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Former coalition allies accuse Ivanishvili of apologising to Putin over Crimea criticism

1 March 2023
Tina Khidasheli, Bidzina Ivanishvili, and Khatuna Samnidze.

Leading members of Georgia’s Republican Party have accused Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili of apologising to Vladimir Putin over their criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

On Tuesday, the party’s head, MP Khatuna Samnidze, revealed that Ivanishvili had been angry with her party in 2014 for criticising the Russian annexation.

The Republicans were original members of the Georgian Dream-led coalition that ousted the United National Movement (UNM) in 2012 — the first peaceful transfer of power in Georgia through elections. They left the coalition along with the Free Democrats before the 2016 parliamentary elections, weakening the liberal and staunchly pro-western flank of the coalition.

Samnidze, who took over the party in 2013 and presently also heads a mixed opposition parliamentary Reform Group, recalled the 2014 events during TV Pirveli’s political show on Tuesday.

‘The Republicans’ Tina Khidasheli and Levan Berdzenishvili made very harsh statements in the Council of Europe in 2014, they made very strong, anti-Russian statements, defended Ukraine’s Crimea, Donbas, and that’s when Bidzina Ivanishvili told […] one of the leaders of the Republican Party that the statements were so harsh that he had to send apologies to Putin’, Samnidze claimed.

In her April 2014 speech at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Republican MP Tinatin Khidasheli lambasted Russia and its delegation at PACE for annexing Crimea by holding a bogus referendum on the peninsula. 

‘We need to call [on] the Russian Federation over and over again that they shall leave Crimea, they should stop provocations in eastern Ukraine, they should stop provoking war, and let Ukraine make its own choices’, Khidasheli said. 

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Tinatin Khidasheli became Georgia’s first woman defence minister in 2015, resigning several months after her party left the Georgian Dream coalition. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

‘All we can do today is to stand firm in support of independent countries unlucky enough to share a border with Russia […] Sooner or later, you will leave Crimea, you will leave Transnistria, you will definitely leave South Ossetia and Abkhazia’, Khidasheli said. 

On the following day, PACE stripped the Russian delegation of voting rights.

The revelations from the Republicans emerged in a period when Georgia's relations with its Western partners plummeted to a nadir, most recently over Georgian Dream's intention to enact a law against ‘foreign agents’. 

[Read on OC Media: Editorial | Only decisive action can save Georgia’s democracy]

Abkhazia instead of NATO

Referring to Ivanishvili’s reaction to speeches of Republicans at PACE in 2014, Khatuna Samnidze clarified that ‘one of their leaders’ to whom Ivanishvili communicated his irritation was Davit Berdzenishvili, a former MP who led the party from 2000–2005. 

Davit Berdzenishvili quickly corroborated Samnidze’s claims.

He also reiterated that his party, together with the Free Democrats, another liberal group that left the coalition earlier, had guaranteed the coalition government did not deviate from its pro-Western foreign policy.

‘Swapping [potential membership of] NATO for Abkhazia — he [Ivanishvili] offered us that too. We clearly replied that it was not up to exchange. He also suggested we would publicly promise an independence referendum to the Abkhaz. We, the Republicans, blocked that too’, Berdzenishvili alleged. 

Davit Berdzenishvili at an anti-government demonstration in November 2020, Tbilisi. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media

The former Republican leader described Ivanishvili’s rule as ‘problematic from the very start’ but insisted it only became ‘dangerous’ in later years. 

[Read also on OC Media: Politicians attacked in Tbilisi over queer support and criticism of Erekle II]