Georgia’s pro-EU president avoids impeachment after break with government

By Felix Light

TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili escaped impeachment on Wednesday, amid a bitter dispute with a government she says is pro-Russian and insufficiently committed to bids for European Union and NATO membership.

Georgian Dream, the ruling party with which Zourabichvili was once aligned, announced impeachment proceedings in September, accusing her of breaking the law by visiting EU leaders to drum up support for accession against the government’s will.

Eighty-six out of 150 deputies in Georgia’s parliament voted for impeachment – well short of the required two-thirds – with opposition parties boycotting the vote.

Speaking beforehand, Zourabichvili called the proceedings a “farce”, and suggested, without providing evidence, that they had been instigated by Russia, Georgia’s giant neighbour.

A former French diplomat of Georgian descent, Zourabichvili was elected to the mostly ceremonial presidency in 2018 with Georgian Dream’s backing.

She has since broken with the party, which she has repeatedly accused of being pro-Russian and insufficiently committed to closer ties with the West.

Georgia says it is committed to joining both the EU and the U.S.-led NATO military alliance, but has declined to follow other European countries in imposing sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. In May, the prime minister suggested that NATO was to blame for the war.

Many in Georgia accuse Moscow of encouraging its provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – which Russia now recognises as independent – to break away from Tbilisi’s control through a series of wars since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In March, Zourabichvili pledged to veto a bill to require non-government organisations (NGOs) receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents” – a move critics said was inspired by laws used to crush dissent in Russia. In the end, after large street protests, the bill was withdrawn.

The European Union, which last year declined to give Georgia candidate status alongside Ukraine and Moldova, has repeatedly warned that a deepening of authoritarianism could derail Georgia’s EU application.

(Reporting by Felix Light; Editing by Kevin Liffey)