Georgians Protest National Bank Decision not to Apply Western Sanctions
Protests erupted on Tuesday after the National Bank of the Caucasian country of Georgia decided not to apply U.S., EU, or U.K. sanctions related to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine when they target Georgian citizens, unless they have been convicted of a crime by a Georgian court.
The decision has been criticized by the country’s president and two banks have immediately declared they intend to apply all international sanctions.
The controversial amendment to the rules was signed on Tuesday by the Acting President of the National Bank of Georgia Natia Turnava only a few days after the U.S. announced new sanctions on September 14, targeting 150 individuals and entities, including the former chief prosecutor of Georgia Otar Partskhaladze and two businesses in Russia he partially owns.
The sanctions refer to Partskhaladze as a “Georgian-Russian oligarch” who is closely connected to Russian FSB officer Aleksandr Onishchenko, who was sanctioned at the same time.
“FSB Officer Onishchenko likely assisted his associate Partskhaladze in obtaining a Russian passport and possibly Russian citizenship,” reads the text of the U.S. State Department’s press release. “Onishchenko and the FSB have leveraged Partskhaladze to influence Georgian society and politics for the benefit of Russia. Partskhaladze has reportedly personally profited from his FSB connection.”
The same day the exception was introduced, all three of the bank’s vice-presidents resigned and Georgia’s President Salome Zurabisvhili called on Turnava to resign too. She had earlier been nominated to take over the bank by Zurabishvili herself.
“Personally, I want to say about Natia Turnava, the candidate nominated by me, that I am very sorry and even apologize,” said the President Zurabishvili at a press conference. “The acting president, who has failed to protect the independence of the National Bank and, on the contrary, harmed this principle, should resign."
The bank’s decision prompted protests in the country’s capital Tbilisi, one in front of the National Bank itself and the other in front of the Parliament.
“What the National Bank has decided is a danger for each of us, because helping a sanctioned person bypassing sanctions affects both our country and our citizens,” one of the protesters told OCCRP. “This is categorically unacceptable.”
Georgia’s two largest commercial banks, TBC and Bank of Georgia, immediately announced that they intended to apply all international sanctions.
Turnava responded to their announcements at a press conference, saying that “the commercial sector has no right to disobey the regulator.”