Beware the Russian Bear

Troubling Signs from the Asian Georgia

Eli Lake on troubling signs for Georgia:

[I]n his own country, Saakashvili’s luster has begun to wear off—and that could ultimately undermine Georgia’s relationship with the U.S. His opposition has accused of him of employing the same kinds of Soviet-style tactics that he fought against as a young activist, including wire-tapping the phones of the opposition and arresting political activists. On Oct. 1, Saakashvili’s party, the United National Movement, lost parliamentary elections to the DREAM party, a new coalition led and funded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The election at the time was praised as free and fair, but the results are now threatening to rip Georgia’s government in two. After the vote, Saakashvili still controls the military and the national security agencies because he will remain president until the end of 2013. But his chief rival and Georgia’s new prime minister, Ivanishvili, controls the Justice Ministry. This month, the Justice Ministry began targeting senior members of the government and supporters of Saakashvili—including Kalandadze, a Saakashvili appointee—in a wave of arrests that has drawn criticism from the European Union and the State Department.

Senator McCain says the Georgian president has expressed his concerns about the situation in private phone calls. “He’s very concerned about the actions that the new prime minister has taken and the threats to people who served previously,” McCain said in an interview. Saakashvili says he’s worried about the “arrests, threats, and other indications of a lack of respect for the democratic processes.”