Serious political punch-up in Georgia

One thing you have to say for Irakli Okruashvili: he doesn’t mince words.

In the past, he’s been known for making rather…erm…”forceful” statements, with regard to Ossetian and Abkhazian separatism (“We’ll see the New Year in in Tsinkhvali,” for example,) or on the tolerance of Russian wine consumers for fecal matter. In fact, many speculated that his inability to moderate his statements in public had a lot to do with his removal from the post of Minister of Defense.

Others, however, saw it as a preliminary move by President Saakashvili to pre-empt Okruashvili’s emergence as a credible challenger to his own unrivalled power.

Adherents of both sides of this argument are going to gain sustenance from recent events in Georgia.

The first blow (not counting Okruashvili’s removal from the Ministry of Defense) was struck when Mikheil Kareli, former governor of Shidi Kartli, was arrested for bribery September 23rd. It may or may not surpise you that he is viewed as a friend of Irakli’s.

Next, Dimitri Kitoshvili, Saakashvili’s press secretary and parliamentary secretary, was arrested on charges of extortion. “But that’s Saakashvili’s man,” I hear you say, “and surely his arrest goes against Saakashvili’s interests and is, therefore, likely legitimate, as it would have had to have been carried out with his knowledge?” But, – aha! – it turns out that Mr. Kitoshvili was formerly a partner in a legal practice with Okruashvili, and is felt to have been a sympathiser. “So what?” you say. So this: IF it is true that Saakashvili wants to make sure that Okruashvili will not be a threat to him, he’s not only going to want to see to it that there are no “Okruashvili spies” within his own perimetre; he’s going to want to kill two birds with one stone, removing Kitoshvili AND pre-emptively nailing Okruashvili with a corruption-by-association charge.

Outlandish? I think not, particularly as – on the same day that Okrauashvili made a savage speech, condemning Saakashvili(see below) – the tax authorities opened an investigation into the latter’s acquisition of his office space in Tbilisi.

The speech itself – wow. In the space of 10 minutes, Okruashvili accused Saakashvili of murder, corruption, weakness, incompetance, fascism and hatred of the Georgian Orthodox Church. In short, something to un-appeal to everyone. Perhaps his time ran out before he could claim that Saakashvili eats babies, kicks kittens and framed the Grinch over that whole Christmas thing.

Now, I’m no fan of either of them. I don’t go for this “good guy Misha” act of Saakashvili’s, or for his demagoguery (though I guess it works, if he gets 96% in elections, and arrests swathes of oppositionists on charges of treason, without anyone in the West batting an eye.) Nor am I particularly fond of Okruashvili’s boorishness and visible tendency to believe his own hype as a military genius (a weakness of many purely civilian defense officials.)

These two are obviously shaping up for a cataclysmic battle in the Georgian political space and it promises to be highly entertaining, in a horrifying way. If this is the beginning, what can we expect to see by the end?

I’m still in shock from the savagery of Okruashvili’s speech. I imagine that his supporters will say that the tone and the accusations are entirely justified by the acute horror into which Saakashvili has plunged Georgia (which even I don’t believe he’s done.) My only question would be: “Why has Mr. O taken such an irredeemable step?” With the things he’s said, there’s no going back, no wiggle room, no way of saying he “misspoke” (a word for which Larry Speakes should burn in hell forever.)

It would seem to come down to two very stark choices: either Saakashvili, in some way, resembles the wholly unflattering painted by Okruashvili, or it is the latter who is a lying scumbag.

Conspiracy theorists take note: I have discarded the idea that it all may be intended to fool Russians.

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