Tbilisi: Frequent flier pilots Georgia’s diplomacy

Messenger.com.ge, Georgia
Aug 12 2004

Frequent flier pilots Georgia’s diplomacy

Nine months have passed since the Rose Revolution and its
leader-turn-president has conducted twenty-one visits abroad both on
the state level and unofficial level. Averaging over two visits a
month, President Mikheil Saakashvili has redefined Georgia’s foreign
policy as proactive, engaging and ambitious.

A geographical survey of his visits shows the variety of interests of
the Georgian leader in his strive to establish economic progress and
achieve territorial security of the country.

The opposition prefers to criticize his frequent travels and suggests
that he should stop traveling abroad and instead concentrate on
Georgia’s internal affairs of the country. However, in the case of
Georgia it is often difficult to distinguish between the country’s
foreign and internal affairs as they are very closely linked with
each other.

The first country visited by Saakashvili after the Rose Revolution
was Ukraine in December 2003. At the time the Georgian leader met
with Ukrainian opposition leaders who were planing to perform a
Ukrainian version of Rose Revolution against President Leonid Kuchma.
This meeting created a noticeably cold climate between official
Tbilisi and Kiev.

However, later the strategic interests of the two countries prevailed
over personal sympathies/antipathies. In April 2004 while on an
official visit to Kiev, President Saakashvili repeatedly confirmed
the strategic-partner relationship between Georgia and Ukraine and
outlined the prospects of strengthening those relations.

In January 2004, during his visits to Switzerland, France and
Germany, newly elected President Saakashvili firmly asserted
Georgia’s intention to integrate into European structures thus
underscoring Georgia’s strategic path for the future.

In April-May 2004 President Saakashvili visited Poland and Rumania.
The attitude of the Georgian government is that deepening
relationships with these countries and sharing their experience for
integration into the European commonwealth and NATO would very much
assist Georgia in doing the same.

Saakashvili twice visited Moscow, in February and recently in June.
Immediately after the Rose Revolution, the Georgia administration
tired to establish a completely different relationship with Russia.
It suggested forgetting past misunderstandings and starting a new
phase of relations from a blank slate.

However, in doing so Georgia is combating the legacy of its past
questionable policies and Russia’s deeply entrenched imperialists who
became only further secured in Russia’s Parliamentary elections this
year. While the war of words has ricocheted back and forth between
parliamentarians, ministries and officials, it is notable that
President Saakashvili has never uttered a single word of criticism
against President Vladimir Putin. Correspondingly, Putin has ever
criticized Saakashvili.

This coming fall Putin is expected to visit Tbilisi. It is envisaged
that a new framework agreement between the two countries should be
signed. There is significant hope in Tbilisi that this tete-a-tete
meeting will let the two leaders to overcome the antagonism shared by
their underlings and Georgian-Russian relations will be clarified and
developed in a better direction.

President Saakashvili has also visited countries of the Mid East –
Turkey, Iran and Israel. With Turkey, Georgia maintains one of its
closest partner relationships. The president of Georgia has invited
Turkish businessmen to participate in the privatization process now
underway in Georgia. Wednesday’s visit of Prime Minster Erdogan
accompanied by 115 businessmen is a clear evidence of the deepening
neighbor relationships.

Strengthening of relationships with Iran is also planned. With Israel
Georgia’s relationship is more unique and Saakashvili tried to
interest Israeli citizens who had left Georgia many years in reviving
their ties with their former homeland by accepting dual citizenship.
Reviving lost ties was also a theme of President Saakashvili in other
countries though the potential for Israeli-Georgian relationships
appear the greatest.

During Saakashvili’s visit to Azerbaijan and Armenia he encouraged
the neighbors to establish a common Caucasus market and suggested
Georgia could play a role of locomotive in integrating the region
into Europe. However, in this particular case the Kharabakh conflict
creates serious problems for Azerbaijan and Armenia to cooperate.

It was very important for Georgia to participate in the NATO Istanbul
Summit this June. There he once and forever attached the Georgia’s
development to western interests. It was also very significant that
the summit participants urged Russia once again to fulfill its
commitment and withdraw military bases from Georgia.

Saakashvili visited the United States twice, and his most recent
visit was very timely as it coincided with the deterioration of
relations with Russia and controversy over the BTC pipeline in the
Borjomi Gorge.

Judging by Saakashvili’s relentless personality, it is safe to assume
that his intense travels will continue. Compared to former President
Shevardnadze’s foreign policy of balancing interests, Saakashvili has
chosen a very goal oriented and clear-cut strategy of pointing
Georgia’s orientation towards the west and defining the country’s
interests before others do that for him.