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Court denies Saakashvili’s release or sentence postponement
On 6 February, the judge of the Tbilisi City Court, Giorgi Arevadze, ruled not to release former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from custody due to his deteriorating health. He also didn’t defer the sentence of the third president.
“Nothing can break me! Now is the time to get angry and fight! It is time to unite all forces! We will not have Georgia handed over to Russia!- wrote Saakashvili on his Facebook page after the court decision was made.
The ex-president’s lawyers demanded that Mikheil Saakashvili be sent abroad for treatment due to his health condition. According to lawyer Shalva Khachapuridze, the defense side will send the complaint to the European Court.
The court proceedings for Mikheil Saakashvili’s request for the postponement of the sentence or the complete release from the sentence have been going on since December of last year.
The European Commission has published reports on alignment with the EU acquis
The European Commission published an analytical report on Georgia. The document refers to Tbilisi’s EU membership application and assesses the extent to which the country can fulfill its obligations. The report is based on responses to EU questionnaires sent to Georgia in 2022.
The analytical report is a structural assessment against the criteria set by the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993 and subsequent European Council conclusions.
This analytical report focuses on Georgia’s alignment of its laws with the acquis in the 33 acquis chapters, except for areas that were covered in detail by the Opinion
The report uses the following assessment scales to describe the state of play: early
stage, some level of preparation, moderately prepared, good level of preparation and well advanced
Georgia is in early stage of preparation in 6 areas, including the competition policy, where the legal basis needs to be perfected.
Georgia has some level of preparation in 17 areas. Despite this, the challenges have been identified in each of the areas that need to be addressed.
According to the assessment, Georgia has some level of preparation to fulfill its obligations in the area of justice, freedom and security. It is emphasized that strategies to fight terrorism and migration are in place.
Georgia is moderately prepared in 9 areas, among those is monetary and credit policy, where the independence of the National Bank is guaranteed by law and confirmed in practice, although it is noted that some legal provisions regarding the independence need to be further clarified and aligned with the EU acquis.
Georgia is also moderately prepared in the field of foreign affairs, security and defense. More efforts are needed to align with the European Union.
Georgia submitted its application for EU membership on 3 March 2022, after which the government received a questionnaire from the European Commission. Georgian authorities gave the completed questionnaire to Brussels in May.
U.S. State Department: resumption of flights with Russia may entail sanctions for companies involved
The U.S. Department of State said in the comments for Voice of America that it would be concerned if flights between Russia and Georgia resumed, given the possible sanctions exposure for companies at Georgia’s airports if they were to service aircraft subject to additional import and export controls.
The Voice of America quotes the U.S. Department of State as saying that many Western nations, including the United States, prohibit Russian planes from entering their airspace. It also noted that the entire Western community has distanced itself from Moscow’s brutal regime and that now is no time to increase engagement with Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke about the possible resumption of flights between Georgia and Russia at the official press conference held in Moscow in January.
Irakli Kobakhidze, the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, welcomed Lavrov’s remarks on the possible resumption of direct flights, saying that many Georgian citizens were negatively affected by Russia’s unilateral suspension of direct flights in 2019. Kobakhidze said that the resumption of flights was important for Georgian citizens and would therefore be “a welcoming development.”
President Salome Zurabishvili criticized the initiative, calling on the government to comprehensively study the issue of Russian citizens’ migration to Georgia. “We need regulations on labor rights, business registration, buying property, or opening a Russian-language school,” she added.
Public attitudes in NDI Polls
The National Democratic Institute (NDI), a U.S.-founded non-profit, released a new public opinion poll on 2 February, showing that support for the EU recovered to 81% after dipping to 75% in the previous August 2022 poll. 73% of Georgians continue to support NATO membership. According to the poll, public dissatisfaction with the ruling and opposition parties continued to grow. A significant dip in opposition UNM support (currently at 6%) was counterbalanced by a 10 percentage-point bump in the assessment of the government’s performance.
Amid current economic challenges, the Georgian public views rising prices/inflation, unemployment, poverty, and low wages as their country’s most critical problems. Every second citizen believes that the Georgian economy is in bad shape, while the majority (51%) doubts the government’s ability to solve economic problems. One in five Georgians is considering emigrating in the coming 12 months to seek job opportunities elsewhere.
The number of respondents who believe that Georgia is going in the right direction increased from 23% to 37%, while the number of citizens who think the country is going in the wrong direction decreased from 44% to 31%. 26% of respondents said that Georgia is not changing (29% in the previous poll). “The biggest positive shift happened among the Georgian Dream supporters,” the pollsters say.
Compared to the September poll, negative assessment of the Georgian economy dropped from 55% to 48%; the number of those respondents who evaluated the Georgian economy as average increased from 38% to 44%. The number of citizens who believe the Georgian economy is in good shape increased from 4% to 6%. Tbilisi residents, opposition supporters, and undecided remain most critical of the state of the economy.
Unemployment (58%), rising prices and inflation (55% – one in five Georgian households struggle to buy food), low wages (40%), poverty (27%), high taxes (26%), depreciation of GEL (20%), high fuel prices (13%) are perceived as main economic problems.
According to the poll, one in five adult Georgians is unemployed and thinks of emigrating. 49% of the unemployed respondents noted that they are looking for a job but cannot find one; 20% said that they could not find a job with a suitable salary; 16% are not interested in a job; 8% are interested in a job, but currently are not looking for it; 5% are looking for a job but cannot find one with suitable working conditions; 3% do not know.
Government job approval increased by 10 percent compared to the previous poll. The number of those respondents who assess the government’s performance as good increased from 41% to 51%. The number of those who assess the government’s performance as bad decreased from 51% to 39%. “Government job approval increased the most amongst undecided, small city and rural residents, as well as the middle age group.”
Compared to the previous poll, more people (61%) say that none of the Georgian parties represent their interests. 31% believe that there is a party that represents their interests. 3% do not know or refuse to answer. Of that 31%, 39% of respondents can not name a party closest to them. 25% name the Georgian Dream, 6% – the United National Movement, and 13% – other parties.
The poll also covers Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Georgians still overwhelmingly blame Russia, but the share of those who choose to differentiate Putin from Russia and blame him, grew from 18% in August, to 25% in December.
The survey was fielded by the Caucasus Resource Research Centers (CRRC) for NDI between December 3 and 20, 2022, with the financial assistance of UKAid. It was conducted through face-to-face interviews nationwide (excluding occupied territories) with 2,519 respondents. The pollsters posted an average margin of error at 1.6%.