Georgia’s hopes to join NATO, reclaim Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and
other running foreign policy matters were the key moments of US
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s June 4-5 drop-in on Georgia,
but her visit had implications for domestic political struggles as
With Georgia's parliamentary elections set for October, all of the
country’s main political players hope for some public display of
Washington’s support. Before Clinton swung by, opposition tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili had hoped to steal her away a bit from the warm embrace of her host (and his arch-rival) Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for an intimate tête-à-tête. But it was not to be.
Clinton chose to get the lowdown on Georgian politics from a less up-close-and-personal sit-down with NGOs and a group meeting with opposition leaders. Ivanishvili was represented at the meeting by allies in his Georgian Dream coalition and the chairperson of the group, Manana Kobakhidze.
He had earlier indicated that he does not want to share his Clinton time with leaders of political minority groups who are not part of the Georgian Dream and whom he describes as a "fake opposition."
Azerbaijan made the trip to the May 20-21 Euro-Atlantic defense pow-wow in Chicago, and Georgia all but rode a rocket there. But Armenia stayed home.
And not because -- to borrow the dating excuse of an earlier generation of Americans -- it needed to wash its hair.
Armenia is Russia’s economic and military protégé in the Caucasus, and some Armenian wonks believe that President Serzh Sargsyan was a no-show in Chicago as a courtesy move to the Kremlin.
But Yerevan says that the real turn-off for Sargsyan was the gathering’s reiteration of the alliance’s commitment to the territorial integrity of nations. In plain words and as far as Armenia is concerned, this means it should let Azerbaijan take back Sargsyan's native land of breakaway Nagorno Karabakh.
“We remain committed in our support of the territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Republic of Moldova,” the 28-member bloc said. The declaration does not mention the right of self-determination which Armenia advocates in the Karabakh conflict resolution talks. The right to self-determination and the right to territorial integrity -- contradictory though at times they may seem -- are both principles that guide the internationally-mediated discussions.
The guest list for the annual Agile Spirit 2012 exercises had been the task of the Georgian Ministry of Defense, and, granted, Georgians are renowned for their hospitality to foreigners. The country’s open-door policy with Iran is also well documented.
The South Caucasus appears to be finding itself in a risky front-row seat for the ongoing international campaign against Iran's nuclear ambitions and, in turn, outrage at Israel for its role in the struggle.
On February 13, a bomb was found under the car of a Georgian employee of the Israeli embassy in Tbilisi. Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesperson Shota Utiashvili told EurasiaNet.org that he could not specify if the foiled bomb attack was targeted against the Israeli embassy premises, but noted that the car "was located near the embassy." Police defused the explosive without incident.
In a separate incident today, the wife of an Israeli diplomat was injured in a car bomb explosion in New Delhi.
Georgia’s feuding Mr. President and Mr. Billionaire went to Washington on January 30 -- one in person and the other in writing -- to compete for the good graces of Barack Obama's administration.
Obama essentially heard two songs from the Georgians -- “Got What You Need” from President Mikheil Saakashvili and “Take a Chance on Me” from opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Saakashvili may have gotten the face time with Obama, but Ivanishvili tried to mitigate whatever political scores the Oval Office meeting may give Saakashvili. In op-eds published in The New York Times and The Washington Post, the Forbes List billionaire asked Obama to pressure Saakashvili to make Georgia's upcoming parliamentary elections air and competitive.
“We urge the leaders of the USA… to apply all available assets to secure free and fair ballot for our citizens at the October 2012 election,” reads the op-ed.
Saakashvili, in the meantime, emerged from his White House meeting satisfied, telling the BBC it had "elevated" the two countries' ties "to [a] new level," and thanking Obama for Washington's continued commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity, eventual NATO membership, and for the prospect of signing a free trade agreement.
There are growing signs, though, that the battle for Georgia’s political future will play out inside the beltway as much as back in Tbilisi. Much of the Saakashvili administration’s success is attributed to their lobbying dexterity and ties in Washington. Ivanishvili seems bent on going mano-a-mano with Misha in this field.
Turkey, now barely on speaking terms with France, says that the massacre was -- to paraphrase a Russian saying -- too long ago to be true.
Azerbaijan, Ankara's longtime pal, shares Turkey's anger over this pro-Armenia move, but it also has reasons to celebrate. On December 26, it signed an agreement with Turkey on a $5 billion pipeline that will bring Azerbaijani gas to eager European customers, and even more cash to its cash-rich coffers.
Landlocked Armenia’s world is claustrophobic enough as it is, with borders closed to the left and right with neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan. Now, according to ex-Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, a fresh series of international sanctions against Iran threatens to shut Armenia’s third, southern border as well, and choke off a key trade route -- a development that “Armenia cannot afford,” he told Al Jazeera.
With some $300 million in bilateral trade turnover a year, Iran is Armenia's fourth largest trade partner. Tehran, eager for clout in the region, has been keen to take that partnership still further, but these plans could be jeopardized by Western efforts to starve the Iranian government into abandoning its nuclear ambitions, Oskanian reasoned.
“Clearly those [new] sanctions are going to bite Armenia” and “will be tantamount for Armenia to a third closed border,” Oskanian said. He noted that Yerevan will have no other choice but to respect its obligations to the West and enforce the sanctions. The European Union is the main outlet for Armenian goods and Armenia, its economy still trying to stagger out from under the effects of the international financial crisis, is a recipient of Western aid.
If the border with Iran effectively shuts down, that would leave Armenia with only a northern, land-based trade gate. This route lies across Georgia -- not exactly a bosom buddy, historically -- to Armenia’s biggest trade partner and ally, Russia. But Georgian-Russian tensions cast a pall on the reliability of this route.
This year, the world marks the 20th anniversary of the Soviet empire going belly up. No less importantly, on November 23, Georgia will be marking St. George’s Day and the eighth anniversary of the 2003 Rose Revolution. So, what better way to celebrate all three events than to unveil a monument to Ronald Reagan in downtown Tbilisi?
Tbilisi residents strolling in one downtown park will soon find the crusader against the “evil empire” sitting casually on a bench with crossed legs, and gesturing for passers-by to join him for a chat; probably on the ills of Communism or the merits of economic deregulation.
Both topics have many a fan in the Georgian government and sympathetic circles -- could we be seeing soon some familiar faces seated alongside the 40th US president?
Granted, other ex-Communist countries also have commemorated Reagan, but Georgia clearly has a thing for US presidents, dead or alive.
Travelers arrive and leave eastern Tbilisi via George W. Bush Street, which features the 43rd president waving a hand from a placard to outbound traffic. George W. may have earned the honor largely for swinging by in 2005 to say hi to Georgia as a "beacon of democracy," in his own words.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has given a high five to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for their support for Minsk amid growing European Union pressure for Belarus to clean up its human rights act. Both countries opposed a scathing declaration from the EU about harassment of political opposition and independent media in Belarus.
“They [the Europeans] thought that we would bang our heads against the door, that we would cry and beg… but no!,” Lukashenko said, after Belarus withdrew from a September 29-30 summit in Warsaw, where ties between the EU and its ex-Soviet neighbors were discussed,
Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia also stopped short of supporting the EU statement, but Georgia and Azerbaijan received special thanks as the most avid Belarus supporters.
But this support is caused by very pragmatic considerations. Georgia views Belarus as the weak link in ex-Soviet countries’ support for Georgia’s territorial integrity in the face of Russian pressure to recognize breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
Azerbaijan, a potential energy partner which also knows what it's like to be summoned to the international woodshed on human rights issues, obviously chose to avoid what could arguably be called a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
In a conclusive message to the world, Lukashenko said his enemies will not take Belarus away from him and that he will live a long life to spite all ill-wishers.