Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has imposed sanctions on relatives of the founder and former leader of the ruling Georgian political party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, according to a decree issued on 19e October. The approval of the decision of the National Security and Defense Council introduces a list of 256 people, who have been subject to special economic and operational measures. Having a supposedly close relationship with the Russian Federation has resulted in blocking of assets, restrictions on business operations or withdrawal of capital held by businessmen, politicians and family members.
“We are talking about specific family members. This is an attempt to blackmail Georgia in order to involve it in the war to open a second front here”, declares the chairman of the Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze. Conversely, opposition leaders encourage the Ukrainian government to extend the scope of sanctions to Bidzina Ivanishvili himself. “The Ivanishvili family is involved in the process of circumventing the sanctions imposed by the West. Ivanishvili is nothing more, nothing less, than an ally of Putin and an enemy of the democratic world,” commented National Movement party chairman Nika Melia.
The widening gap between Ukraine and Georgia is gradually widening. The Georgian Dream party has normalized this ambiguous political discourse in the country. On the one hand, the Georgian government has declared its support and solidarity with Ukraine, while on the other hand, the government has decided not to impose sanctions on Russia and is suing the opposition leaders, who simultaneously hold Ukrainian citizenship. The list of defendants who have been convicted, usually in absentia, includes former President Mikheil Saakashvili and former Justice Minister Nika Gvarmia. According to Amnesty International, Nika Gvarmia has been the victim of a national campaign of persecution against dissidents.
The high-level defamation of Ivanishvili is rooted in the pervasive contestation of the actions undertaken by the Georgian Dream political party and its interests. The lack of freedom, growing repressive policies and Tbilisi’s refusal to support Western sanctions against Russia have aroused distrust and anger in the European Union. Consequently, diplomatic tensions and international pressure continue to mount. Georgia is no longer the next to be admitted to the European Union, overtaken by Moldova and Ukraine. Among the reasons, the European Commission cited Ivanishvili’s “personal and business ties to the Kremlin, underscoring his contribution to the relentless decline of democratic standards in Tbilisi.”
Georgia’s breakaway republics in South Ossetia and Abkhazia add further complexity to an already delicate situation. Moscow’s act of aggression in 2008 resulted in the de facto occupation of these territories by the Russian military. It is rather surprising that Georgian Dream politicians are unwilling to impose sanctions on Putin’s regime, given that President Dmitry Medvedev’s illegal recognition of breakaway republics has caused immense economic damage and polarization in Georgia.
Georgia’s ambiguous position vis-à-vis the Russian-Ukrainian war is causing confusion and frustration on the international scene. Tbilisi once aspired to EU membership, but it is not slowly moving away from European integration. Despite overwhelming support for ‘Westernization’ among Caucasus residents, Ukraine’s decision to punish Bidzina Ivanishvili not only drives a wedge between Tbilisi and Kyiv, but also jeopardizes Georgia’s bid for the EU.
The nadir of bilateral relations demands immediate solutions. In the face of dissent, Ukraine and Georgia will give priority to opening an intensive dialogue. In order to facilitate the progress of the negotiations, a third party, for example the representative of the EU, could be invited to break the deadlock.