Sydney Morning Herald , Australia
May 10 2005
Bush praises Georgia for blazing a trail to liberty
By Caren Bohan in Tbilisi
May 11, 2005
The Bush democracy wagon has trundled into the new republic of
Georgia, which the White House described as a “beacon of liberty for
the region and for the world”.
President George Bush was expected to show Washington’s support for
democratic freedoms in Russia’s backyard yesterday.
The first US leader to visit the ancient Christian nation in the
Caucasus mountains was scheduled to speak in the capital’s Freedom
Square, rallying point for a 2003 “Rose Revolution” that installed a
reforming, Western-looking government.
Georgia’s US-educated President Mikhail Saakashvili is hoping Mr
Bush’s visit will strengthen his hand in a dispute with the Kremlin
over the presence of two Russian military bases in Georgia, which he
has likened to an occupation force.
“By coming here he sends such a strong message of supporting
democracy and independence … it’s like encouragement for democracy in
the whole region,” he told reporters.
Mr Bush arrived yesterday morning at Georgia’s parliament building
which was decked with the stars and stripes and the country’s red and
white flag. The President shook hands with ministers before entering
the Soviet-style columned building.
AdvertisementWhite House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr Bush would
tell the expected crowd of at least 50,000 that Georgia’s revolution
blazed a trail for Iraq, Lebanon and ex-Soviet Ukraine.
While Mr Bush would publicly congratulate the people of Georgia on
their peaceful revolution, his private message to Mr Saakashvili is
likely to be more nuanced. He will remind the Georgian leader that
democracy means more than elections, and further reforms are
essential if the former Soviet republic is to fulfil its European
Union and NATO membership ambitions.
The US National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, highlighted
Washington’s concerns about simmering disputes in the separatist
regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia’s attitude to its
Russophile, Azeri and Armenian minorities and the rule of law were
also seen as key tests of future progress, he suggested.
The US is anxious that an argument with Russia over closing two
Soviet-era military bases in Georgia, with 3000 troops, should not
rekindle broader tensions with the Kremlin. Despite continuing talks,
Mr Saakashvili cited this as his reason for boycotting Monday’s VE
Day celebrations in Moscow.
Mr Bush arrived from Moscow on Monday night after taking part in the
celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi
Germany, and sidestepping Washington’s political differences with
Russia. Mr Bush has criticised what he sees as backsliding in Russia
over democratic reform.
In contrast to the solemnity in Moscow, Mr Bush and his wife Laura
looked relaxed as they mingled with performers at a outdoor concert
of Georgian folk dancing on Monday.
Mr Bush bobbed his head in time to the music and, as he left, swung
his hips. His moves impressed Mr Saakashvili, 37. “Some dancers told
me they like his rhythm. He captured the whole thing immediately.”
The Bushes also dined in a nearby restaurant with Mr Saakashvili, a
fluent English speaker with whom, White House officials say, Mr Bush
has found a strong rapport.