Levan Vasadze

A Political Project

Davit Batashvili
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Recently, Levan Vasadze, a Georgian businessman who amassed his wealth in Russia, has frequently been at the center of attention. He says that he is not, and does not want to be, a politician. At the same time, however, he acts like a politician and the media covers his activities and statements accordingly. Although some people have viewed certain episodes of his recent activity as nothing more than matters for ridicule; the ongoing attempt to increase Levan Vasadze's popularity and influence among society is a pragmatically designed political project. The preparations for the transformation of this person into an important figure started long ago. In 2013, this process merely entered its active phase because an environment conducive towards that aim began to emerge.

After obtaining his higher education, first in Georgia and then in the United States, Levan Vasadze got engaged in Russian business in the 1990s. In 1998, he took up the position of vice-president of the joint stock financial corporation Sistema. In 2000, he became the first vice president of the Sistema Corporation and was responsible for developing the business strategy of the company. He held this position until 2006.

Sistema is a very interesting organization. It is one of largest Russian companies and is represented on a larger scale in many spheres of Russian business. The founder and head of the corporation is Vladimir Evtushenkov, the chairman of its board of directors – an influential member of Russian oligarchic circles who has personal ties with Vladimir Putin. Sistema has close links with other post-Soviet politicians too. The former President of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, joined the management team of the company in 2009 and is a member of its board of directors. In August 2007, the then prime minister of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, spent his summer vacation in the Altai Mountains at the expense of the Sistema Corporation.
It was Vladimir Evtushenkov who hired Levan Vasadze to work for Sistema and then appointed him to the key position of first vice-president, a post which is now held by Evtushenkov's son, Felix. As far as one can judge, Vasadze met Evtushenkov's expectations. In February 2005, he gave Vasadze 0.3% of Sistema's shares, the total value of which amounted to 16 million USD. In April 2006, Evtushenkov appointed Vasadze as CEO of the Rosno insurance company.

One year later, in April 2007, Sistema sold its shares of Rosno and Levan Vasadze left the post of CEO. He intended to continue his activity as a businessman in the Sistema Corporation. In an interview he gave at that time to a Russian magazine, Career, Vasadze disclosed his future plans: "I think that we, together with the management of Sistema, will identify a new role for me. I have not been treating Sistema as an employer for quite a long time now: we are a family collective. Over the period of many years we have done so much work that we will, perhaps, take stock of past our activity and Vladimir Petrovich Evtushenkov will say what he thinks and we will agree on something."

After that, however, something changed. Levan Vasadze did not continue his active work at Sistema. At the same time, Vasadze, who was previously quite an open respondent to the media, never shunning giving extensive and detailed interviews, stopped speaking publicly about his future projects. From 2008 to 2009, Vasadze lived in Great Britain and thereafter returned to Georgia. Nevertheless, Vasadze still runs an active business in Russia – he established a private equity fund, Prometheus Capital Partners, in Moscow in January 2010.

Having returned to Georgia, Vasadze got down to work establishing a positive image of himself among certain social groups. A factor conducive to this endeavor was his close ties with the leadership of the Georgian Church. Vasadze even secured a name for himself as a philanthropist. In parallel, since 2010, video clips about Vasadze started to appear on YouTube. They, in essence, pursued the aim of the political promotion of Vasadze and proved to be quite popular. All this bore some fruit. Although one cannot claim that over the period 2010 to 2012 Vasadze gained substantial political popularity, positive opinions were clearly shaped about him among certain people.

Vasadze's activity really stepped up in 2013 following the change in power. In March, he published an expansive paper titled "The Nation and the State," in which he conveyed his political and ideological opinions. During the events of 17 May, when a mob assaulted a peaceful group of people intending to protest homophobia, Vasadze was in the street expressing his satisfaction about the differences observed between Tbilisi and Amsterdam. In July, he became the chairman of the supervisory board of the Fund of Georgia's Demographic Revival. Thereafter, Vasadze supported the presidential campaign of Giorgi Margvelashvili, appearing in public together with the presidential candidate of the Georgian Dream. On 30 September, Levan Vasadze became the founder of the managing company of the Co-Investment Fund. This activity created an image of Vasadze as a political figure – an image cemented when journalists began to ask him to comment on the results of the presidential election of 27 October. Even though the media refers to him as a businessman, the media conspicuously never seeks political comments from other businessmen. The next steps Levan Vasadze took were connected with the Bagrationi family – descendants of the royal dynasty of Georgia. On 31 October, Vasadze was awarded the title of "knight," whilst on 3 November, he became the godfather of the "heir of the throne."

The available information about Levan Vasadze shows that he is a person whose every step serves a concrete aim. Consequently, those actions which may seem amusing to many, including his sporting Georgian national dress, the Chokha, and interacting with the Bagrationis, are each designed to achieve a specific result. Vasadze makes an effort to gain as much influence as possible from among Georgian society and, at some point in the future, may try to become a formal political leader. How will Vasadze use his influence if his efforts prove successful? The answer to this question can be found in the ideas which he conveyed in his paper published in March 2013.

Central to Vasadze's rhetoric is the criticism of the West and Georgia's pro-Western orientation. In his rhetoric the West is perverted; Americans believe in Masons and money instead of god; Catholics are enemies of Orthodox Christians, whilst Protestants do not deserve to be called Christians at all. The recognition of our territorial integrity by the West, in Vasadze's rhetoric, is prompted only by the West's desire to "capture" Georgia, whilst Georgia's pro-Western policy is tantamount to the reflex of a Pavlovian dog. At the same time, for some unknown reason, Vasadze's does not vent his ire towards Russia – a country which, by its social and cultural features, can hardly be regarded as more traditional than Western countries in any way. Even more, in his opinion the "co-religionist Russians are our allies both culturally and spiritually, not enemies." Vasadze disapproves of excessive criticism of the absolutely anti-Christian Soviet Union too. True, he admits that the communists were bad guys, but then hails the greatest achievements of that totalitarian regime and is happy that Georgians were "viewed as a respected nation" on the vast Eurasian space in Soviet times.

At the same time, Levan Vasadze dislikes liberal democracy and is quite eloquent when describing the uselessness and evils of this political system. This is compounded by his xenophobic reasoning about the ethnic origins of certain politicians and his demands that the "regime" of the United National Movement be "brought to justice."

All in all, Vasadze's rhetoric, be it that found in his paper or in other public statements he has made, is directed against Georgia's ties with the West: he tries to convince the Georgian population as to the evilness of the West; speaks about the need to destroy those Georgian political forces having contact with the West; and propagates such ideas which, were they to come true, would render Georgia's relationship with the West impossible – just as is the case with Alexander Lukashenko's Belarus.

Damaging and severing ties with the West is the best scenario for enabling Russia to do anything it wants in Georgia. An isolated Georgia is the ideal environment for the Kremlin to realize its wishes. The consequences of this would be dire for Georgia and its population. I cannot say what Levan Vasadze thinks about that, but it is a fact that his actions are geared towards realizing this very grave scenario.

The situation in which Levan Vasadze currently finds himself is quite comfortable for him. He conducts political activity without any formal status as a politician or the corresponding responsibilities that would entail. The current government is friendly towards him and he thus has full freedom to act. If, in future, Vasadze decides to start formal political activity, he will do so as a person "not smeared with a political past," just like Bidzina Ivanishvili did in October 2011. Vasadze will try to capitalize on that factor and will inevitably say that although he never wanted to be a politician, the grave situation existing forced him to do so as he sees no other way to save the homeland.

The best timing for Vasadze to take this step will be the moment when the popularity of the Georgian Dream has plummeted sufficiently, though the popularity of the United National Movement has not yet recovered and no other serious opposition force has emerged. Such a moment, when the population is disappointed with every participant of the existing political spectrum, is favorable for new political actors to appear and convince a segment of society that they know the remedy for all problems. One can expect this to occur in the nearest future, although it may also happen in a medium term perspective. Despite his close ties with the Georgian Dream and with President Giorgi Margvelashvili personally, Levan Vasadze is not a member of this political force. Therefore, the future failures of the Georgian Dream will not have an adverse effect on any political aspirations he may have. At the same time, he will receive support from the Church's leadership and circles close to it. In such a case, Vasadze may become a serious political actor. Those steps in his move towards that goal – the knighthood from the monarchy or any other action – will become of secondary importance. Of primary importance, however, is how influential this new political actor will become and what degree of harm he will inflict on Georgia's interests and security. One cannot, of course, say for sure that Vasadze will indeed try to become a formal political leader within the next few years, but his current behavior shows clear signs of him preparing for that.

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