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The former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, discussed the on-going political processes in Georgia on air on Rustavi 2. Mr Saakashvili also mentioned the upcoming Parliamentary elections scheduled for the next year and stated: "Bidzina Ivanishvili has clearly falsified the results of the population census and registered 800,000 citizens of Georgia as living in Russia. Why exactly in Russia? Because Ivanishvili himself and his principal representative in Russia (Zurab Abashidze) know exactly how to bring in votes. There are no 800,000 Georgian citizens in Russia. The maximum amount of Georgians living there is approximately 150,000-200,000."

FactCheck

took interest in this topic and verified the statement of the former President.

In his statement, Mikheil Saakashvili referred to the 2014 universal population census. According to the National Statistics Office of Georgia (preliminary data), results of the census show that as of 1 January 2015, there are 3,729,635 residents of Georgia. According to the previous census, which was conducted in 2002, there were 4,371,500 individuals living in Georgia. Additionally, according to the National Statistics Office of Georgia, as of 1 January 2014, the population

of Georgia was 4,490,500.

The former President believes that the decrease in the population happened artificially in order to have a high number of Georgians registered as having emigrated, including those who now live in Russia which will enable the Government of Georgia to falsify elections. Therefore, Mr Saakashvili refers to those citizens of Georgia who reside in Russia and have the right to take part in elections in Georgia. Since 2008 (Russia-Georgia war), no polling stations have been opened for Georgian citizens on the territory of Russia. In his aforementioned statement, Mikheil Saakashvili presumed that the Government of Georgia will open polling stations in Russia for the next elections.

In order to figure out the number of Georgian citizens who live in Russia according to the 2014 population census, FactCheck contacted the National Statistics Office of Georgia. The letter which FactCheck

received from the National Statistics Office of Georgia says that the data of the 2014 population census is being processed and will be published at the end of April 2016. Additionally, the data on citizens of Georgia who live in Russia are based on the 2002 universal population census according to which there are 72,950 Georgian immigrants who live in Russia.

FactCheck has previously written

about the number of Georgians who live in Russia when at the end of 2013 the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, stated that over one million Georgians live in Russia. The unofficial information from the Ministry on Diaspora Issues was also interesting. According to this information, there are 800,000-900,000 Georgians who live in Russia. This number, however, as stated by the Ministry’s representative, is unofficial and as such cannot be counted upon as accurate.

In addition to the 2002 population census, there are two additional sources of official data (FactCheck

was unable to obtain other official sources) regarding the number of Georgians who live in Russia. According to the 1989 population census of the Soviet Union, there were 130,688 ethnic Georgians who lived in Russia whilst according to the 2010 universal population census of the Russian Federation, the number of Georgians living there was 157,803.

It needs to be mentioned that the aforementioned numbers concern ethnic Georgians who live in Russia whilst Mikheil Saakashvili talked about citizens of Georgia; that is, about those individuals who have the right to vote. During the research process, FactCheck tried to contact Mr Saakashvili to obtain additional details about his statement. Unfortunately, we were unable to receive answers to our questions. FactCheck also contacted the Head of the Saakashvili Presidential Library, Andro Barnovi. In his interview with FactCheck,

Mr Barnovi stated that he did not have information about the number of Georgians who live in Russia. He was also not able to give us the source which Mikheil Saakashvili used to make his aforementioned statement.

As we have mentioned earlier, the former President made an assumption that for the 2016 Parliamentary elections, polling stations will be opened in Russia and Georgian citizens who live there will be able to vote. In order to obtain information about this, FactCheck

contacted the Central Election Commission of Georgia (CEC). The Commission’s representative stated that the opening of polling stations in Russia is a matter of political consideration. At the present time, however, the CEC does not have information on whether or not any real steps are being made in this regard.

Conclusion According to the official data obtained by FactCheck,

the highest number of ethnic Georgians who live in Russia is recorded at 157,803. This number was registered as a result of the universal population census of the Russian Federation conducted in 2010. It is logical to assume that the number of Georgians who have the right to participate in elections in Georgia is lower than the number of ethnic Georgians who live in Russia.

In his statement, Mikheil Saakashvili mentioned that he referred to the 2014 population census. However, according to information obtained from the National Statistics Office of Georgia, the results of this census, including the number of Georgians who live in Russia, is being processed and will not be published until the end of April 2016.

FactCheck

was unable to obtain the source from the former President which gave the number 800,000 as the population of Georgians in Russia. However, it is possible that he perhaps subtracted the results of the 2014 population census from the number registered as of 1 January 2014 and presumed that the difference (761,000) would be declared as the number of Georgians who live in Russia. According to the Central Election Commission of Georgia, the opening of polling stations on the territory of Russia is not yet on the agenda.

For the present time, FactCheck leaves Mikheil Saakashvili’s statement without a verdict. However, after the publication of relevant statistics or in light of new events, we will return to this issue.

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