Georgia appointed a new defense minister who immediately became the subject of controversy when the outgoing minister criticized the selection.
The new minister, Levon Izoria, was announced on Monday, and spoke to the press on Tuesday. From a policy perspective, he signaled little new, vowing to continue Georgia's "active participation in NATO Resolute Support – we will pursue it with our strategic partner, the United States,” he said, referring to the western military mission in Afghanistan. Izoria also emphasized the importance of the new security cooperation agreement with the U.S. which will focus on building up Georgia's ability to defend itself, reported Civil.ge.
But the woman whom Izoria is replacing, Tinatin Khidasheli, took a public shot at his appointment. Izoria comes from Georgia's internal security services; he had been serving as deputy head of the State Security Service, and before that deputy interior minister. That background is inappropriate for a defense minister, Khidasheli said shortly after the appointment was announced.
“It is a wrong message to our partners abroad, as well as internally, when at first Irakli Alasania, a political figure, was replaced by a security official [Mindia Janelidze] as defense minister and then Khidasheli was replaced again by a security [official]… It indicates on a very negative trend,” Khidasheli said. Her husband and speaker of the parliament Davit Usupashvili echoed the comments.
This drew a rebuke from Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili. "It is difficult to comment on this statements - unfortunately, they were profoundly inappropriate. I am convinced that after overcoming their emotions, Ms. Khidasheli and Mr. Usupashvili will make different statements," he said.
Given that parliamentary elections are slated for the fall, this is only going to be a caretaker appointment, noted Irakli Aladashvili, a Georgian military analyst. He interpreted Izoria's appointment as someone who would be a team player, and contrasted that to Khidasheli's unilateral decision to abolish the military draft.
"The Georgian Dream leadership opted for someone who would be loyal to them," he told RFE/RL. "Lately, the lack of coordination between Khidasheli and the government was obvious to everyone." He added that Janelidze, too, was seen as an interim appointment. "Considering that there will be elections soon, Izoria also will only occupy that position for an insignificant period of time."
Kvirikashvili suggested that dealing with the political problems in the ministry, which have included public allegations that Khidasheli's team used their positions in the ministry to further the party agenda, was part of his rationale for naming Izoria.
"Ministry of Defense shall be maximally distanced from the political antagonism, he said. "I consider that such hostility shall generally be terminated. For some reason, certain individuals considered my statements regarding refraining from the hostility as a sign of Bolshevism. However, I think that all of think differently. I would like to see that our country is tranquil and peaceful. Polarization of our country shall end consolidation of our society shall be ensured. This is my primary goal and Ministry of Defense is an agency, where sense of the unity of country shall be the strongest."