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Georgian Government hopes for Western support over Russian military bases

By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, February 10
The Georgian Government has said it has received “unprecedented” support from its Western allies over Russia’s plans to build military bases in Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Speaking at his traditional Monday press conference the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia Grigol Vashadze accused Russia of violating international norms by keeping the Gudauta military base in breakaway Abkhazia and said that the West has warned Russia to reconsider its intentions in Georgia’s breakaway regions. “I have never felt such indignation from our allies since the August war. The USA and the members of the alliance have seriously warned Russia that it has gone beyond all the limits of civilized action,” Vashadze told journalists.

The Foreign Minister said he is sure that Georgia, together with the international community, will be able to force Russia to stop building military bases on Georgian territory. However Vashadze noted that there are no expectations that Western countries will isolate Russia. He said only a “naive person” can believe that Western states will break their ties with Russia. “It is hard to imagine that the US and West will cease dialogue with Russia and not try to improve their relations with this state, but, nevertheless, Georgia will always be at the top of their problem list,” Vashadze noted.

The Foreign Minster also commented on Georgia’s NATO integration chances. He said that representatives of the 23 NATO member states participated in NATO-Georgia Commission Session in Munich. He said that the member countries stated that despite the August war, Georgia’s progress towards NATO integration has been huge. The Minister said a “NATO office” will be opened in Georgia, which will work on the relations between the alliance and Georgia. He said that the decision has been made to work out an annual action plan, which will be approved after discussions with NATO.

On February 7 the US State Department expressed its “regret that the Russian Federation has expressed the intention to establish bases on the territory of Georgia, contrary to the spirit and the letter of Russia’s existing commitments.” The US State Department statement urges Russia to “respect Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and facilitate stability in the region through implementation of its commitments and participation in the Geneva Process.”

While the Georgian authorities are hopeful of Western support, Russian officials have ruled out the possibility of revisiting their plans to build military bases in the de facto republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. “Russia’s decision to recognize the independence of these two states and create small military bases there in order to rule out Georgia’s next, fifth or sixth attempt to use military force there, is irrevocable,” Sergey Ivanov, Russia’s Vice-Premier told journalists after a meeting with US Vice-President Joe Biden in Munich.

Meanwhile, the Georgian opposition remains skeptical about Vashadze’s hope of stopping the construction of the military bases. Kakha Kukava from the Conservative Party said his statement was nothing more than “demagoguery” and PR for the Georgian Government. He said Georgia should start talking to Russia instead. “Georgia should use international organizations to resume dialogue with Russia, as the only way to achieve any positive result is to start negotiations directly with Russia.” Kukava noted, adding that many international experts have been suggesting the same course of action.

Although the Georgia opposition downplays the role of the international community in the resolution of the Russian military bases issue, the Georgian authorities look to the fourth round of US, UN, EU and OSCE-mediated Geneva talks, due to be held on February 18-19, where the Georgian and Russian sides will discuss maintaining security in the region and ways to return IDPs to their homes.