Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has removed Defense Minister Irakli Alasania from office shortly after Alasania accused prosecutors of using investigations into the defense ministry to derail Georgia's plans for NATO integration.
In a brisk televised statement, Gharibashvili claimed that Alasania's comments about the investigations are "causing the politicization of the defense ministry" and "negatively" impacting "our country's security and the government's efficient work."
"Our country's Euro-Atlantic integration is not only our government's, but our people's, choice and this process is and will be unchangeable," he said.
The prime minister alleged that problems with the defense ministry's procurement practices had been discussed "more than once" within the government and that Alasania had received previous "censure and instructions."
The relatively low-profile Mindia Janelidze, who runs the prime minister's state-security council, has been tapped to replace Alasania, currently ranked as the country's most popular political figure.
State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Aleksi Petriashvili, a member of Alasania's Free Democrats Party, resigned following the defense minister's removal.
The prime minister's move, however, brings no closure to the crisis. Appearing on a Rustavi2 talk show after Gharibashvili's announcement, a visibly angry Alasania took aim at the prime minister for acting as "a prosecutor," rather than "a prime minister." He warned, darkly, that the scandal only benefits "the country which has occupied Georgia's territories;" in other words, Russia.
Many are tempted to see another beneficiary from this development -- former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder of the Georgian Dream coalition and a figure with his own history of spats with Alasania. His role in the minister's removal is not clear, but widely suspected.
Speaking from Vienna, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who has had his own face-offs with Gharibashvili, added to those impressions by commenting, as Civil.ge reported, that "the country should be ruled with strong institutions and not from the backstage."
That topic could resurface on November 5 when the Georgian Dream will meet to discuss, as First Deputy Prime Minister/Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze put it, some "very interesting details."
If the Free Democrats (and the likeminded Republican Party) withdraw from the coalition, the Georgian Dream would lose its parliamentary majority.
Asked about that prospect by Rustavi2, Kaladze downplayed the possibility, saying that such predictions, and the chance for fresh elections, for now, are premature.