Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili | Beso Gulashvili/Presidential Press Service, via Associated Press

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili | Beso Gulashvili/Presidential Press Service, via Associated Press

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili made a direct appeal to Russia to normalise bilateral relations. His statement appeared on 9 March and immediately caused an uproar amid the opposition. As Kvirikashvili wrote directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin, ‘our two countries have mostly re-established trade and economic relations, but a chain of tragic events has undermined the prospects for further normalisation’. These ‘tragic events’ refer to the arrest in late February 2018 of a Georgian citizen named Archil Tatunashvili by South Ossetian border guards. Tatunashvili is suspected by the breakaway province of Georgia, which drifted away from Tbilisi towards self-proclaimed independence a decade ago, of participating in combat operations during the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war. He died under mysterious circumstances in a hospital on the day following his arrest.

The main goal of Kvirikashvili’s message appears to have facilitated the transfer of Tatunashvili’s body into Georgian territory so that he can be buried by his family (this has yet to materialise). However, Kvirikashvili also openly hinted at a possibility of engaging in direct dialogue with both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a second breakaway region. The Russo-Georgian peace process has been underway in Geneva since the late 2000s but has failed to yield tangible results. The Georgian premier said he was willing to come in person to Geneva to meet with Russian representatives in order to discuss the normalisation of the situation in the South Caucasus on a ‘mutually advantageous basis’.

The opposition led by former president Mikhail Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) criticised Kvirikashvili for ‘selling out’ the country’s national interests to Russia, and even called for his resignation. However, it quickly watered down its demands and in a collective open letter authored by 12 parties asked Kvirikashvili to present a detailed report on ‘de-occupation’ from Russian military presence; include the opposition in Russian-Georgian peace talks; and issue through Georgian Dream a parliamentary resolution condemning human rights violations in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The fourth, and final, demand consisted in creating a local equivalent of the Magnitsky Act, which has enabled the US authorities to impose targeted sanctions against Russian citizens responsible for corruption and human rights abuse.

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