crimes that are committed, but on the other hand, these cases should not to be used for political reasons, which would harm the state. How should the problem be solved, where should it stop and are there people who have political immunity?
B.I: I always ask foreigners what to do, what they can tell us, where to draw the line? Ever since I started working, I never dared say, arrest this person or don’t arrest that one. I will never dare to say this to my team or myself and first of all to myself. Davit Usupashvili [Speaker of Parliament] is working to prepare something like an amnesty for officials (not on the level of minister and MP), who abused powers; to find a legal way to preliminary forgive and let the situation calm down; they will lose their fear and work normally. They are our citizens, and most of those who abused powers are victims of this system, and I think this will be a logical way out. Of course, it won’t apply to criminal law crime.
When Bacho Akhalaia and Goirgi Kalandadze were detained, my team members where here, and I told them it is better not to touch them yet, better to inform people first. Since morning they informed me regarding Akhalaia, but they said nothing about the detention of the head of the Joints Staff. Now I can speak freely about my position, that I share this opinion that nothing will happen if he is released.
In the case of [Nika] Gvaramia [director of Rustavi-2], I can say my position as a citizen or politician, that as part of this rush they manage to create, it would be better not to have detained him at all, and it would be good if the court released him. There are forms for this, but Kbilashvili and Tsulukiani know well that I, as a matter of principle, won’t get involved.
DF: Is it being considered to reduce the powers of the president before the presidential election?
B.I: I explained to Saakashvili what would be the way out if he resigned. It would be a way out for all his associates. We know well that there is a contradiction in the constitution: on the one hand, the presidency has a five-year term, which will end in January; but on the other hand, they wrote into the constitution that the parliamentary election should be scheduled for October. Now they say there is a contradiction in the constitution. Who wrote it? Weren’t they the same people who did it on the whim of one single person? Americans and Europeans assured me that it isn’t worth it to raise this issue, and I learned from their statements that if we start an impeachment procedure, it would be hard to explain to the international community, and we haven’t raised the issue again. I think we won’t do anything about his powers either.
DF: Do you think it is possible that the issue of impeaching the president may be still raised?
B.I: Politically no, it is excluded, but legally of course it may happen.
DF: Does this mean no one is guaranteed immunity?
B.I: Politically yes, but according to the law, which they turned upside down, we still protect it and act according to the law. In addition, we plan to establish fair legislation and we will have to amend many laws to this end. I think we will be able to do this in maximum a year and a half. There should be fair legislation, and then protection of it – this is important. First, officials should start this and not media circles. They rooted out corruption on the lower levels, but it has such an extent on higher levels that I don’t even want to talk about it.
DF: If the president uses his powers and creates a government crisis, how will you act?
B.I: First of all, he cannot create a crisis of government. But if the president comes tomorrow and says he doesn’t have any other option than to dissolve parliament, and he will have this right in April, I as leader of the majority publicly state that we will follow him – the majority won’t attend parliament and we will carry out a new election. Let him say it whenever he wants, and they shouldn’t scare us with this. We do not fear an election, because we speak to people and we know the attitudes of people. They shouldn’t think that we are losing support. On the contrary, we have even more support and we will gain more votes, because we have really good plans and we will solve everything.
DF: The incidents in the regions are very alarming, especially forcing local government representatives to resign. What do you think about this?
B.I: Of course such precedents should be condemned and I promise all these will get within legal frames in the immediate future. We will continue to investigate those cases, and the guilty will be punished, no matter who.
Local government should be strengthened in the future, and we will show in the future what real local government means and what government they will have in the regions. There is work [being done] to this end, and there will soon be legislative amendments which will strengthen local governments, and in addition, it will give the population an opportunity to get involved in making decisions.
DF: What expectations do you have regarding foreign investments, and what sectors are interesting for you?
B.I: My main duty and the hardest goal is to attract investments, create economic growth and create jobs. I have spend more than half of my time somehow moving this process. The head of the investment bank JP Morgan Chase is coming to Georgia and I will speak with him about this. I plan to meet with the presidents of investment banks in Davos. In addition, investments require normal legislation and legal protection.
Three funds will be set up, and I want to present them in Davos. I want to bring JP Morgan and other serious funds here. Establishing those funds will be a beacon which will accelerate the process, and I hope to engage the world’s interesting and serious funds in the investment fund which we will set up. The next fund will be based on private investments, which will help active businessmen in Georgia, and the third one I want to set up, is a new fund for youth in the amount of about 50 million.
DF: Georgia has a really important location in regards to the global economy. It lies in a corridor for oil and gas pipelines. What are the challenges here, and how do you think Georgia can become more important in the region, which will contribute to its defense and energy security?
B.I: Of course this is not simple. We really have an interesting geopolitical location, and of course this potential needs to be used. It is really complicated here, and much work needs to be done, as other countries also try to move the route closer to their states. To put it mildly, the construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway raises questions. I may need to ask questions on this issue during my visit to Azerbaijan and to explain softly to our neighbor country that at a certain stage it may not be beneficial to us and it requires some regulation. It will not be easy, because the process has already started and the construction work is in progress. It needed a good public analysis at the beginning, and experts should be involved in it. It would be easy before starting the construction work, but now it is hard. We should respect our neighbors and obligations undertaken by the previous government, but at the same time there are questions and they require answers.
Our predecessors left us in a unique location and it takes patronage and correct usage, of course we should use it as effectively as possible. We are spending much time on this. My visit to Azerbaijan has this purpose. Then I plan to go to Armenia, and after that, to Turkey.
Kazakhstan is very interesting in Central Asia, and in this regards it may become one of our largest partners.
We will have discussion about transit issues, except political issues with Russia, and this also needs to be put in order. Of course, it will be done according to the interests of our country, not only the interests of one party. I promise and guarantee this to people: that I will do everything, and we will do it transparently. Of course, we will only defend the rights of the country, and not the interests of our political team, and very often, not only in Georgia, but other countries too, such strategic objects were transformed with a priority on only their own pockets.