The ruling party have since last week been accusing their rival politicians of seeking to have a Russian military invasion in Georgia ‘like in 2008’.
Chairing a cabinet meeting on Friday, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili accused opposition groups — which he labelled ‘marginal-destructive’ and ‘radical’ — of seeking a Russian military invasion in Georgia too.
‘I am sure they are very frustrated that there’s no war here today. Has anyone thought where we would be if [third Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili was in power? The war would first start in Tbilisi, then — in Kyiv’.
While public sentiment in Georgia has been highly critical of the Russian Federation for invading Georgia following a flare-up in South Ossetia in August 2008, the issue of whether Georgian authorities did everything in their power to prevent it remains contested and highly polarising.
Gharibashvili today reiterated a point that his party have consistently made against the former government they replaced in 2012.
‘What is happening in Ukraine is well familiar to us. We experienced it much earlier, in 2008. It’s very unfortunate that the radical opposition is happy about the war in Ukraine […] We should say it directly: their goal is the same disaster to happen in Georgia, like the one they failed to avert for their people and country in 2008’.
The accusations against unspecified ‘opposition’ came after most opposition groups, both parliamentary and non-parliamentary, berated Gharibashvili for his refusal to join other countries in sanctioning Russia and for not closing Georgia’s airspace to Russian planes, as most of Europe has done.
[Read more on OC Media: Georgian government refuses to introduce sanctions on Russia]
Gharibashvili reminded the public on Monday that Georgia was heavily dependent on Russia, in terms of agricultural exports, income from Russian tourists, and remittances from ‘1 million Georgians’ living in Russia.
‘So what are they asking from me? To put sanctions on my own people?’, Gharibashvili asked during the cabinet meeting.
Russia’s military actions in Ukraine and Gharibashvli’s language on the matter, especially on 25 February, the commemorative day of the Soviet occupation of Georgia, have galvanised the daily protests in central Tbilisi against the invasion.
Several civil activist groups, most prominently the Shame Movement, have advocated for ‘popular sanctions’ against Russia, including a call to Georgians to abstain from buying Russian products.
Georgians frustrated with their government’s response have also demanded curbs on ‘Russian propaganda’ in Georgia.
‘Talk about blocking Russian propaganda media channels! Gharibashvili is the main Kremlin propagandist in Georgia and first and foremost, he should be prohibited to speak in the country’s name’, Nika Melia, chair of the largest opposition group the United National Movement (UNM) said in response to the calls.
In his speech on Monday, Gharibashvili also doubled down on his remarks on sanctions against Russia.
‘There is a huge war going on in Europe, in the biggest state in Europe. Ukraine’s capital city is being bombed and there’s no one to stop it and let’s put it plainly that sanctions are not effective’, he said.
Earlier, on 23 February, hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, Gharibashvili criticised the supply of arms to Ukraine while also noting that ‘America was the biggest donor in this direction and made the biggest contribution’.
Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria took her frustration with the Prime Minister’s rhetoric to Facebook.
‘No one asks you to become Zelenzky. Just be silent! Don't embarrass us!’, she said.