(From left to right) USS Bulkeley’s Commanding Officer Matthew A. Phillips; PM Ivanishvili; U.S. ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland and President Saakashvili on the U.S. navy ship, Bulkeley, which makes a port call in Batumi. Photo: PM's press office.
President Saakashvili and PM Ivanishvili made a rare joint appearance on Sunday evening when they visited the U.S. navy ship, Bulkeley, which makes a four-day port call in Batumi, during which the two exchanged barbs highlighting tense political cohabitation.
In his speech at the reception hosted by the warship’s command and U.S. ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland, President Saakashvili suggested that PM Ivanishvili either “does not love Georgia or has other kind of problems or is in alliance with Georgia’s enemy” and the Prime Minister told the President that he was personally responsible for the August, 2008 war.
In extracts from Saakashvili’s speech at the reception, released by the President’s office, he comments on PM’s some of the statements, including on those made in a speech in Gori on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the August, 2008 war in which Ivanishvili said that “the Georgian side has its share of responsibility for letting things the way they developed” in lead up to the August war.
PM Ivanishvili was reacting on Saakashvili’s remarks mainly by ironic gestures and smiles and occasionally by exchanging whispers with the U.S. ambassador, who was standing next to him as the President was delivering speech at a rostrum. But at one point Ivanishvili intervened by telling Saakashvili that it was him who was responsible for the August war.
“The Prime Minister said that we meet the fact that barbed wire fences are being moved [deeper into the Georgian-controlled areas] at several locations [across the South Ossetian administrative boundary line] with calm,” Saakashvili said. “Of course for those people who have been deprived of their farmlands… it is difficult to accept it with calm and I hope the Prime Minister will understand those people.”
“Today I was in Ganmukhuri [a village on the Abkhaz administrative border]… I want to tell everyone that if Russians move their barbed wire fences in Ganmukhuri to grab this prosperous [village], I, as the President and the citizen, will not look at it with calm and will not either look with calm at those who will accept [losing of Ganmukhuri] with calm… Of course I am not calling anyone for going into war with anyone, especially with Russia, but we should spend less time on confrontation between each other on the international arena,” Saakashvili said.
“In this same speech I heard [from the Prime Minister] that Russia is an aggressor – it is something that should be welcomed; that’s the right thesis; but at the same time it was said that the Georgian side also bears responsibility for the war. I want to say couple of words about the responsibility, because of course I bear responsibility and each of us bears responsibility and I will now speak what kind of responsibility it is.”
He said that recently he met families of some of the fallen Georgian soldiers, whose family members now continue serving in the Georgian armed forces. “They continue serving for Georgia with responsibility… We all welcome this kind of responsibility,” Saakashvili said.
“I strongly reject that Georgia bears any responsibility for the August 2008 war and I want to categorically tell you batono [a polite form of addressing a man in Georgia] Bidzina, I hope you will think over this issue…” Saakashvili said.
As Saakashvili was saying it, in parallel PM Ivanishvili, who was standing behind him next to the U.S. ambassador, responded by pointing finger at Saakashvili: “Georgia bears no [responsibility], but you do, you personally.”
“…I hope you will think over this issue,” Saakashvili continued, “because the one, who says it, either does not love Georgia or has other kind of problems or is in alliance with Georgia’s enemy.”
“I hope that you are not in alliance with Georgia’s enemy, I hope that you too realize your responsibility before the future of Georgia and before those fallen soldiers, who saved the Georgian statehood,” Saakashvili said.
In his speech President Saakashvili also said that it was important that representatives of various political groups were standing together on the U.S. warship.
In a separate, short video footage from the reception, released by President’s office, PM Ivanishvili asks President Saakashvili, pointing on a red poppy brooch on Saakashvili’s suit: “What’s that attached on your [left lapel of jacket]?”
“I’ll manage to get one for you,” Saakashvili responded smiling.
“What’s that, what does it mean?” Ivanishvili asked again.
“It’s a symbol in memory of our guys, fallen [in the August 2008 war],” Saakashvili responded.
U.S. ambassador, Richard Norland, then intervened by thanking both of them for being at the reception and by making a toast for “success of U.S.-Georgia security cooperation.”
In his speech at the reception, PM Ivanishvili mainly spoke of U.S.-Georgia cooperation, expressing appreciation for the U.S. support to Georgia’s democracy and the armed forces.
“The Georgian people will never forget friendly support provided by our strategic partner,” Ivanishvili said. “We will always be a dignified partner… The new leadership will do everything possible with new energy to make Georgia genuinely democratic and strong country. I assure you that you will be proud of your friend [Georgia] and with strong and democratic Georgia.”
Commenting on President Saakashvili’s speech, parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili, who was also present at the reception on the U.S. warship, said that the President broke with protocol by raising “off-topic issues” in his speech.
“Regrettably, the Georgian President once again managed to violate all the rules of such events for which I had to apologize before our hosts. Such events have specific topics, but unfortunately, the Georgian President is disregarding such issues and raised off-topic issues; but we’ve got used to it already,” Usupashvili said.
The last time President Saakashvili and PM Ivanishvili met was in earlier March when they held face-to-face talks, a second one of this kind since the October 2012 parliamentary elections; the first talks between Ivanishvili and Saakashvili since the elections was held on October 9. In between of those two meetings, the President and the PM made a joint appearance at a reception hosted by the Georgian Patriarchate marking the Orthodox New Year in mid-January.