Mikheil Saakashvili says if Georgia doesn’t overthrow its pro-Russia government in 100 days, the country no longer will exist. He says it is in the interest of Ukraine that the “pro-Russian government of Georgia” be removed and that the world has “an unimaginable chance and responsibility” to act now to address the situation.
With McCain out of the picture, Randy Scheunemann, his former foreign policy and national security adviser, has stepped in.
“It will be irreversible” if the 100 days is allowed to lapse without action, said Saakashvili, who served as Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013. “We have to bring the country out of the abyss.”
Only the country is not in the abyss. It is titling away from Russia economically, socially, and strategically. Its economy grew a whopping 5.2 percent in 2019. It has cut the rate of poverty in half over the last decade. Its per capita income has risen at healthy rates for the last five years. It has reduced corruption, cut regulation, and simplified taxes. It has some work to do to make its judiciary more responsive, but its proceedings have been deemed fair, and its rate of business growth is the second highest in the world.
Georgia is ranked as the 12th-freest economy in the world by the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom. The World Bank calls it a “star reformer.” It has earned praise from the United States for the performance of its military in the NATO Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. NATO considers Georgia one of its closest partners, so close that it allowed the Cyber Security Bureau of the Ministry of Defense to become a full member of the NATO-endorsed cybersecurity platform known as MISP.
The country is doing everything it can to align itself with the West and not Russia, and Saakashvili knows this. So what is he up to here?
Perhaps opposition parties are looking for a familiar standard-bearer as, given the success of the current leadership, they are unlikely to return to power anytime soon. According to Bloomberg, the United National Movement and 10 other parties agreed to back Saakashvili’s candidacy to lead their bloc if they win the Oct. 31 elections. He says, “I really am not going to come to power as a result of unrest,” and Georgia’s prime minister, Giorgi Gakharia, has said, “Let him come” and that the election process is solid and reputable.
But it’s hard to look past the possibility that perhaps Saakashvili is simply a troublemaker. In his time as president of Georgia, he picked an unnecessary fight with Russia, which punished him and the country in short order.
After fleeing Georgia because he faces corruption charges there stemming from his days as president, he took up residence in Ukraine and was appointed governor of the Odessa Oblast under prior president Petro Poroshenko. He then showed his gratitude by quitting to start an opposition party to Poroshenko, after which his Ukrainian citizenship was stripped.
It was restored by current president Volodymyr Zelensky, who also gave Saakashvili a job within the government. Now Saakashvili is rewarding Zelensky with more problems, and officials in both Ukraine and Georgia are annoyed. Zelensky makes clear on a regular basis that Saakashvili doesn’t speak for him.
Sadly, Saakashvili’s partner in troublemaking seems to be an organization with significant ties to an American politician known for troublemaking and divisiveness — John McCain.
McCain, the late Republican senator from Arizona, undermined the democratic process of his own country in his involvement with Russians and others to dig up dirt on President Trump.
With McCain out of the picture, Randy Scheunemann, his former foreign policy and national security adviser, has stepped in. Scheunemann is vice chairman of the International Republican Institute and a registered representative of the United National Movement of Georgia, which opposes the Zurabishvili government.
He is Saakashvili’s man in the United States, and like his former boss, his loyalties seem conflicted to say the least.
Scheunemann, who was working for Georgia before he even left his Senate post, is a registered lobbyist for George Soros, and he participated along with lawyers and officials from Soros’ Open Society Foundation at the Sedona Forum, a yearly meeting of academics sponsored by the McCain Institute.
On top of that, acting as a lobbyist for Georgia while still on McCain’s staff, he got the senator to sponsor four resolutions that benefited Georgia and other Scheunemann clients, including Latvia, Macedonia, Romania, and Taiwan.
Recently, Scheunemann has whipped up polls that say Georgians continue to distrust their government and “pessimism” continues among its residents. He has a quarter-million-dollar contract with a rival political party in Georgia that is trying to undo the progress that is being made.
That Saakashvili continues to make trouble should not surprise. He is charismatic and enigmatic, but he has not proven able to get along with his countrymen in Ukraine or Georgia. His eruptions, his spur-of-the-moment thinking, caused Condoleezza Rice to have to tell him NATO would not support Georgia in its fight with Russia.
That an American would work to roll back the efforts of a country trying to expand freedom, grow its economy, link itself to the West, and reduce corruption is disappointing to say the least. But coming as he does from the office and operation of McCain, it is not surprising.