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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI132 2009-01-26 14:52 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

DE RUEHSI #0132/01 0261452
O 261452Z JAN 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 000132 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/25/2018 
     B. TBILISI 97 
     C. TBILISI 89 
     D. TBILISI 57 
     E. 08 TBILISI 2482 
     F. 08 TBILISI 2268 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
1. (C)  Summary/Comment:  In a televised first, President 
Saakashvili answered four hours of call-in questioning from 
the general public on January 23.  Opposition figures called 
the session a "Putin-like" stunt.  In our view, the event 
actually resembled more of a "town-hall" political event and 
is consistent with a new UNM strategy for more public 
engagement (septel).  Saakashvili appeared confident though 
at times combative, speaking on a wide range of policy 
issues; expressing high hopes for his agenda; and 
categorically ruling out new elections while still managing 
to get a verbal jab or two in on his rivals.  Subsequently, 
Irakli Alasania and Nino Burjanadze appeared on Political 
Week on Public Television (ref A) to discuss their political 
futures.  Both Alasania and Burjanadze called for 
Saakashvili's resignation and new elections.  Alasania was 
short on specifics, but appeared poised, balanced, and 
avoided being reflexively anti-Saakashvili in his tone. 
Burjanadze was more uneven and broke no new ground. 
Alasania, as the biggest unknown, probably made the largest 
impact over the weekend by his measured performance, 
rhetorically distancing himself from the radical 
non-parliamentary opposition.  Saakashvili gave a strong 
performance, however; it is doubtful he swayed any serious 
critics with his efforts.  Burjanadze still appears to be 
searching for her political footing (ref C).  End 
Misha, Taking Your Calls 
2.  (SBU)  Love him or hate him, President Saakashvili has an 
undeniable public presence which was live on display for four 
hours on the afternoon of January 23.  A local Embassy 
employee, self-described as "not a fan", called Saakashvili's 
performance very impressive.  An informal FSN panel agreed 
that the four hour session was a bit over the top.  He called 
the August war a "huge tragedy" including for himself 
personally, and slammed Russian PM Putin several times for 
his aggressive neo-Soviet policies.  Saakashvili praised the 
incoming U.S. administration saying he liked President 
Obama's inauguration speech, and noted that he had a warm 
conversation with the new President after his election.  He 
praised President Bush's support during August but expressed 
his personal view that the United States was perceived as 
weak towards the end of the Bush administration by Russia and 
the Europeans.  Saakashvili said a strong America is a 
natural ally for Georgia in all circumstance and reiterated 
his desire to continue Georgia's western integration. 
3.  (SBU)  On the economy, Saakashvili took nearly two hours 
of questions ranging from unemployment to water supply and 
other infrastructure issues in remote and rural areas, 
pensions and other pedestrian issues.  Displaying a western 
politician's acumen, Saakashvili largely answered the 
question of his own choosing with a positive spin rather than 
facing a tough question head on.  However, addressing a 
recent controversy, Saakashvili vigorously defended his 
government's decision to enter into a joint management 
agreement of the Enguri hydro power plant with Inter RAO (a 
Russian owned company) which he said guaranteed unhindered 
electricity for western Georgia (ref B, ref D).  Saakashvili 
often returned to his strategy of downplaying the role the 
August war played in the economic downturn, saying that 
Georgia's economic woes are due to the global economic 
QGeorgia's economic woes are due to the global economic 
downturn.  He described Georgia as "not only besieged by an 
armed enemy, but by the global economic crisis as well." 
Saakashvili again asked the public to compare the favorable 
state of Georgia's economy to Russia and other neighbors.  In 
a lighter moment, when asked about his ailing Prime Minister 
and Speaker of Parliament, he began reading aloud text 
messages he had received from both of them.  In one such 
message shared by Saakashvili, Speaker David Bakradze 
jokingly compared being pricked, drilled, shaved, hung on a 
hook, and tortured (while hospitalized) to serving in 
4.  (C)  Saving his best shots for the non-parliamentary 
opposition, Saakashvili said none of his former allies went 
into the opposition on their own accord, but only after being 
fired.  Saakashvili also stated that he had not spoken with 
Alasania since he left government.  (Embassy Comment:  Our 
sources indicate that both of these statements are dubious 
and that Burjanadze and Alasania chose to enter the 
opposition.  We have also heard Saakashvili offered Alasania 
the position of Defense Minister or Foreign Minister in 
TBILISI 00000132  002.3 OF 002 
November to forestall his departure, something Alasania 
recently mentioned publicly.  End Comment.)  Saakashvili &
#x000A;openly mocked the non-parliamentary opposition whom, he 
joked, "have announced a tender on selecting a leader." 
Saakashvili praised the parliamentary opposition saying that 
"major political battle is ongoing in the Parliament".  He 
then noted how much better the parliamentary opposition's 
standing was in recent polls compared to their 
non-parliamentary colleagues.  The President was dismissive 
of accusations about a lack of media freedom saying whenever 
opposition politicians complain about a lack of free speech 
on TV, they are always appearing on live TV doing so. 
(Embassy Comment:  On Rustavi 2 numerous opposition 
politicians expressed negative views on Saakashvili's Q and A 
session immediately after its conclusion.  David Gamkrelidze 
(New Rights) and David Usupashvili (Republicans) slammed 
Saakashvili at a televised press conference, which added 
simply credence to Saakashvili's point.  End Comment.) 
Saakashvili ruled out calls for new elections.  He said the 
November 2007 events and early presidential and parliamentary 
elections cost Georgia USD 2 billion in lost investments. 
Alasania Gets Good Marks 
5.  (SBU)  Our informal FSN panel gave Alasania good marks 
for his performance on the TV talkshow Political Week. 
Alasania's demeanor was poised, and his responses were 
measured and thoughtful.  The former diplomat was very 
impressive when speaking on foreign relations and external 
issues, but less confident on domestic ones at one point 
flubbing the name of a non-parliamentary leader.  Alasania 
expressed his solidarity with the non-parliamentary 
opposition demand for early elections, but was very careful 
not to tie himself to any group or figure.  Alasania vaguely 
said he did not intend to set up a separate political party 
but would announce his "political team" shortly.  Alasania 
earned his highest marks when asked provocative questions by 
host Inga Grigolia about why he chose not to speak out until 
well after the August war.  Alasania was quick to point out 
that he is not simply anti-Saakashvili and is proud of a 
number of things accomplished while he was part of the UNM. 
Alasania also said he balanced duty to his country and its 
President and his personal feelings when deciding the right 
time to leave the UNM and GOG.  Alasania noted that it would 
have been detrimental to Georgia's interests to speak out 
while Ambassador to the UN, and that while he had strong 
disagreements with Saakashvili, he was not about to publicly 
discuss them until the immediate crisis was resolved. 
6.  (C)  Alasania responded directly to Saakashvili's claim 
that he had not spoken to Alasania after his "sacking". 
Alasania said publicly that he had been offered the Defense 
Minister and Foreign Minister positions after he gave 
Saakashvili his resignation.  Alasania avoided any further 
tit-for-tat discussion, instead preferring to outline his 
vision of a less confrontational Georgia both internally and 
externally.  He refuted the suggestions that he was 
"America's candidate", as well as speculation that the United 
States tacitly instructed Saakashvili to "invade" South 
Ossetia.  Alasania said he had many high-level contacts in 
the USG and not once had anybody hinted at support for 
military action.  Alasania reminded viewers that the United 
States does not support any specific candidate in Georgian 
elections.  While Alasania avoided difficult questions as to 
Qelections.  While Alasania avoided difficult questions as to 
exactly where he falls in the non-parliamentary opposition, 
he succeeded in delivering a moderate message both in tone 
and substance.  After an uneven first press conference (ref 
E), Alasania's most recent performance was a definite 
improvement, though he still has many difficult decisions 
about his future to make. 
Burjanadze - A Leader Looking for a Direction 
7.  (C)  Nino Burjanadze's appearance on the same episode of 
Political Week was not viewed as positively by our FSN group. 
 While Alasania was philosophical and nuanced about his time 
in government, Burjanadze appeared defensive.  She was unable 
to explain effectively the apparent contradictions of her 
previous governmental role and her current opposition to 
Saakashvili.  Burjanadze repeated her calls for Saakashvili's 
resignation and early presidential elections.  She demurred 
when asked if she would run for president, speaking only 
hypothetically that all leaders of political parties have 
ambitions to be president.  She spent much of her time 
criticizing Saakashvili rather than focusing on her own long 
term political vision.  Burjanadze vaguely spoke of uniting 
opposition forces to push for new elections, but could give 
no specific details.  In all, Burjanadze did not break any 
new ground, and her appearance may have served to muddle her 
message rather than help shape it. 


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