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Issue no: 1031

• MARCH 16 - 19, 2018



In this week’s issue... Asian Stink Bugs Cause Russia to Ban Imports from Breakaway Abkhazia NEWS PAGE 2

Head of the National Environmental Agency Quits after Internal Disagreement POLITICS PAGE 4


MEP Mamikins reconfirms the EU's positive position on Georgia in exclusive interview


De Facto Abkhazia Says Direct Dialogue Possible if Non-Force Agreement Signed POLITICS PAGE 9

TBC Bank Launches TBC Wallet for Payment via Smartphone

Georgian PM Offers Explanation over His Appeal to Russia BY THEA MORRISON



Georgian School Kids Being Targeted by Global Tobacco Companies: New Campaign to Raise Awareness

eorgian Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili has offered an explanation regarding his March 9 address to Russia, which caused diverse reaction among Georgian political parties. Kvirikasvili's statement, made on March 14, reads that the death of Georgian citizen Archil Tatunashvil, in Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia, and detention of two more citizens by occupant forces, is a grievous fact. Continued on page 2

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Georgian Tenor Conquers Biel & Solothurn Theaters CULTURE PAGE 15

“We’ll have more Georgian players in the NBA in a couple of years” SPORTS PAGE 15




MARCH 16 - 19, 2018

Georgian President in Washington Asian Stink Bugs Talks US, NATO, Russia in Interview Cause Russia to with Foreign Policy Magazine Ban Imports from Breakaway Abkhazia BY THEA MORRISON


ussia’s Rosselkhoznadzor (Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance) has imposed a ban on the import of vegetables and fruit from Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia region due to the dangerous agriculture pest – Asian stink bugs. The Russian side made the decision in order to prevent the spread of the pest onto the Russian territory from occupied Abkhazia. The information was released by the Sputnik Abkhazia media outlet. Head of Plant Quarantine Inspection of the de facto republic, Arkady Jinjia told media that the pest appeared in 2016, and inflicted significant damage in the Gali District. In 2017, he said the bugs spread across to the whole territory of the occupied region and left locals without their main source of income, the nut harvest. "I don’t think we should be afraid of this ban, since it is temporary. The decision provides for the banning of more than five kilograms of fruit and vegetables in hand luggage,” Jinjia told Sputnik Abkhazia.

However, it is still unclear how long the ban will last, as Asian stink bugs (Brown marmorated stink bugs) multiply rapidly, making the elimination process difficult and sometimes known to take years. Jinjia stated that the Asian bugs came onto the territory of Abkhazia. He added that the de facto government is working on a plan to eliminate the bugs in order to resume exports to their largest market – Russia. According to Georgian media, last year the de facto authorities of Abkhazia spent around 25 million Russian Rubles ($4.3 million) in the fight against Asian stink bugs, but without any tangible success, as the pest has doubled in the region this year. Asian stink bugs are also proving a serious problem in Georgia. First reported in Georgia in 2015, in 2016 the bugs destroyed a significant amount of the hazelnut harvest of western Georgia, increasing in number again last year. The Georgian government has adopted the ‘Strategy against Brown Marmorated Bugs 2018,’ which includes four main directions: information campaign, implementation of the monitoring system, stink bug control measures and scientific research works.

Image source: RFE/RL



resident Margvelashvili is meeting members of Congress and making appearances at think tanks in Washington this week. In an interview with FOREIGN POLICY, he talked about the goals of his visit, US-Georgia relations and Tbilisi’s NATO aspirations, amongst other topics. Margvelashvili explained that he was looking not only to accelerate and upgrade bilateral relations, but to emphasize military cooperation too. We are “looking to really accelerate and upgrade our bilateral [relations]. Because we have quite an impressive cooperation developed during the past year with the vice president’s visit, with the visit with the senators on both sides of the aisle, then continued with appropriate declarations from the Hill. We

should very much emphasize also the military cooperation. All of this is extremely positive. Yet, we need to further the process. Let’s put it this way: We’ve seen support for Georgia, but the support was not enough for Russia to refrain from [its activities in] Ukraine,” he said. On the subject of Georgia’s NATO aspirations, Marvelashvili told FOREIGN POLICY staff writer Emily Tamkin that “Georgia has basically done everything that was a requirement for our country, in the context of reforms, in the context of — well, any kind of the “to-do list” that has been given by NATO to Georgia during these 10 years has been accomplished completely and acknowledged by NATO. And we have to mention our standing together on the battlefields. We have done everything on our side and contributed strongly to global security, while we don’t enjoy ourselves the benefits of global security. That’s where we are right now.”

Margvelashvili also commented on the positive relationship that Tbilisi has had with the Trump administration, and Georgia’s relationship with Russia. “The situation with Moscow is stalled. We have been hoping that at some point Moscow would start looking not from the perspective of tension and confrontation, but from a perspective of really bringing a better future for the peoples that are living within Georgia, within the occupied parts of Georgia, [and] the peoples that are living in Russia. But we don’t think that, really, this time and moment and phase of Russian history is the right moment to expect that sentiment to emerge within Russia’s highest circles. With President Putin’s re-election campaign, we see quite the opposite: the rhetoric of the Cold War. “On the Trump administration side, 2017 was a total positive… our experience with the Trump administration on Georgia-related issues has been positive,” he told FOREIGN POLICY.

Georgian PM Offers Explanation over His Appeal to Russia Continued from page 1

“We urged the international community to engage in this process. I also addressed the Russian Federation with a special statement. As of today, our two compatriots have been released, and have returned to their families, which is undoubtedly good. Unfortunately, however, the body of Tatunashvili has yet to

be transported,” the statement reads. The PM said that over recent days, he has encountered a number of “ridiculous” assessments of his previous statement. “I would like to state unequivocally that our every step serves our country's interests, and when our country needs it- when we are talking about averting serious provocations and ensuring stability in the country- we, the politicians, must do our

best to defuse tension, even though it may take a toll on our image,” he explained. Kvirikashvili believes that statements some politicians made recently could harm the image of the country. “We will do our best to ensure the unwavering and consistent protection of our country's interests, fulfill the mandate granted to us by our population, and to provide stable living conditions

in the country,” the PM assured. Kvirikashvili also mentioned the response received from the Russian Federation, which reads that “nobody should have doubts that Russia is interested in improving relations with neighboring Georgia and is ready to go as far as Tbilisi is.” The PM believes that, despite some unacceptable messages in the response, it does create room for talks.

“We must do everything in our power to put in place room for talks. There is the format of the Geneva International Discussions, and we must take steps under this format to achieve progress, however small. This small progress is the source of stability in Georgia, and if there is anything our country needs in this unstable world today it is the ability to live in stability,” he added.




Georgian NGOs Call for "Suitable" Policy for Russia BY THEA MORRISON


eorgia-based Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), united under the Coalition for Euro-Atlantic Georgia, have released a joint address to the Georgian government, emphasizing the necessity to set up an “adequate” policy for Russia. The NGOs released the statement in response to the recent public discussions over the controversial Georgian-Russian relations as well as to statements made by Georgia's highest-ranking officials and their reaction to “yet another aggressive action committed by the Russian Government.” The organizations underlined the recent developments regarding the death of Georgian citizen, Archil Tatunashvili in unclear circumstances on February 23 in Georgia’s occupied and Russian-backed South Ossetia (Tskhinvali) region. They noted that despite the effort of Georgia’s governmental and civil sector, his body has yet to be transferred to Georgia. “This once again shows that Russia is an aggressor manipulating human tragedies,” the statement says. In parallel, the NGOs welcomed the release of Ioseb Pavliashvili and Levan Kutashvili, detained along with Tatunashvili by occupant forces, adding their release would have been impossible

without the efforts made by the Georgian public and countries friendly to Georgia. “We welcome the resolution planned to be passed by European Parliament as a result of the Georgian delegation's activities, the US State Department's support for Georgia as well as the firm position assumed by the representatives of various European institutions and countries with regard to the Russian government's aggressive actions,” the statement reads. The civil sector says that the recent appeal of the Georgian Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili towards Russia, in which he calls on Russia to have a "constructive approach" to the direct dialogue with Abkhazians and Ossetians in the context of the Geneva International Discussions, is difficult to understand. “His message regarding readiness to "take other reasonable steps" is no less

ambiguous. It is incomprehensible what the Georgian government is trying to achieve by making such statements,” the NGOs note. The non-governmental sector says the expectations that Russia will suddenly change its approach to Georgia and start carrying out responsible policy, are “exaggerated.” “The Prime Minister's statement sent an ambiguous message to the public, suggesting that there is still a realistic chance that Russia will relinquish its aggressive intentions regarding Georgia, act out of consideration for our country's interests and ‘allow’ us to regain our lost territories,” the statement reads. The NGOs also negatively assessed the response of the Kremlin to Kvirikashvili’s letter, which reads that “nobody should have doubts that Russia is interested in improving relations with neigh-

boring Georgia and is ready to go as far as Tbilisi is.” The organizations believe Russia’s response was “cynical and threatening in content” rather than a positive answer to the cooperation offered by the Georgian PM. “The Georgian government's messages are not clear, resulting in confusion and a feeling of powerlessness among the public,” they added. The Georgian non-governmental sector believes that the Geneva International Talks, the only format for direct dialogue between Russia and Georgia since the August War 2008, is efficient, however, they question the effectiveness of another Russia-Georgia format, the so called Abashidze-Karasin meetings, claiming it a “non-transparent format” which does not involve international actors, and potentially involving significant risks for

Georgia's interests. The Coalition for Euro-Atlantic Georgia is calling on the Georgian government to provide the public with concrete information about the vision of addressing the prevailing challenges and the corresponding plans with regard to future relations with Russia. It also welcomes the discussion in the Parliament of Georgia concerning the adoption of an extraordinary resolution. “We call on the parties to put aside their disagreements and unite their efforts as soon as possible to pass a resolution defending Georgia's interests which, in addition to evaluating the actions of the occupying regime of the Russian Federation and the agencies under its effective control, will also aim to introduce effective sanction instruments to respond to the crimes that they commit,” the NGOs said.




MARCH 16 - 19, 2018

One Dead, One Poisoned & 23 Exiled: The Russian Spy Scandal So Far BY TOM DAY


t began on the afternoon of March 4 in Sailsbury, United Kingdom, when Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench next to a shopping mall. They were moved to hospital where they are now fighting for their lives. A witness claimed to have seen the woman frothing at the mouth with her eyes “wide open but completely white.” He added that “the man went stiff, his arms stopped moving but he was still looking dead straight.” Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson did not place blame on any parties but said that Russia was “a malign and disruptive force.” He added that the UK would respond “robustly” if any evidence of Russian involvement was found. Russia denied involvement and said that it had “no information” about what could have caused the incident, and that they were open to working with British police if required. The Russian Embassy in London said “media reports create an impression of a planned operation by the Russian special services, which is completely untrue.” Sergei Skripal is a former Russian Colonel who was convicted of spying for the UK. His family told reporters that he believed the Russian Secret Service might come after him at any time. Mr. Skripal’s wife, brother and son have died, some under suspicious circumstances, over the past two years. Just eight days later, Nikolai Glushkov,

Sergei Skripal fighting for his life as PM May confronts Russia. Source: newshub.co.nz

68, who was associated with a leading critic of Vladamir Putin, was found dead in London. Police said his death was “unexplained.” “A post-mortem examination will be held in due course,” police said at the time. “The death is currently being treated as unexplained.” He was a good friend of exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, and a friend of former officer of the Russian FSB, Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered in the UK in 2006. Mr. Berezovsky was found dead in his bathroom in 2013; police found no signs of a struggle.

Mr Glushkov commented at the time, saying, “I don't believe Boris died of natural causes. Too many deaths [of Russian exiles] have been happening.” Mr Berezovsky’s death is one of up to 14 under review by police and MI5, following the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter. The Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May, said regarding the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, that it was “highly likely” Russia was responsible. She added that if there was no “credible response” by midnight on March 13, the UK would conclude there was an “unlaw-

ful use of force” by Russia. “Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others,” she added. After a failure to respond credibly, Mrs. May on Wednesday gave 23 Russian diplomats one week to leave the country and has suspended bilateral relations with Moscow and toughened sanctions against Russia. May described it as the biggest single expulsion in 30 years. She told Parliament that there can be

“no alternative conclusion” other than the Russian state being responsible for the actions. Furthermore, Britain is to freeze Russian assets if there is evidence they are being used to compromise British security, and the government will enact a new targeted power to detain people suspected of hostile state activity at the borders. The UK is also to increase checks on private flights, customs and freight from Russia. The Prime Minister confirmed that members of the Royal family would not attend the upcoming World Cup in Russia. May's statement followed a joint declaration by all 29 NATO countries calling on Russia to “address the UK’s questions” about the attack and warned that any use of nerve agents would be a “threat to international peace and security.” Spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said May's statement was “an unprecedentedly crude provocation.” She added it was “categorically unacceptable and unworthy” and that the UK government had “seriously aggravated” relations by announcing a “whole set of hostile measures.” Russia has also accused the UK of breaching the chemical weapons convention by refusing to supply a sample of the nerve agent used against Skripal. Zakharova called the UK “fully-fledged liars." She added that it has no idea about professionalism or diplomacy, and that Russia would take “fitting... symmetrical measures that are completely appropriate for the situation.”

Head of the National Environmental Agency Quits after Internal Disagreement BY THEA MORRISON


he Head of Georgia’s National Environmental Agency, Tamar Bagratia has resigned. She says the reason she quit her post was a disagreement with the leadership of Georgia’s Environment Protection and Agriculture Ministry. The Head of Georgia’s National Environmental Agency claims she was the victim of psychological pressure from the Deputy Environment Protection and Agriculture Minister. Bagratia explains that she was not planning on resigning, but the Deputy Environment Protection and Agriculture Minister, Nino Tandilashvili, within the frames of the reorganization, urged her to appoint a concrete person to the post of the First Deputy Head of Georgia’s National Environmental Agency. Bagratia did not consider this person

eligible for the position and noted that it would have been wrong for her to directly appoint a certain person to such a high-rank position, as a competition had already been announced. “I think that persons in such positions should be selected through competition

and I had to write a request to resign to avoid further complications,” the former Head of the National Environmental Agency stated. Bagratia added that after she quit, the pressure continued on her deputy Ramaz Gerliani, who also wrote a resignation let-

ter to avoid fulfillment of the instructions of the Deputy Environment Minister. The former Head of the Environmental Agency claims she has saved messages from Tandilashvili which prove that the Deputy Minister was putting pressure on her. Following the resignation of Bagratia and her deputy, Georgia’s National Environmental Agency is now left without leadership. Georgian media reports that Tandilashvili denies Bagratia’s allegations but has yet to make an official statement. The Chair of Georgian Parliament’s Committee on Environment Protection and Natural Resources, Kakha Kuchava, says he learned about Bagratia’s resignation only recently and is not aware enough of the case details to comment. “We should wait for the explanations from the Deputy Environment Minister and only after this make comments on the issue,” Kuchava said, adding that the Committee had a very fruitful and constructive relationship with Bagratia.

Tamar Bagratia was working on the position of the Head Georgia’s National Environmental Agency for three years. GEORGIA TODAY contacted Ms Bagratia for an exclusive comment. “Deputy Minister Nino Tandilashvili was exerting psychological pressure on me, urging me to appoint a certain person as my Deputy,” she told us. “She didn’t specify what the consequences would be if I didn’t fulfill her request, but I have kept our entire text conversation. I decided to resign after careful consideration of the stressful circumstances. I haven’t decided if I will take this further, legally. Let’s see how the situation develops.” The National Environmental Agency is a legal entity of the public law under the Ministry of Environment and Agriculture Georgia, which was set up as an Agency on June 31 of 2008. The Agency is impartial from the public governance bodies, implementing its activities independently, but subject to control from the State.

Georgia’s Margvelashvili Holds High-Rank Meetings in US BY THEA MORRISON


n order to strengthen the United States’ support for Georgia's security and promote Georgia's NATO integration process, the Georgian President held high-rank meetings in Washington March 12-16. “The bipartisan support of the US Congress to Georgia will be further strengthened,” the President stated after meeting the US congressman Nancy Pelosi on March 14. The sides discussed Georgia’s role in international NATO-led peace keeping missions and recent developments in

Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Tskhinvali) as well as the tragic death of Georgian citizen Archil Tatunashvili in Russianoccupied Tskhinvali. The Georgian President also met Gerald Connolly at Congress to discuss the challenges facing Georgia and the region. He thanked Mr. Connolly for the firm support of Georgia's territorial integrity and EuroAtlantic integration that has repeatedly been expressed when initiating and adopting resolutions related to Georgia. President Margvelashvili highlighted that it is crucial to once again consolidate international support for Georgia's territorial integrity and Euro-Atlantic integration and denounce the Russian

occupation. Margvelashvili also held a meeting at the Senate to discuss the importance of consolidating strong support for Georgia’s security and preparation for the upcoming NATO Summit. At the meeting with Robert Menendez, Bob Corker and Jeanne Shaheen, President Margvelashvili spoken about the security situation in the region. He stressed that it is important to strengthen US-Georgia cooperation and strategic partnership in the security sphere in order for the outcomes of this cooperation to become more tangible. "Considering the current security challenges and Georgia’s preparation for the upcoming NATO Summit, US

support is much needed to neutralize the threats facing the country,” the President said. “We have an ambition for Georgia to become a NATO member. We declare that we deserve this membership and we will spare no efforts to make this goal a reality for Georgia," Margvelashvili added. Within the frames of the visit, the Georgian President also held a meeting with the Atlantic Council, NDI and IRI leaderships to discuss Georgia-US bilateral cooperation, strategic partnership and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic course. He also addressed the think tank and expert community at the Hudson Institute, and met the Georgetown Univer-

sity students, where he spoke about the Russian aggressive policy towards Georgia and about Georgia’s EuroAtlantic aspirations. The President of Georgia held a reception at the Embassy of Georgia in Washington and, together with the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Georgia to the United States, David Bakradze, hosted an event for the Georgian diaspora to celebrate a historic occasion, the 100th anniversary of the First Georgian Republic. "This visit aims at intensifying a dialogue with a State that has become powerful by recognizing not only its own, but the freedoms of other nations," Margvelashvili said.




The Brazen Bear & the UK Poisonings OP-ED BY TIM OGDEN


’m not much of a scientist and have only two accomplishments in the lab to my name. Firstly, I managed to survive the enforced study of Chemistry, Physics and Biology from the ages of 11 to 16 without blowing anything (or anyone) up. The other was when, for reasons still beyond my understanding, I set a stack of paper towels on fire. Why and how I did this I am not sure – I did not really know why I did it back then, so it is not a fault of memory. My achievement here was that the teacher didn’t seem to think I was responsible, and subsequently my social status amongst my fellow-science peers was elevated. And no, I never understood how high-school worked either. So, as the world mourns the death of the great Stephen Hawking yesterday, I can only really claim to have admired the man at a distance for his undoubted genius and his unbreakable will in coping with ALS. I have never read one of his books, even; A Brief History of Time seemed a damned contradictory title to me. How can time itself have a history? And how can history be brief? At that point I thought if I can’t even get past the cover, this probably wasn’t one for me, and promptly went back to re-reading my books about World War 2, Napoleon, and almost every other era in which people have felt the need to slaughter each other. Damn fine. But one thing that he said did resonate with me. Hawking was quoted as saying that space colonization was of the utmost importance since humanity was bound to destroy itself over the next two centuries. Well, if what is going on in the world today was enough to concern the

Great Mind, then book Ogden a one-way ticket to space and I’ll take my chances with the Martians, thank’ee. I think that the West might just now be waking up to the real danger posed by Russia. With one Russian defector dead and another sure to follow, both in England and in as many weeks, the alarm bells are now ringing, not least because the first was infected with a deadly nerve agent that has gone on to harm bystander Britons. Furthermore, President Putin has recently exhibited Russia’s new nuclear weapons which he claims can defeat all Western countermeasures. Well, clearly no one invests in something like that just to scare burglars. But what I think is truly alarming is that the West still doesn’t understand that Russia simply doesn’t care. I was talking to one man from England whom I hadn’t seen for years and he – like many others – was saying Moscow was being prematurely blamed. “Why would they risk the international condemnation?” he scoffed. “There’s no logic to it.” At this point I would have lifted him and shaken him by the collar had our correspondence not been online; has Russia not shown time and time again they could not care less about international condemnation? The use of a Russiandesigned and produced nerve agent on Sergei Skripal can hardly even be plausibly denied – they are simply not trying. Admittedly, the opinion the man I spoke to won’t reflect the views of politicians or professional diplomats…but they are still closer than one might think at first glance. I’ve no doubt that the Westernimposed sanctions were put in place with the view to decrease the United Russia party’s popularity – after all, it would have worked anywhere else. The Russians, however, just seem to further support their leader when they feel he

The British Prime Minister roars against the alleged Russian attacks. But does Russia care?

is under attack from outsiders. Perhaps Western politicians, such as Russian super fan Donald Trump, believe that because they wear similar suits and belong to a culture which, while unfamiliar, is not entirely alien, their national mentality is not so far removed. Personally, I would go so far as to say that their mindset is every bit as different as an extremist Muslim looking to blow himself up.

So given that economic sanctions against Moscow haven’t worked at all, I don’t imagine Putin will be quaking in his boots over Theresa May’s expulsion of a few dozen diplomats who could be using their diplomatic immunity for espionage purposes. I highly doubt any Russian diplomat legally registered in Britain would be responsible for attacking a defector; their really dangerous agents will never be found or seen (just

Google ‘Directorate S’ if you’re not worried enough already). Of course, although Russia might well respect a more robust response, this naturally carries the risk of escalation, and between them, Putin and Trump might be mad enough to push a red button. But I hope the West finds its courage soon, for Moscow is only becoming more brazen, and their current anti-Putin tactics could not be working any worse.

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MARCH 16 - 19, 2018

What Could Putin’s Re-Election Mean for Georgia OP-ED BY EMIL AVDALIANI


his Sunday, Russia will be choosing a president. The likely winner is the incumbent leader, Vladimir Putin, making his the longest rule since Stalin’s. But this next is set to be a far different term for Putin and the Russians. In foreign policy, Russia is coming into a difficult time, seeing it facing a moreor-less united western front. Russian geopolitical influence in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova has diminished over the past decade. Western encroachment on what had always been considered a Russian sphere of influence has reached new levels, unimaginable even at the time of the Soviet break-up in the early 1990s. Russia’s entire western frontier (except for Belarus) is now under Western influence, something the Russian government fears. Tragic pages from Russian history are well-remembered these days across the country. However, while previously the Russians managed to outmaneuver Charles XII, Napoleon and Hitler, today they face a rather different challenge: with the EU expanding economically, and NATO militarily, Europe is united and Moscow does not see (at least for the moment) any possibility to break this front. The foreign policy “blunders” happened under Putin and he will have to tackle them in his (likely) upcoming presidential term.

The United States is also mounting pressure on Russia in advancing military cooperation and general support to Ukraine and Georgia. The battle for the former Soviet states will take up an important place in the Russian politics of the next years. Putin is also facing problems with the rise of China, although not necessarily in a military direction. Central Asia, another traditional powerbase of the Russian state, has already experienced the Chinese pull. Putin will also see that on the grand strategic level, his country, between the powerful EU in the west and China in the east, is less competitive economically: the Eurasian Economic Union is not producing the necessary results, while Russia’s economy, although out of recession, will lag behind in terms of economic growth for quite a time. But Russia is also changing within. There is a certain pull towards a stricter rule where all seeming regional autonomies are restricted. Tatarstan, one of the richest regions, already experienced this. Problems are also seen among the youngsters. Many believe that Putin’s rule should not continue. For them, he has been the only leader they remember. Many (and perhaps the majority) of youngsters, however, do not contest the Putin rule and Putin is unlikely to face a significant opposition, which will move the country faster towards a stronger-controlled state. This trend towards a tighter control has been a hallmark of Russian history. Liberals were always sidelined. Numerous Russian emperors and various rulers

Image source: WSBuzz.com

(including Dimitri Medvedev) promised to introduce liberal-based rule, which eventually turned out to be impossible. Nor will foreign developments create too large an opposition to Putin’s rule among the population and his friends. But this mixture of pressures on Russia, where deep geopolitical differences make it very unlikely for normalization of relations between Moscow and western countries, creates good opportunities

for neighboring small countries such as Georgia and Ukraine. Tbilisi and Kyiv, facing huge military pressure from Moscow, have not had much of a chance to improve their geopolitical stance since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Therefore, in the long run, one of the questions the Georgian government should be contemplating is how far Russia could be weakened and what the benefits would be. Would that sup-

posed Russian weakness in the face of western advancement constrain Russian positions in the South Caucasus? Putin’s (potential) new term will be in many ways a decisive period in how Russia develops over the next decades. What is certain, though, is the continuing confrontation with the West and the rise of China, both being developments which would negatively affect Russia’s geopolitical position in Eurasia.



ven the Patriarch, the wisest among living Georgian men, exposed his fatherly worry, having figuratively described the current desperate situation in the country as a rock rolling downhill. I completely understand His Holiness, although my philosophy of life defies any kind of pessimism for any presumable reason. In fact, I sometimes feel inadequate because of my persisting optimism in any situation that life might bring about. What’s so worrying about us after all? Aren’t our cars filled with gas, stores full of goods, restaurants packed, constructions on, businesses tinkering away, kids at school, politicians as glib as never before, TV channels bursting in shows, theaters crowded with buffs and the new spacious malls glittering? What else do we need to ask for? I know that at times a couple of flies drown in the ointment, but this can happen anywhere in the world, not only here. So, I am still compelled to continue being the inveterate optimist that I am in terms of evaluating the intricately convoluted goings-on in Georgia as a regular routine, but I don’t even know if our economy has enough capacity to feed our people without asking external economic forces to give us a hand; I don’t know if our system of education can provide for a better future; I am not sure if our international political game is optimal enough for pulling the nation out of the geopolitical marsh we are being sucked deeper into; I have no idea whether the EU and NATO have Georgia’s membership in mind and if they are doing anything reasonable and forceful to make it real; I have no clue if the dropping demography is truly a bother to this nation or not, and if yes, what is being done to correct the situation; I

cannot figure out whether the European visa liberalization was good or bad for this nation; and I don’t know, and I am afraid nobody knows for sure, how to behave in the blind political alley we have found ourselves in together with Russia. Is Russia an enemy? I don’t know. She might be, and she might just as well not be. There is no consensus in the nation on the issue of Russia. Yet, we need to know because knowing this will give us precise contours to our current and future political behavior in the heavily mined international field.

I cannot afford to be overly straightforward with my personal opinion about Russia’s wants and needs concerning Georgia because I am a functioning journalist, not a politician, and journalists should keep to their own devices rather than going for somebody else’s. But if I were allowed to utter here my modest view, I would openly say that Russia wants the entire world, including Georgia, to recognize the independence of our unfortunate runaway territories. Yes, go ahead and recognize those perky little fellows and Russia will immediately smile at Georgia a broad but sarcastic

smile. The ludicrous administrative formations on the forfeited Georgian historical lands are impotent without Russia’s protective paw. And every existent international format for bringing things back to previous order is ridiculously in vain, a waste of time and political energy. Russia has the body of our soldier not for reasons of due expertise, but to mock Georgia. Should we send the Russians an appeal that Georgia is rejecting the western way of development and is now prepared to embrace the newly independent two states, the poor tortured corpse would

be ours within hours. This is the anguishing reality the Georgian people and its government are faced with. Russia wants to be satiated on our flesh and desires our blood to quench her sadistic thirst. Shall we treat them to the delicatessen? If not, they will continue dispatching us and storing our unattended corpses somewhere in the wilderness. If yes, we will definitely have our due funerals in place. This is the point I find myself depleted of my stubborn optimism, and as a result, the insurmountable pain, sense of helplessness, self-pity and desperation become overwhelming.




MARCH 16 - 19, 2018

MEP Mamikins Assesses the VisaLiberalization & Russian Relations EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW BY VAZHA TAVBERIDZE


re Georgia’s visa liberalization woes real or are they a product of speculation and political rhetoric? One would opt for the former, seeing ministers of various EU countries lamenting the increase of asylum seekers from Georgia and the fact that the ever-present tag of “Georgian organized crime” remains a thorn in our reputation. So why does a man who ought to know it all think it’s all “agenda-driven narrative”? As part of European Alliance for Georgia’s ‘Missives from Brussels’ series, GEORGIA TODAY spoke with Latvian MEP Andrejs Mamikins, standing Rapporteur on Visa Liberalization in the European Parliament.

THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE VISA-FREE REGIME IS FAST APPROACHING. HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS THIS YEAR? I was a shadow reporter in the LIBE committee when we discussed this possibility two years ago. It was a very important decision for Georgians and it was also very important for us, Europeans, European Parliament and the EU. Only a few hundred Georgian citizens were permitted entrance to the EU, now thousands are enjoying this visa-free regime. I think it works well and will continue to do so because Georgians culturally and economically are closely connected and related to the EU. A lot of Georgians have been visiting European countries, including my country Latvia, as tourists. It’s still working very well, and the recently established high-level format of bilateral cooperation has the potential to become a strong security nexus and to promote confidence in the South Caucasus area.

SOME COUNTRIES ARE DISSATISFIED WITH THE ASYLUM-SEEKERS. SWEDEN HAD THE SECOND HIGHEST NUMBER OF ASYLUM SEEKERS FROM GEORGIA AFTER SYRIANS. HOW GRAVE IS THE SITUATION? France, Germany and Sweden have old conflicts and Georgians are not the reason for it. If you remember the discussion in the EU Council before we voted in favor of the visa-free regime, the position

of the French Foreign Affairs and Interior ministers was that there are a lot of Georgian criminal groups in the EU. It’s a lie. The French used old statistics and they looked for Georgian last names. Some criminals with Georgian last names were citizens of Russia, not of Georgia. This is a visa-free regime for citizens of Georgia, not citizens of Russia. The same situation is seen with Sweden now. It’s a very sensitive question inside Swedish society but again, this is not the question of Georgian citizens. It’s their internal ongoing political discussion. Georgian citizens are very disciplined, are good students; they are excellent tourists, they spend money in our countries, in our economy. This is what we call people-to-people contacts.

SO YOU WOULD SAY THERE’S NO REASON TO BE AFRAID ABOUT THE SUSPENSION OF THE VISA-FREE REGIME? This is speculation. Of course, the suspension mechanism exists in the agreement of the visa-free regime. It could be used but not now, not at the current moment. I am absolutely sure.

DO WE HAVE THE INSTRUMENTS TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN GEORGIAN CITIZENS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES COMMITTING CRIMES IN EUROPE AND GEORGIAN CITIZENS WHO ARE ABUSING THE VISA-LIBERALIZATION? Please, trust me. We don’t have Georgian criminal bands in the EU. It’s all speculation and the political rhetoric of some ministers or some members of the EU Commission. This is an old mistake which was made by the French Minister of the Interior one year ago. We are still operating even in the European Commission with old statistics, with stereotypes, with newspaper articles. We don’t have criminal bands; we don’t have problems of a criminal nature with the citizens of Georgia. I have spoken with many ministers of many member states. Really, this regime is working very well and we don’t have any problem except for the rhetoric of some politicians here in the European Parliament.




he governmental party is looking for their presidential candidate. At first Georgian Dream (GD) said it wanted a candidate without extensive or any political background, however, later it became apparent that they are not completely against experienced politicians either, especially if the politician is a woman. GD argues that this choice is based on the general female feature of being more tolerant and less aggressive. This, in their minds, will be beneficial during the presidential campaign. Therefore, if we take into consideration the moods and autumn ratings of the governmental party, maybe, for the first time in history, Georgia will have a female president. Media has already voiced the first names: Tea Tsulukiani and Salome Zurabishvili. Although both of them are currently in active politics, with one being the Minister of Justice, and the other an MP, apparently, GD is so confident in the victory of a female candidate that they have agreed to forget the initial statement and give green lights to female politicians. Until the end of April, when the GD’s chosen candidate will be officially announced, many female names will

likely be added to the list, for example MP Endzela Machavariani or MP Eka Beselia, who are quite influential in the party. Despite the gender weaknesses of the governing party, it is still quite less likely that Bidzina Ivanishvili, the general sponsor of it, will succumb to gender equality and support the current electoral know-how of the governing party as it is known that he is fond of Mikheil Janelidze, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, for whom he forecasts a great future. Janelidze’s chances are even higher, as he comes from the entrails of Cartu Group, just like Prime Minister Kvirikashvili and Vice Prime Minister Kumsishvili. Then again, perhaps Ivanishvili has higher chances of victory; he would be the best match to the presidency, according to current constitutional legislation. Less responsibility and governmental status would be most beneficial for him. American friends also advise him to take the “burden” of that official post, as by doing so, he would once and for all stop the allegations about his informal governance. But the billionaire has so far refused. Minister Tsulukiani seems to be the leading candidate among the female quartet, being supported by orthodox Dreamer MPs Volski, Kantaria and Kvachantiradze as well as the wing, which aims for the Ministry of Justice and the judicial government. However, neither

Georgia is a safe country. I can tell you about my country, Latvia. We have some 20 asylum seekers from Georgia. But these citizens are from breakaway or occupied territories. Those people lost their homes, their villages; they are really refugees. That’s why they got this status in my country. They try to be integrated or reintegrated into Latvian society. My country helps them. Again, we cannot speak about hundreds or thousands of illegal asylum-seekers from Georgia. This is speculation.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE NEXT STEP OF CLOSURE BETWEEN GEORGIA AND THE EU? We have our Association action plan, renewed every three years. Now we here in the European Parliament we will vote on the plenary in November on the Association Implementation Report. I will prepare it as a standing reporter. Integration into the European Union is a stepby-step process. You know the current position of the President Jean-Claude Juncker: no enlargement until the end of his office. But we will have a new European Commission in 2019. And we know there is European perspective for the western Balkans.

CAN WE ASSUME THAT WE WILL BE NEXT IN LINE? This is my hope. This is my dream. I cannot say now on behalf of the European Parliament or European Union that Georgians will join the EU in 2020. But this is a realistic and feasible idea in 10 or 15 years. It’s very realistic that Georgia could be a member state of the EU. All of us here in the European Parliament know that, culturally, Georgia is a part of the European civilization; economically, Georgia is a part of the European economy. My vision and my dream is for Georgia to be a part of European Union politically.

HOW DO RUSSIANS COME INTO THIS EQUATION? HOW DO YOU SEE RUSSIA’S IMPACT ON GEORGIA’S CHANCES OF BECOMING A MEMBER? I think it’s in the interests of Russia to have a more integrated Georgia with the EU. Because naturally we Europeans and Russia are closely connected energetically, economically, and though we have sanctions against Russia, we also have a lot of people-to-people contacts with citizens of Russia. I think sooner or later are the supporters of Salome Zurabishvili inactive. She is worshiped by the so-called elites like brothers Gachechiladze, Goga Khaindrava, Nikusha Shengelaia. It seemed that the battle would be between these elites, but the events developed by a completely different scenario. Information that spread in social media suggested that the visit to Paris by Zurabishvili proved fruitless. The toil of Parisian protégés brought nothing but damage to Zurabishvili, because they say that Ivanishvili has deleted her name from the list of presi-

10 Galaktion Street

Russia will verbalize very clearly this interest that Georgia as part of the EU is also in the interests of Russia, at least economically.



I don’t like this speculation because the Georgian Orthodox Church is more ancient than the Russian. You have the absolute authority of the current Georgian Patriarch inside Georgian society and abroad. This is your spiritual leader. I think we must not encourage confrontation between churches or people because many Georgians have friends in Russia, and many Russians really like Georgia. This is very important. We still have these stronger ties between people, even if we don’t have strong ties politically. A lot of Georgians are still working in Russia; a lot of Russians buy properties in Georgia.

I think sooner or later we will hear from the establishment of the Russian Federation that good relations between Russia and Georgia, at the same time between Georgia and the EU, Russia and the EU, are in our common interest because this is the guarantee of the peaceful future of the European continent.

IF RELATIONS BETWEEN THE EU AND THE KREMLIN DO GET BETTER, HOW WOULD THAT AFFECT THE EASTERN PARTNERSHIP AND ITS MEMBER COUNTRIES? First of all, the Eastern Partnership many years ago was an idea to integrate Russia into a number of European political processes. Unfortunately, the Russian political establishment pulled out. But one day, we will have Russia together with the EU. I remember the words of the Patriarch of the soviet diplomacy, Gromyko: “It’s better to have 10 years of negotiations than one day of war.” I really believe we must have this political dialogue on all levels. Unfortunately, we don’t have this direct political dialogue between Georgia and the Russian Federation at the current moment but, for example, we have excellent cooperation between the Georgian Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox Churches.

THE TRAGIC DEATH OF ARCHIL TATUNASHVILI TRIGGERED DEMONSTRATIONS IN TSKHINVALI, WITH PEOPLE DEMANDING HIS BODY NOT BE GIVEN TO HIS GRIEVING FAMILY. WITH THIS KIND OF MINDSET, DO YOU SEE PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE DIPLOMACY WORKING IN THE NEAR FUTURE? It’s very hard to talk about this when you see your friends, your relatives, representatives of your nations, Georgians losing their lives. I know such conflict will naturally escalate the situation. But this is why it’s important to have this dialogue, this negotiation. Each life is unique, each person is unique. All the people of the constitutional space of Georgia are part of Georgia, of its culture, of its political life.

THERE ARE MANY IN GEORGIA WHO SEE THE CHURCH IN RUSSIA AS A POLITICAL INSTRUMENT OF MOSCOW. AND THE GEORGIAN CHURCH HAVING GOOD RELATIONS dential candidates and is looking for a replacement, for someone completely different, someone from the circle of “Soviet Intelligentsia.” Someone like Zurab Abashidze, the PM’s personal representative for Russian relations. Until April, when everything will become clear, the machine producing rumors and intrigues will become even more active. Many more names will become known regardless of their gender. Kaladze himself categorically denies allegations that he is creating a new political center within the GD, but ‘Tbi-

lisi does not believe in Tears’, because it is a fact that Kaladze has a quite large group of influential people from the majority he can lean on. His closest allies are Irakli Kobakhidze, Archil Talakvadze, Mamuka Mdinaradze and Vano Zardiashvili, are practically tone-setters in the Parliament today. Since Archil Talakvadze has reached presidential age, it is quite likely his candidacy might be discussed, especially given his guaranteed support from former chef Vakhtang Gomelauri and related governmental power structures.

Tel: (995 32) 2 45 08 08 E-mail: info@peoplescafe.ge




The Kvirikashvili Initiative & Georgia’s Overblown Sense of Political Self-Importance OP-ED BY ARCHIL SIKHARULIDZE


n March 9, Georgia’s PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili called on the Russian Federation to initiate constructive dialogue. Moreover, he expressed readiness to start direct talks with representatives of the separatist regions of Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia. This initiative was a response of the local government to an incident involving Georgian citizen and former military staff member Archil Tatunashvili, who was arrested on February 22 by so-called South Ossetian KGB agents and transferred to Tskhinvali. He later died in the city hospital in dubious circumstances, supposedly “from a heart attack.” Kvirikashvili’s statement had a double-effect. On the one hand, some praised it as a politically balanced and well-thought out decision while others, including the country’s leading oppositional forces, considered the call a total capitulation to the separatist forces and the Kremlin. Some even argued that the government is pursuing more of a retreatapproach than a cooperation-policy. Finally, there were allegations that direct talks with the separatist regions may lead to their international recognition and legitimization. It is doubtless complicated to foresee the implications of the initiative in general, but the critical reactions from various actors once more prove that some members of local political, civil society and academic elites are unaware of the situation on the ground in terms of the Georgian-Russian confrontation. The critiques seem to be more political-ideological than a result of serious political analysis.

THE GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN CONFRONTATION First, we need to bear in mind that there is no Georgian-Russian confrontation. Mikhail Saakashvili’s grand goal was to involve the West in these inter-state relations, it being a significant political, economic and military power, in order to counter Moscow. He managed to do so and it is no secret that the so-called August 2008 War was and is still considered by Georgia’s strategic allies and the Kremlin as a confrontation between the West and the Russian Federation. Nowadays, Georgian-Russian relations are no longer considered only in the scopes of West-Russia affairs; but issues dealing with separatist regions and the unilateral recognition of statehoods of Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia still fall under the West-Russia confrontation paradigm. This paradigm restrains Georgia as a political player, and its capabilities are miserable; pressed from all sides by actors whose ambitions and interests go far beyond GeorgianOssetian, Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Russian confrontation issues. As yet, it is pretty questionable as to whether we can demand from Kvirikashvili’s government a “proper” reaction to the significant misdeeds done by representatives of the separatist regions and/ or Moscow; questionable because Georgian officials are put simply, strangled on the ground to such extent they can be considered more as observers than members of a fully-recognized political actor. We can argue that the negative assessment of the initiative from the main local political opposition forces is merely a PR campaign, but what seems most disturbing is the inadequate reaction from civil society and academic staff members, who called for the taking of “respective measures;” this being more a reflection of lack of awareness and, of course, a perfect example of an overblown sense of political self-importance. Modern Georgia does not possess the respective political, economic or military mechanisms to influence either the West nor the East (Russian Federation) or even the separatist regions. Generally, the game is on totally another level and the only thing that local government can do is to try and keep the existing status-quo.

THE WEST-EAST CONFRONTATION Political processes that are in place in the separatist regions of Georgia and Ukraine (including military confrontation in the Eastern part) are crucial for the West, especially for the American establishment. This importance is due to the effect they have on the existing global political order; the fate of the international system depends on the outcomes of these processes. It is no secret that the global world order established after the Cold War by the West is under serious assault. The Russian Federation, China,

India, Brazil are countries already making significant steps to put forward their own national interests that erode the post-Cold War system and threaten its integrity and stability; furthermore, the states are working hard to finally balance America’s political, economic and military power on an international level. Russia’s unilateral recognition of Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia as independent states, as well as the annexation of Crimea, are important parts of this erosion process. Moscow is trying to break crucial laws of the system established by the West and prove that it can unilaterally decide and handle global political tasks itself. In Georgia’s case, these topics deal with such fundamental principles as sovereignty and territorial integrity. One of the main pillars of the post-Cold War global order is reflected in the undisputed nature of member states’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. An exception can be made if there is a consolidated decision inside a society supported by international law and with approval from the West. The Kremlin broke this sacred formula and without “approval,” crafted two new “sovereign” subjects of the international system. For the US and its allies, this is very dangerous precedent that may firmly lead to the rise of a new wave of separatism in general. But, most significant, this is an open appraisal against the system and the rules set by the West, and if Russia succeeds, the global world order’s stability and integrity will be broken and will start to unravel. Ultimately, the West will lose its privileged position and US its status of the world’s “sheriff.” The American political establishment is aware of the apocalyptic picture and will do its best to avoid this undesirable scenario. Hence, Kvirikashvili’s initiate to start direct talks with the separatist regions of Abkhazia and socalled South Ossetia will definitely not lead to recognition of the unrecognized regimes by the West and international society as a whole. This is simply impossible because the issue is not about Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity anymore; it is already about the stability of the system. And Georgia’s strategic partners will not provide us with respective triggers to make decisions that may somehow initiate dramatic developments. The West will not recognize either Abkhazia, or the so-called South Ossetia while the processes on the ground are kept out of the scopes of international law; something that will never be good for the Kremlin. At present, it matters not whether the Georgian government will have a direct or indirect dialogue with Sukhumi and/or Tskhinvali. This is another example of an overblown sense of political self-importance.

Photo by Tom Day

De Facto Abkhazia Says Direct Dialogue Possible if Non-Force Agreement Signed BY TOM DAY


eorgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia has said it is prepared to open direct dialogue with Tbilisi if there is a “signing of a non-use of force agreement” between the two parties, said the so-called Minister of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia, Daur Kove. “During the International Geneva Discussions, we came up against a complete lack of understanding on the Georgian side about the existing problems, and a categorical refusal to sign a document on the non-use of force. From our point of view, such a document could be a good basis for Georgian-Abkhaz negotiations with the mediation of

the Russian Federation and other international parties,” Kove said. “The problem is that, for the realization of this initiative, we need a reliable platform on which the process will be based. This platform could be an agreement on the non-use of force […] We hope that this time the Georgian authorities will demonstrate the political will needed to move towards the practical realization of their own statements,” Kove added. Kove’s comments were a response to a recent statement made my Georgian Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who said that Georgian authorities would like progress to be made within the International Geneva Talks. The Georgian PM added that he is ready to take part in the negotiations for dialogue between Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

THE KVIRIKASHVILI INITIATIVE Basing on the judgements given above, it is questionable whether we can accuse Giorgi Kvirikashvili of treason and/or concessions. We may argue that the Georgian government is using all accessible means to handle the conflict. Moreover, it once more proclaimed readiness for open dialogue and, according to the same Western standards, showed political maturity. Kvirikashvili has opted for a pragmatic and balanced policy based on careful analysis of the power balance on the ground. By making a reserved statement, despite the painful incident with Archil Tatunashili’s death, Georgia gained the so-called ‘moral superiority’ over governments of the separatist regions and Moscow, too. Tbilisi proved that it is still the only constructive political actor in the conflict. With regards to statements made by the United National Movement and Movement for Liberty, we should keep in mind that these oppositional parties are built around the Russian narrative. Radical opposition to Moscow is the only thing that makes them different from other pro-Western groups. Thus, they cannot go beyond this ideological platform, beyond the “Russian framework”. Georgia’s political, economic and military powers are miserable. Nowadays, Tbilisi lacks the mechanisms to influence processes in the conflicting regions at all. Moreover, the zone of GeorgianRussian confrontation is, in practice, a field of West vs Russia rivalry where the fate of the existing political order is being handled. So far, Georgia is more an observer than an actual political power. The only thing that local government should do is to cooperate with strategic partners, remind them about its national interests and hope for a better future; and, of course, to try to maintain the statusquo on the ground. The Kvirikashvili initiative perfectly reflects these realities and is an attempt to use all accessible means to bring stability and peace to civilians.

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The Armenia-Iran Railway



he Iranian side is still considering the possibility of building a connecting railway with Armenia - the representative of the Ministry of Transport and Urban Development of Iran, Mehdi Ashfari, told journalists on March 6 in the margins of the meeting of the TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe Caucasus Asia) Intergovernmental Commission. “The Iranian side views this project as very important,” he added, going on to note the need to create a transport corridor between the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea. “Negotiations on the implementation of the program are ongoing.” Earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said at a press conference in Tbilisi that “in the case of a corridor between the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea, great opportunities will open and the cost of transportation will significantly decrease.” On February 12, in an interview with journalists, the Iranian Ambassador to Armenia, Seyd Kazem Sadjadi, also noted that the Armenian side should make the first step towards the construction of the Iran-Armenia railway. “The Armenian side should present the project to potential investors,” said the Iranian diplomat. The project, first announced in 2012, is still not completely formed. Construction is estimated at $3.2 billion. The routes of connection with the operating railway would run through the Sevan coast (Sevan station) and the Ararat valley (Yeraskh station). “At the moment, the route through Sevan is preferable,” the Minister of Transport, Communications and IT Vahan Martirosyan explained, adding that according to rough estimates, the payback period of the project is estimated at 22 years. The total length of the route through the territory of Armenia would be 305 km. It is to have 86 bridges, a total length

of 19.6 km, and 60 tunnels with a total length of 102 km. Construction in accordance with the submitted program should be completed in 2022. However, according to independent economic analysts, the economic inefficiencies in the construction of the IranArmenia railway are based on three major factors. This, first of all, is the deadlock of the Armenian railway and the impossibility of its direct access to the “Russian and Eurasian expanses.” Secondly, even with the hypothetical possible unblocking of the Abkhaz section of the railway in the future, the presence of the currently constructed Iran-Armenia section of the North-South highway will make the Iran-Armenia railway, in connection with its insignificant length, ineffective. To this initially low efficiency, the third, perhaps most important, factor is added: the railway project of the Astara-Resht-Qazvin railroad realized by the Railways; a transport corridor that connected the existing railways of Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran. The project was implemented within the framework of the international transport corridor ‘North-South,’ whose goal is the integration of the transport and information highways of Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, India and Oman. According to analysts, the Iran-Armenia railway project is exclusively politically motivated and that is why, over the last five years, it has barely moved forward. Yet on a positive note in this regard, Minister of Transport, Communications and Information Technologies of Armenia, Vahan Martirosyan, received the Director General of the Office for Eurasian Civil Engineering Corporation of China, Jiang Aimin, whose company is interested in the design and construction of the Armenia-Iran railway. Aimin noted that the project ‘One Belt, One Road’ will be discussed at the Ministry of Commerce of China. He stressed that after the positive process of discussions, the Chinese side will be ready to conduct a feasibility study of the Armenian project.


MARCH 16 - 19, 2018

The Unique Magic of the New Batumi View Complex INTERVIEW BY NIA PATARAIA


he history of Investment Company Rekan Group Georgia began on the territory of Georgia in 2014. The company is owned by the branded network of Rekan Group and Hawkary Group, and their main activity is the construction of residential complexes and trade facilities. The main factors of the company's success can be found in its quality control, strategy, effective management and care to protect its clients' interests. Its latest multifunctional complex, which is being implemented on Batumi’s New Boulevard just 20 meters from the Black Sea, is expected to open in spring 2019. GEORGIA TODAY spoke to Irma Kamadadze, Head of Sales and Marketing, about the new project:

TELL US ABOUT THE BATUMI VIEW COMPLEX Batumi View is a multifunctional complex combining a large 5-star hotel and three residential buildings. Batumi View complex will be surrounded by developed infrastructure, which is the key to a comfortable life; it will include facilities such as an open swimming pool, SPA, tennis court, dining areas, gym, children’s playground, and car parking both above and underground. All the ground floors of the three residential buildings will host stores and markets.

WHAT PAYMENT SYSTEMS DO YOU OFFER INTERESTED POTENTIAL FUTURE RESIDENTS? Our customers have the chance to purchase premium class apartments with total payment or cover the cost gradually by paying a 30% down payment and taking advantage of interest-free installments for up to 24 months. Batumi View offers a variety of apartments, with a

starting price per 1sq.meter of $1000 (with mountain view) and $1400 (with direct sea view).

WHAT KIND OF BENEFITS DOES BATUMI VIEW OFFER RESIDENTS? Apartment sizes start from 32/sqm. In addition, those who buy apartments at Batumi View have the opportunity to get profit from their own investments and rent their apartment independently or transfer them to a Management Company which will provide 24-hour onlinecontrol of the apartment rental and professional service. Batumi View complex is dream home for everyone.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THIS NEW PROJECT? It is totally unique; there is no residential complex in Batumi closer to the sea, it is a place where you can enjoy the very best comforts in life. Our motto is: An Unrepeatable Magical Location!

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TBC Bank launches TBC Wallet for Payment via Smartphone


BC Bank has launched a new product, TBC Wallet, in collaboration with international payment systems. An application created for the android operating system intends to replace a physical wallet with a digital one. TBC Wallet allows customers to add a TBC MasterCard or Visa card to their digital wallet and use their smartphones to perform transactions at any location with a POS Terminal, without using a payment card. Customers can also view their transaction history through the app. Furthermore, customers can add various loyalty cards (accumulative and discount) in their TBC Wallet and easily use them in any partner companies. Nowadays, as smartphones are becoming more and more versatile, the world’s leading banks are increasingly digitalizing their business processes to make their products user-friendly. By creating TBC Wallet, TBC Bank has leveraged a new trend in Georgia, previously set by the world’s leading banks, which have been offering digital wallets to their customers for years. TBC’s Partners, MasterCard and Visa played a vital role in creating the TBC Wallet application. Their support contributed importantly to the completion of the project. MasterCard Europe’s Georgia and Central Asia Country Manager, Igor Stepanov, said TBC Wallet forms part of an important step to a more convenient future without cash; “Contactless payments enter a new stage of development, when a smartphone becomes both a universal tool of communication and enabler of secure contactless payments. The launch of TBC Wallet is an important step to a more convenient and safe future the need for cash. Over the past year, the number of payments with MasterCard digital platform MDES increased more than 100 times globally, and we are confident

that Georgia will further boost NFC-payments trend given the openness of Georgians to innovations” CIS&SEE Visa Acting Group Country Manager, Dmytro Krepak, commented on the importance of the new product; “Visa is committed to ensuring that all Visa cardholders are able to enjoy simplicity, security and choice when paying. TBC Bank was among the first to offer its clients Visa contactless cards and stickers and Visa tokens along with award-winning mobile banking services and developing digital channels addressing the demand of the advanced customers in Georgia. TBC Wallet powered by Visa Token Service allows customers to use their Android phones to make payments just as easily as it was with their cards, and has the potential to help build further consumer awareness and demand for mobile payments in the country. We would like to congratulate our long-standing partner on yet another innovative milestone and look forward to celebrating the successful rollout of TBC Wallet adopted by innovation-hungry customers in Georgia”, TBC Wallet is implemented in partnership with Pri-Num, a UK-based company, Visa Ready Qualified Token Service Provider and MasterCard Digital Vendor. "It's an exciting day for Pri-Num and our partners as we continue to sculpt the innovative landscape in FinTech in Georgia," commented, Dr. Grigoriy Roginsky, Ph.D., Head of Project Management. According to Vazha Beriashvili, TBC Bank’s Deputy Director of Retail Business, it is very important to develop TBC Bank’s products and services by integrating new digital technologies. “We are happy to have implemented this interesting project together with our partners. TBC Wallet will enable our customers to replace their physical wallet with a digital one, which will make transactions more


Success for IB Mthiebi Boarding School at the National High School Model United Nations 2018 in New York


B Mthiebi Boarding School has successfully participated in the National High School Model United Nations 2018 (NHSMUN) in New York. NHSMUN is a student simulation of the proceedings of the United Nations. It was held in New York at the United Nations Headquarters and at the Hilton Hotel Midtown Manhattan. NHSMUN is one of the best-recognized conferences on the global MUN circuit and the largest conference for high school students, with a combined 2,000 students attending from more than 50 countries. The students of IB Mthiebi Boarding School presented the Georgian Delegation. Participants found it a unique experience and a new challenge. IB Mthiebi students had a two-

month intensive preparation course beforehand and, at the conference, were assigned a country to represent in one of the UN’s numerous committees with pre-set topics to debate. The students of IB Mthiebi Boarding School researched the background of their country, their country's position on the topics at hand, and prepared notes on possible solutions to the problems faced. Much like the real UN, students faced global problems and tried to identify solutions by negotiation and consensus. The simulation ended with a special session at the UN Headquarters, where students were seated in the General Assembly Hall that has hosted many of the most prominent heads of state from the past few decades.

comfortable and easier to carry out. We find customer satisfaction of the upmost importance.” The latest technologies have been used in the creation of the TBC Wallet, namely MasterCard Digital Platform (MDES - MasterCard Digital Enablement Service) and VISA Token Service (VTS). TBC wallet is powered by the Pri-Num Digital Enablement Platform® - a comprehensive software solution deployed in-house, that provides and manages VTS and MDES tokens. Generally, tokenization is the process of replacing the original payment credentials (16-digit account number) with a unique “digital account number” (token) which may be used to initiate

payment activity for wallet transactions. It is also important that TBC Wallet created with token services is preferable with its enhanced security. TBC Wallet application protects sensitive information of the card and apart from a comfortable and fast payment service, secure payments are also available for customers. The TBC Wallet application can be downloaded through Google Play. The application is free and does not charge any additional fees for transactions. More information about the product is available at the TBC Wallet website. TBC Wallet – Your mobile wallet! www.tbcwallet.ge




MARCH 16 - 19, 2018

Georgian School Kids Being Targeted by Global Tobacco Companies: New Campaign to Raise Awareness BY BENJAMIN MUSIC


t is universally understood that the effects of smoking lead to high risks of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory difficulties. The thought that our children are deliberately exposed to the possibility of buying or consuming cigarettes is shocking. The NGO Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, located in the United States, is running a new international campaign to publicize strategies by global tobacco companies and to counter their efforts to offer cigarettes to children. Based on extensive research by the Institute of Global Tobacco Control at John Hopkins University (US) and a published article by The Guardian, Georgia is among 22 countries worldwide in which young school children are overwhelmingly exposed to tobacco products near their schools. Philipp Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Brands are the major tobacco companies outside of China offering cigarettes, which 20% of the global population consumes on a regular basis. The brands in front of school buildings in Georgia are mostly from the former two corporations. “The consistent presence of Philip Morris and British American Tobacco brands prominently displayed and sold near to elementary schools, in country after country, cannot be a coincidence. This is clear evidence that these giant tobacco companies are targeting young children near their schools, often in countries where laws are weak and the companies think they can get away with this despicable behavior,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The companies deny all allegations and emphasize their repeated efforts to protect young people from products which are exclusively sold to adults. However, their statements operate in an environment of legal loopholes. It is easy to stick to tobacco regulations if they are weak or not enforced. Additionally, as Philipp Morris claims, a 100-meter distance from school buildings is not enough. “These companies’ actions show why they can’t be taken seriously when they claim to be responsible entities that are helping to solve the tobacco problem. The targeting of kids near schools leaves no doubt that they’re the main cause of the problem, not the solution,” insists Myers. A report on tobacco marketing strategies in Georgia published by John Hopkins has analyzed school buildings in the greater Tbilisi area and found hundreds of retail stores, which have prominent cigarette advertisements displayed. The report has also measured the distance between the school buildings and the stores, indicating a 250-meter radius as the crucial zone within which stores should not be allowed to sell cigarettes in a seductive manner. 98 schools have been examined for differences in product placements and ad characteristics. In addition, the point-of-sales were examined for their display of health messages and regulations, which are obligatory by law to highlight dangers and age restrictions on cigarettes. The results were disappointing, indicating a huge need to better regulate and control the safety of school children. Out of 640 retailers within the 250-meter radius, 512 sold tobacco, but just 13 stores indicated the health messages required by the Georgian Ministry of Health. Even more disappointingly, of the 99 pointsof-sales within eyesight of the schools, none were displaying health messages. Although the figures show a slight

improvement when it comes to the display of age restrictions, the majority of retailers don’t ensure the necessary safety measures required. Various reasons allow tobacco companies to act with such behavior. “Georgia is targeted by tobacco companies because of its political prominence in the region. Tobacco companies fear that strong tobacco control legislation in Georgia would encourage neighboring countries to pass their own tobacco control laws and limit their profits across the region,” explains Josh Abrams, Director of Eurasia Programs for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. When asked whether we can actually blame tobacco companies, or the points-of-sales themselves, he answers: “We’ve seen the same patterns in country after country. This isn’t an accident. Targeting children around schools, playgrounds and other childfriendly spaces is a tactic used by global tobacco companies to gain new customers. We have evidence from around the globe that shops closer to schools and other child-friendly places are given incentives to carry tobacco and tobacco

advertisements. Shopkeepers are often paid money or given free products to put up advertisements.” Even more striking are the strategies used to advertise tobacco products to our youth. Many retailers employ graphics and place the tobacco shelves very centrally to draw the visitor’s attention to the cigarette packages. When placed centrally, visitors can’t escape the advertisements. More vicious strategies take advantage of typical products usually bought by school children, such as sweets or snacks. The tobacco products are placed close by or right in the midst of them; easily accessible to kids while they search for their desired snack. Although less frequent in Georgia, many other countries experience issues with retail stores using lit up signage to draw additional attention to the various tobacco brands available at the store. Strikingly, the tobacco companies often sponsor the signage as they carry the names of specific brands on them. There are multiple solutions which students and teachers can employ to improve the situation around their schools

and raise the necessary awareness. Teachers and educators can help their students by encouraging government officials to adopt strict marketing regulations for tobacco companies that prevent them from marketing these deadly products to children. “Teachers, parents, and students can also visit www.takeapart.org/ tiny-targets to download an app where they can report tobacco companies targeting kids in their own neighborhood,” says Abrams. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids encourages citizens to draw attention to legal breaches by retail stores. When encountering a store without appropriate health messages or sneaky product placements, uploading a photo or video onto the platform of the campaign allows Abrams and his team to inform the government and spur the introduction of tobacco bans. Political solutions are inescapable. Despite the existence of adequate laws and the recent improvement of tobacco regulations, implementation and control are very much lacking. “The Georgian government actually amended the tobacco control law last year to ban tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship and closed many of the existing loopholes that allow for this type of advertising to take place around schools. The best way for the government to take action against tobacco companies targeting Georgia’s children is to act swiftly to implement these amendments after they go into effect in May 2018,” Abrams insists. The report concludes by discussing the most displayed brands in Georgia, which are Winston, Marlboro, Kent, Parliament, and Camel, and calls for a complete ban of tobacco products around schools, in line with the WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control recommendations.

EMA, World Vision Georgia Sign GGP Agreement with Gov’t of Japan



n March 14, a signing ceremony for two projects financed by the Government of Japan, within the framework of the ‘Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Secu-

rity Projects’ (GGP), took place at the Official Residence of the Japanese Ambassador. The grant contracts were concluded between the Embassy of Japan in Georgia and two organizations: LEPL Emergency Management Agency – EMA (under the Prime Minister’s Office – Emergency Management Service of Georgia) and World Vision Georgia, for

the following projects: the Project for Provision of a Second-hand Fire Engine for Tbilisi City; the Project for Construction of a Kindergarten at Mokhe village in Adigeni Municipality. In the first project, the second-hand fire engine will be provided to the Emergency Management Agency for rescue missions in the Tbilisi area. The Georgian capital is affected by thousands of fires each year, with approximately onetenth of them happening in high-rise residential buildings. The fire engine will be designated for the Isani-Samgori area, but can be quickly transported across Tbilisi, in emergency situations (with the potential to cover 27,580 hectares and save thousands of lives). The Japanese Embassy’s funding for this project amounts to $99,733. The second project, granted to World Vision Georgia, will see the construction of a kindergarten in Mokhe village, giving the most vulnerable children of the eight surrounding villages access to education. Located in the upper Adigeni municipality, the Georgian Muslim minority of over 340 households has never had access to kindergarten services since their settlement in 1944. As a result, the basic and development needs of children have not been met. The project intends to create the first

kindergarten in the area, with the Japanese Embassy contributing $66,395 in funding. Country Program Direct of World Vision Georgia, Ekaterine Zhvania, explained the significance of this grant to GEORGIA TODAY. “This grant agreement is an exceptional opportunity for World Vision Georgia because it is the second time we have been given funding by the Japanese Embassy in the last three years. Within the first grant, we constructed a potable water system for remote villages in the Samstkhe-Javakheti region, the resident s of which previously had to collect water from rain, natural springs, etc. “The strengths of this second project is that its not just implemented by an international organization like World Vision Georgia, but with the close collaboration and participation of local governments (contributing 50% to the overall construction budget). World Vision will be the administrator of the project, providing the necessary oversight and providing the equipment for construction at the final stages. “It will be an exceptional case for Samstkhe-Javakheti to have such a kindergarten because it will be completely designed and constructed to meet the needs of children with special needs,

with innovative and international accepted standards.” HE Mr. Tadaharu Uehara, The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Georgia, expressed his sincere appreciation to both the Emergency Management Agency and World Vision Georgia, noting his confidence in the success of these projects. “We can say that these two projects have been formulated successfully. … The grants for these project have come from the Japanese people. I would be grateful if you remembered the goodwill of the Japanese people and use these projects to help Georgian communities and society.” The ‘Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects’ (GGP) provides assistance to relatively small projects and aims at improving the standards of living of the Georgian people and the promotion of education and culture. It applies to projects in the field of public health, education, social protection, agriculture, environment, poverty reduction and culture. Since 1998, 163 GGP projects have been financed in Georgia by the Government of Japan, totaling $16,642,524. The ceremony was attended by Ambassador Uehara and representatives of Georgian authorities and international local organizations related to the project.



Festivals for Development International Conference


he British Council in Georgia and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of Adjara Autonomous Republic jointly organized the Festivals for Development International Conference in Batumi on March 14. International festivals experts and senior British local government officers, as well as Local Government authorities and festivals organizers, met to discuss the importance and contribution of festivals in the cultural, social and economic development and their role in the development of creative and cultural industries. The conference was

streamed live on British Council Georgia Facebook and YouTube channels. The history of establishing and experience of the Edinburgh Festivals and other British festival cities, as well as the City of Edinburgh Council as an initiator of developing collaboration between different festivals, was presented. Conference participants learned about innovative models of collaboration between festivals, local authorities and tourism organizations in raising awareness of the importance of collaboration with other festivals to jointly address the issues related to place-making, fund-raising, audience development, information pro-

vision, spreading success stories and how to work out joint strategy when talking to potential sponsors. The most successful Georgian festivals were presented. The UK speakers shared the best cases and innovative models of collaboration between British Festivals such as the Edinburgh Festivals, Edinburgh Fringe, Brighton Festival and Gloucester Festival. It is hoped that the international conference will be seen as a contribution to the task of turning Adjara and especially Batumi into an international festivals hub.

Dammed if you Do: Svaneti BLOG BY TONY HANMER


ast night, just after the shop closing hour of 8 pm, came a knock on the door and a shout for my wife. Thinking it was a late customer asking for leniency, I opened the shop door, as we’re not too Swiss with our timing here. Instead, it was a neighbor and his wife with a petition for us to consider signing. They said that 59 hydroelectric dams of various sizes are planned to be built in Upper Svaneti. Likely none will be as big as the decades-finished and functioning main Enguri one, which is huge by world standards. But the claims against such dams are many. Local economies will benefit hardly at all; many of the investors are companies from abroad, and the electricity will at best go elsewhere in Georgia, if not to booming, energy-hungry Turkey or further. The climate will change greatly, and not in our favor, likely getting more

moist; currently we enjoy our mosquitofree condition very much, thank you, though this changing is likely to be the smallest result of the increase in humidity. Resettlement issues for villages set to be drowned (they are not many, but when it’s my house it’s my house) will be messy, unsatisfactory, miserly in payment, and poor in choices for relocation. Ancient churches and, even more lamentable for a people firmly in touch with their dead, burial grounds will be lost under the waters. (“Ancient” here might be fifteen centuries for the former, more for the latter). Rivers of all sizes will be altered, polluted, in construction and running of the dams, even allowing new diseases to spring up based on the changes in chemicals. And because of the $ signs, the greed, proper investigation of impacts, environmental and sociological, has been swept under the rug. This is what they claim, and this claim seems to me to be the most important, a cause of much of the above complaints. There have been protest meetings already, chiefly in Khaishi (part of which

will be flooded) and Mestia (site of one of the larger dams). More are scheduled. I don’t know if these, and their petitions painstakingly gathered on foot, can or will have the sought effect of at least forcing a moratorium; until enough studies can be done and the local population satisfied that it is not getting the raw end of the deal in every sense. It will be to everyone’s benefit if things are delayed enough to persuade people that the homework has been done and they are not being sold a bill of goods. But I admit to being pessimistic that this will happen, and would love to be proved wrong. My father’s job as site manager for many power stations around the world, including hydroelectric ones, long ago persuaded me that such dams can bring a net benefit to their communities and countries. But the world is also changing. Solar, wind, geothermal and wave power are all on the rise as alternative power generation methods. The efficiency of their output is constantly on the rise, costs and carbon footprints going down at the same time as research is being done at a hurried pace to improve the ways we produce, store and use our electricity. (see https://newatlas.com/ for daily news in these fields and more). I am encouraged to see the seven huge windmills running near Surami; more, please! An Indian startup, https://www.avantgardeinnovations.com/ claims to have a new home design for one of these which they say will cost about as much as an iPhone and will set households free of the grid. Expensively built hydro might be on the way out in the face of such competitors. I admit, I can hardly wait. Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1800 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/ He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti





MARCH 16 - 19, 2018


SILK FACTORY STUDIO Address: 59 M. Kostava Str. (former Silk Factory) March 17, 18 * Premiere METAMORPHOSES Contemporary ballet based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses A joint project of Giorgi Aleksidze Tbilisi Contemporary Ballet and Silk Factory Studio Music by Johann Sebastian Bach Original music by Nika Machaidze Original idea and choreography by Mariam Aleksidze Artistic Director– Mariam Aleksidze Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 15-25 GEL TBILISI VASO ABASHIDZE MUSIC AND DRAMA STATE THEATER Address: 182 D.Agmashenebeli Ave. Telephone: 2 34 80 90 www.musictheatre.ge March 20 WELCOME TO GEORGIA A musical, theatrical play and romantic comedy telling a story about Georgia and its people by combining song, dance, culture, traditions, history, national costumes and local cuisine. Musical Language: English, some Georgian (with English subtitles) Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 60-80 GEL SHALIKASHVILI THEATER Address: 37 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 595 50 02 03 March 16, 17 KRIMANCHULI Comedy genre novels based on Georgian national motives Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 15 GEL CINEMA

AMIRANI CINEMA Address: 36 Kostava Str. Telephone: 2 99 99 55 www.kinoafisha.ge Every Wednesday ticket price: 5 GEL March 16-22

TOMB RAIDER Directed by Roar Uthaug Cast: Alicia Vikander, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins Genre: Action, Adventure Language: English Start time: 22:00 Language: Russian Start time: 19:30 Ticket: 13-14 GEL

Every Wednesday ticket: 8 GEL March 16-22

SUBMERGENCE Directed by Wim Wenders Cast: James McAvoy, Alicia Vikander, Alexander Siddig Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller Language: Russian Start time: 19:45 Ticket: 17 GEL

LADY BIRD Directed by Greta Gerwig Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts Genre: Comedy, Drama Language: English Start time: 20:00 Language: Russian Start time: 22:15 Ticket: 16, 19 GEL

EVA Directed by Benoît Jacquot Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Gaspard Ulliel, Julia Roy Genre: Drama, Romance Language: Russian Start time: 22:15 Ticket: 17 GEL RED SPARROW Directed by Francis Lawrence Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Mary-Louise Parker Genre: Mystery, Thriller Language: English Start time: 14:30 Ticket: 12 GEL RUSTAVELI CINEMA Address: 5 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 55 50 00 www.kinoafisha.ge Every Wednesday ticket: 5 GEL March 16-22 TOMB RAIDER (Info Above) Language: Russian Start time: 12:15, 17:00, 19:45, 22:30 Ticket: 8-14 GEL 12 STRONG Directed by Nicolai Fuglsi Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena Genre: Action, Drama, History Language: Russian Start time: 16:30 Ticket: 10-11 GEL CAVEA GALLERY Address: 2/4 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 200 70 07

TOMB RAIDER (Info Above) Language: English Start time: 19:30 Language: Russian Start time: 14:15, 16:45, 22:15 Ticket: 11-17 GEL

12 STRONG (Info Above) Language: English Start time: 16:45 Language: Russian Start time: 19:30 Ticket: 13-19 GEL A WRINKLE IN TIME Directed by Ava DuVernay Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy Language: Russian Start time: 11:45, 13:30 Ticket: 10-19 GEL THE POST Directed by Steven Spielberg Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson Genre: Biography, Drama, History Language: Russian Start time: 12:45 Ticket: 10-15 GEL BLACK PANTHER Directed by Ryan Coogler Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi Language: Russian Start time: 22:30 Ticket: 16-19 GEL RED SPARROW (Info Above) Language: English Start time: 22:15 Ticket: 16-19 GEL A WRINKLE IN TIME (Info Above)

Language: English Start time: 16:30 Ticket: 13-16 GEL MUSEUM

GEORGIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM SIMON JANASHIA MUSEUM Address: 4 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 99 80 22, 2 93 48 21 www.museum.ge Exhibition GEORGIAN COSTUME AND WEAPONRY OF 18TH-20TH CENTURIES Exhibition NUMISMATIC TREASURY Exhibition showcasing a long history of money circulation on the territory of modern Georgia from the 6th century BC. to 1834. EXHIBITION STONE AGE GEORGIA ARCHEOLOGICAL TREASURE NEW LIFE TO THE ORIENTAL COLLECTIONS

marking a short period of artistic expansion. Art circles nourished tendencies of experimentation and the use of electronics for disparate purposes. GALLERY

DIMITRI SHEVARDNADZE NATIONAL GALLERY Address: 11 Shota Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 215 73 00 March 6-April 11 EXHIBITION OF GIA BUGADZE’S ARTWORKS OLIM – EVER March 4-18 EXHIBITION Andrey Ostashov: ELEMENTS SCULPTURE & GRAPHICS LADO GUDIASHVILI EXHIBITION HALL Address: 11 L. Gudiashvili Str. Telephone: 293 23 05 March 1-31 Exhibition KATIE MATABEL WHITE SQUARE Price: 3-5 GEL MUSIC

MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS Address: 1 Gudiashvili Str. Telephone: 2 99 99 09 March 5-23 EXHIBITION SHALVA DZNELADZE 125 MUSEUM OF SOVIET OCCUPATION Address: 4 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 99 80 22, 2 93 48 21 www.museum.ge PERMANENT EXHIBITION IOSEB GRISHASHVILI TBILISI HISTORY MUSEUM - KARVASLA Address: 8 Sioni St. Telephone: 2 98 22 81 March 6-27 Georgian National Museum and Goethe Institute present the exhibition BRILLIANT DILLETANTES: 80S GERMAN SUBCULTURE A modified version of the name of a concert held in 1981 in the Tempodrom Arena in Berlin,

SPACEHALL Address: 2 A. Tsereteli Ave. March 16 DAVID EVGENIDZE & NIKA MACHAIDZE (NIKAKOI) Classical, techno, jazz tunes to electronic innovation Start time: 21:00 Ticket: 40 GEL DJANSUG KAKHIDZE TBILISI CENTER FOR MUSIC & CULTURE Address: 125 Aghmashenebeli ave. Telephone: 2 96 12 43 March 21 STUDENT CONCERT AT Z. PALIASHVILI TBILISI CENTRAL MUSIC SCHOOL Start time: 19:30 Ticket: 10 GEL TBILISI CONCERT HALL Address: 1 Melikishvili St. Telephone: 2 99 00 99 March 16 TEMUR TATARASHVILI’S CONCERT Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 20-40 GEL TBILISI STATE CONSERVATOIRE Address: 8 Griboedov St. Telephone: 2 93 46 24 March 20 CONCERT OF OPERA EXCERPTS CARMEN By Georges Bizet Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy Staging Conductor- Zaza Azmaiparashvili Conductor- Papuna Ghvaberidze Staging Director- Lela Gvarishvili Staging Artist- Neiko Neidze Choirmaster- Mikheil Edisherashvili Piano- I. Aivazova, T. Alavidze, E. Chinchaladze RIGOLETTO By Giuseppe Verdi Libretto by F. M. Piave Act IV Choir and Orchestra of the Opera Studio Staging Conductor- Revaz Takidze Conductor- Levan Jagaev Staging Director - Maia Gachechiladze Piano - T. Alavidze, M. Bebiashvili, N. Zakaidze, N. Leshkasheli Manager of the Opera Studio - Irina Ramishvili Start time: 19:00 Ticket: 5-10 GEL




Georgian Tenor Conquers Biel & Solothurn Theaters EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW BY LIKA CHIGLADZE


ieter Kaegi, General Director at the Theater Orchestra Biel Solothurn, Switzerland, describes Georgian tenor of the Tbilisi State Opera and Ballet Theater, Irakli Murjikneli, who has once again conquered international audiences with his amazing performance in Switzerland: “I first heard Irakli in an international opera-workshop in Switzerland more than a year ago. He stood out from many other young singers for his musicality, his effortless and beautiful tenor voice, his strong presence on stage and his convincing acting, which is always natural and honest. For our production of Tchaikovsky’s last opera, Iolanta, I was looking for just that kind of singer. I was thrilled when I heard that Irakli was free to come to Switzerland to sing the role of Count Vaudémont in my production of Iolanta. Irakli proved to be the perfect choice! He sings this most difficult role with ease and conviction. It is rare to find singers, particularly tenors, who identify themselves in such a convincing way with their role.” Currently, the Georgian opera singer is based in Switzerland where he is taking part in a number of operas. One of the latest plays, Iolanta was attended by the Ambassador of Georgia to Switzerland David Jalagania, who, after the curtains closed, left “full of pride.” “I was really proud when listening to your brilliant singing. I shared the joy and pleasure of the audience, who demonstrated their excitement and admiration both toward the play and personally you

by the wave of ovations,” the Ambassador wrote Irakli soon after. GEORGIA TODAY contacted the renowned Georgian artist and singer to get a deeper insight into his career.

HOW DID YOU GET INVITED TO WORK IN SWITZERLAND AND PERFORM IN FRONT OF FOREIGN AUDIENCE? I met the Director of the Theater Orchestra Biel Solothurn in Zürich a year and a half ago. I was taking part in the annual International Opern Werkstatt workshop that gathers young performers from around the world. One of the founders of the festival and my teacher, Verena Keller, told me Dieter Kaegi, Intendant of Theater Biel, would be there. It turned out he was looking for someone for the role of Count Vaudémont. He liked my performance and after the session approached me and asked if I was free from January 2018. I accepted his offer and within a month, in December 2016, he sent me an agreement to perform 21 performances of Iolanta in five theaters in Switzerland. I was also contacted by the Director of Grand Opera de Tour who asked me to take part in the three performances of the same co-production. I was also offered the chance to sing in Mozart and Salieri, three performances composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

TELL US ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE ATTENDED BY THE AMBASSADOR OF GEORGIA TO SWITZERLAND I was excited when the Embassy of Georgia responded to our invitation. I want to express my thankfulness to Ambassador Jalagania and his team for coming.

That performance was also attended by the President of the Puccini Festival, my friend Alberto Veronesi, who is also a frequent guest of the Tbilisi Opera. I have cooperated with him on several productions staged in the Tbilisi Opera Theater, including L’elisir D’amore by Donizetti and La Traviata by Verdi.

TELL US ABOUT LIFE ABROAD I’m passionate about performing in a foreign country, since when you are a newcomer and the public does not know you well, it’s always interesting to listen to their opinions and impressions about your acting. It’s interesting to collaborate with foreign colleagues, since I learn a lot and develop professionally. The sad part of the story is that I am thousands of kilometers away from home and loved ones. I miss my family, my wife Natia and daughter Sofia.

Irakli Murjikneli (Count Vodemont) photo by Konstantin Nazlamov


Khomeriki and, as a result, my vocal performance was praised by the audience and for that I am deeply thankful to him.

The performance was directed by Dieter Kaegi, one of the most distinguished representatives of his profession I have ever worked with. He goes deeply into the piece, into details and feelings of the characters that are born in the singers. Iolanta is a blind girl, so Dieter brought a girl with vision impairment to the rehearsal, so we could talk to her and understand what it is like to be blind. The play was conducted by Alexander Anissimov, who is considered one of the best interpreters of Tchaikovsky’s pieces. I developed professionally through working with him. Stage designer Francis O'Connor added his note to this fairytale with stage design and wonderful costumes. I prepared my vocal part with the help of my celebrated teacher in Tbilisi Alexandre

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS AND WHEN ARE YOU COMING BACK TO TBILISI? I’m coming back to Georgia on June 5th after performing in France. I’m now preparing for the premiere of Simon Boccanegra by Verdi. Next season I’ll perform in Viktor Dolidze’s Keto and Kote in Tbilisi Opera, singing Kote’s part; I’ll sing in all upcoming performances, for which I am extremely thankful to Badri Maisuradze. I also have a few upcoming auditions in several big theaters. I’ve already agreed to perform in La Boheme by Puccini in Theater Biel. In total, I’ll be in around 45 performances aboard within the next two years.


Pachulia: “We’ll have more Georgian players in the NBA in a couple of years” It’s progressing. We’re providing the kids with the right atmosphere, great coaching and good facilities, so they have everything they need to succeed. We have around 700 players and they are spending a lot of time working on the court. They’re really enjoying it. So hopefully, in a couple of years, we’ll have more players from Georgia in the NBA.

IN THE EUROPEAN QUALIFIERS FOR THE 2019 FIBA WORLD CUP, GEORGIA IS THIRD IN ITS GROUP AND WILL PROBABLY PASS TO THE NEXT ROUND Having qualifying games during the season is part of the new format. The national team has a lot of new faces. It’s good to see these young players having opportunities. I think it’s good for the country. The other teams are going through a similar experience. Unfortunately, we had some injuries. But the team is fighting and playing hard. What else can you ask for?


he Georgian NBA champion Zaza Pachulia is aiming for another ring with the Golden State Warriors and is confident that Georgia will produce more NBA-caliber players soon.

HOW DO YOU SEE THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF WINNING THE NBA LAST SEASON? You’re 13 or 14 years old, you’re playing basketball and you dream about this moment regardless of where you’re coming from. Then, during the NBA season, you work hard, you put in a lot of time, and at the end of the season all that effort pays off. Winning the NBA title is a great feeling and an amazing experience. But then you move on and want another one. So, I’m enjoying the moment but at the same time I’m working hard for another ring.


YOU RECEIVED THE ORDER OF HONOR FROM GEORGIA WHICH HIGHLIGHTS THE IMPORTANCE OF ROLE MODELS IN SOCIETY It’s a huge honor to carry the Order. It means that there is appreciation for something that you have done for the country. I’m thankful to President Margvelashvili for nominating me. But the Order comes with responsibility. You have to be a role model, especially for kids and youth. The Order also motivates you to keep doing your best representing the country.

AFTER 15 YEARS IN THE UNITED STATES, WHAT DO YOU MISS THE MOST FROM GEORGIA? Friends and family. After so many years, you get used to living apart from them, but I try to keep the relationships as close as possible. I spend my summers in Georgia and they come over here to visit me in the US. Exclusive interview for GT by Alfonso Aramendia in Washington



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Profile for Georgia Today

Issue #1031  

March 16 - 19, 2018

Issue #1031  

March 16 - 19, 2018