09TBILISI24, GEORGIA: RUMORS, MANEUVERING, AND ELECTIONS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI24 2009-01-06 14:50 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO0546
OO RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0024/01 0061450
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 061450Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0669
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000024 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/25/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PREL GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: RUMORS, MANEUVERING, AND ELECTIONS 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1. (C)  Summary/Comment:  Well informed International 
Republican Institute Country Director, Dimitry Shashkin 
(strictly protect) has passed on several far fetched but 
widely circulated rumors in Tbilisi alleging a US or EU 
engineered plot to oust President Saakashvili in the spring. 
While the likelihood of pre-term elections currently exists 
as a possibility mainly in the minds of the opposition, the 
rumors are impacting the opposition and have likely delayed 
any more political consolidation until late next year.  If 
spring passes without elections, Shashkin believes various 
opposition leaders face stark choices about their political 
futures.  Others, notably Irakli Alasania seem to be taking a 
longer view, trying to line up support for the Presidential 
race in 2013.  However, Shashkin contends that Alasania may 
ultimately suffer from unrealistically high expectations 
among supporters to do something immediately. End 
Summary/Comment. 
 
OPPOSITION IN A PANIC - RUMORS A PLENTY 
 
2.  (C)  Shashkin told us that Giorgi Targamadze (Christian 
Democratic Movement (CDM) Leader) and Levan Vepkhvadze 
(Deputy Speaker, CDM) approached him recently about rumors of 
upcoming Georgian elections precipitated by eithr 
President-Elect Obama or Ambassador Tefft (on behalf of 
Obama) demanding President Saakashvili's resignation. 
Shashkin assured them that was not in anybody's plans. 
Shashkin said the CDM was concerned they would be caught 
flat-footed if snap elections were held.  Targamadze also 
relayed to Shashkin alternative theories involving 
Saakashvili's ouster; the CIA would remove Saakashvili and 
install Alasania as President; or the EU Commission headed by 
Heidi Taglivini will demand that Saakashvili resign or face a 
Hague tribunal.  In spite of their apparent absurdity, all 
theories share a common theme ending with Saakashvili's 
ouster.  Shashkin who is in constant contact with all the 
players among the opposition says the non-parliamentary 
opposition is becoming more and more insular and divorced 
from reality.  Targamadze told Shashkin that he had heard the 
various theories from the New Rights party.  Shashkin has not 
heard this directly nor can affix blame to any particular 
party or individual for starting these rumors but says New 
Rights, Republicans, and Burjanadze's people are happily 
pushing them to those who will listen. 
 
3.  (C)  Shashkin acknowledges the popularity of conspiracy 
theories among political chattering classes; nevertheless, he 
says the non-parliamentary opposition is getting increasingly 
desperate.  Shashkin confirms what we have been hearing from 
other sources, that the non-parliamentary opposition is 
taking on an almost religious belief that some outside force 
will intervene to remove Saakashvili from office.  Putting 
stock in conspiracy scenarios seems to confirm that the 
non-parliamentary opposition hears what we are also hearing, 
that Saakashvili has no intention whatsoever to call for new 
elections on his own.  Shashkin believes the 
non-parliamentary opposition will soon have to face the 
reality that elections will not happen and then make some 
painful decisions.  As long as there is a remote possibility 
of elections, the current makeup of the non-parliamentary 
opposition will not coalesce into a larger movement.  If 
spring passes with no elections, Shashkin sees a number of 
parties folding.  Shashkin specifically mentioned New Rights 
and is dubious about Burjanadze, Republicans and others 
because they simply have shown no willingness to do the work 
Qbecause they simply have shown no willingness to do the work 
it takes to build and maintain a party in the absence of 
pending elections. 
 
4.  (C)  Shashkin expressed doubts that David Gamkrelidze, 
David Usupashvili, or Nino Burjanadze are able to receive any 
sort of realistic message at the moment.  He recounted that 
rather than view focus group results as a tool to improve 
ones image and message, they generally argue with the 
results.  On the contrary, Shashkin organized a focus group 
for Giorgi Targamadze after Targamadze started to show a 
tendency to listen only to opinion that flattered him. 
Shashkin said the group was more harsh than Shashkin thought 
was fair but Targamadze, though clearly hurt from the 
comments, thanked Shashkin for the lesson he learned. 
Shashkin said the only opposition group that really listens 
to advice is the CDM.  Shashkin said that Nino Burjanadze 
rejected campaigning door to door out of hand and was happy 
focus groups described her as a "queen".  Shashkin said it 
was a bit uncomfortable to explain that being described as a 
"queen" was not a positive.  Shashkin believes that even if 
new elections were held, Saakashvili and/or UNM would win 
handily. 
 
ALASANIA GOES LONG? 
 
5.  (C)  Commenting on the recent visit to Georgia by former 
 
TBILISI 00000024  002 OF 002 
 
 
Georgian Ambassador to the UN, Irakli Alasania , Shashkin 
said that Alasania's recent press conference was not a great 
performance.  Alasania, however, had to say something due to 
a
ll the buzz around him created by the Tbilisi political 
elite.  Shashkin says many in the elite circles view him as 
"Santa Claus" hoping he can deliver new elections without 
Saakashvili's participation.  Shashkin says Alasania is 
"green" as a politician, and thinks he should have waited 
until this summer to announce his move to the opposition. 
With a delayed announcement, Alasania could have avoided 
injecting himself into the political fray right after the war 
and would have a clearer picture as to the lay of the 
political landscape after election talk dies down.  Shashkin 
said Saakashvili moved former MPs and potential defectors to 
Alasania, Lasha Zhvania and Nika Rurua to cabinet positions 
to up the ante on them and forestall developing any political 
momentum on Alasania's part.  Now if Zhvania and Rurua leave, 
they will be completely outside of government which 
significantly changes the risk/reward analysis and denies 
them and Alasania a Parliamentary platform. 
 
6.  (C)  Shashkin is circumspect about Alasania's near term 
political future.  He clearly views him as a talented, 
capable individual but notes that the transition to the 
political arena is more difficult than most think.  It 
appears Alasania wants to take a longer term approach but is 
hedging his bets in the event of snap elections.  He has been 
approaching "second tier" MPs and being careful not to rock 
the boat to build a support base.  Shashkin says he's been 
told that Alasania has provisional financial backing from 
Irakli Baidashvili (GMT Group which owns both the Marriott 
hotels among other businesses).  Alasania is being careful 
not to alienate anybody in the opposition because of the 
possibility of early elections, but is wary of attaching 
himself to any particular opposition figure in the absence of 
elections.  Thus, Alasania has put himself in a difficult 
position which has been heightened by sky high expectations 
for him among some of the opposition and Tbilisi's political 
class. 
 
WHO IS THE NEXT PRESIDENT? 
 
7.  (C)  Apart frm the usual cast of characters, Shashkin 
views Parliamentary Speaker David Bakradze as possibly 
emerging from the UNM as a standard bearer in the next 
Presidential elections.  While many commentators feel the UNM 
will break up without Saakashvili at the helm, Bakradze could 
emerge as a successor.  Shashkin says he is smart, 
independent, and works well both within his party and outside 
of it.  Shashkin says he's seen a shift among rank and file 
UNM MPs who more and more view Bakradze as a leader. 
Shashkin also mentioned that President Saakashvili met with 
Bakradze privately in Qatar right before announcing his 
recent cabinet shift.  Bakradze is a well versed policymaker, 
but now Saakashvili appears to be seeking his advice on 
politics as well as policy.  If he gains Saakashvili's 
support and can unify at least a portion of the UNM behind 
him, Bakradze could be a formidable presidential candidate. 
Another candidate who may be thinking about throwing his hat 
in the ring is Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze.  However, 
until it becomes clear to all that Saakashvili will serve out 
his full term, candidates from the UNM will likely remain mum 
on any future intentions. 
TEFFT

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