Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili said that recent events in breakaway Abkhazia in which de facto president Alexander Ankvab had to resign amid opposition's street protests were “usual staff reshuffle” and allegation about possible Russian hand in those developments is not yet proven.
“Of course we are watching closely developments there. I think at this stage there is no need to create any stir. I think it is usual staff reshuffle,” PM Garibashvili said at a news conference in Tbilisi on June 4.
“It is understandable that it was followed by some speculation that problems might be created to the residents of Gali. We are watching closely [developments] and it will be possible to analyze and make comments on it later,” he said, referring to concerns voiced by some government officials, opposition figures and commentators in Tbilisi that change of government in the breakaway region may affect negatively on ethnic Georgians in Gali; such assumptions mainly stem from the position of those political forces in the breakaway region, which ousted Ankvab and whose hard-line stance over ethnic Georgians in Gali was demonstrated in debates over the issue of passportization.
Asked to specify if he thinks that events in Abkhazia were purely local affair without any Russian involvement, the PM responded: “We all know what process is ongoing in Abkhazia. This is a reshuffle. Let’s wait.”
“We have started reconciliation policy… We have completely changed rhetoric, which was employed by the previous authorities against our Abkhaz and Ossetian brothers. We do not want to create any stir and to make any strong statements,” he added.
When a journalist asked again about Russia’s possible role and cited President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who said on June 3 that there was “clearly” Moscow’s “direct and open interference” in the recent events in Abkhazia, PM Garibashvili responded: “Let’s wait, it needs to be proven, it requires observation and proper analysis.”
“I do not want to make hasty comments on this issue,” he added.
Some commentators in Tbilisi have even suggested that Russia may try to use developments in Abkhazia, particularly vulnerability of ethnic Georgians living in Gali, for mounting pressure on Tbilisi ahead of the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU on June 27.
The opinion is shared by Defense Minister, Irakli Alasania, who was quoted as saying in an interview with Bloomberg on June 4 that “coup” in Abkhazia was staged by the “Russian special services”
“In my point of view it is tied and tailored specifically before the signing of the association agreement of Georgia,” said Alasania, interviewed by Bloomberg in Brussels, where he met his counterparts from NATO member states on June 4.
Speaking earlier on June 4 at a lengthy press conference in Tbilisi, the Georgian PM said that he does not expect Russia “to interfere into process of signature” of the Association Agreement.
“At this stage we do not see any sign suggesting that we should wait for some complications,” the PM said, adding that he sees no link between events in Abkhazia and Georgia’s planned signature of the Association Agreement.
“Georgia is becoming kind of model, which manages to normalize ties with Russia through constructive policy and on the other hand signing of the Association Agreement with Russia,” Garibashvili said.
On this issue President Margvelashvili said on June 3: “We hope that it will not be linked to the Association Agreement… I do not think that it will be used to try punishing Georgia for this choice” to sign the Association Agreement.
On relations with Russia, PM Garibashvili also said that the Georgian government continues its “constructive policy” towards Moscow, which was responded by Moscow’s “reciprocal positive” steps reflected in reopening of the Russian market for Georgian products.
“Our goal is not to make relations tense,” he said. The PM also said that that Tbilisi is ready for high-level talks with Russia, but it needs to be “seriously prepared.”
During his press conference on June 4, PM Garibashvili denied speculation about possible dismissal of State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, Paata Zakareishvili, whose portfolio includes overseeing Tbilisi’s policies over breakaway regions.
“I am not going to replace Paata,” the PM said. “Paata Zakareishvili is working very well, very efficiently and I do not understand why I should replace him.”