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Saakashvili “not surprised” by Lavrov’s statement

By Mzia Kupunia
Friday, March 20
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has commented on the statement of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made on March 21 at the Brussels Forum-2009, attended by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the President of Georgia and other officials. Saakashvili said Lavrov’s statement “was not a surprise” for him, because it represented the general policy of Russia.

Speaking to journalists in Brussels, Saakashvili noted that Lavrov had said nothing new. He also said that Russia is trying to interfere in Georgia’s internal politics. “This is Putin’s official policy of dividing Georgia. I think we will continue developing in our own way and become a modern national state. We will carry on maintaining and strengthening our economy,” Saakashvili said.

Speaking at a panel discussion on Russia’s policies on March 21, Lavrov said that he hoped Georgia would have a leader who would be able “to respect their neighbours and live in peace with everybody.” The Russian Foreign Minister’s comment followed the remark of Secretary of the Georgian National Security Council and former Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili, who intervened during a question and answer session at the discussion to say that Russia was the country which “is still uneasy about a world not divided into blocks and also uneasy about its neighbours’ independence and sovereignty.”

The Russian Foreign Minister also commented on Georgia’s NATO aspirations on Saturday. He said he does not understand NATO’s attitude to Georgia. “Why is NATO saying that Georgia must be a member of NATO, when the current regime in Georgia used brutal force contrary to all of its international obligations?” Lavrov asked. He noted that before the August war, he had asked Condoleeza Rice, the former US Secretary of State, to persuade the Georgian side to sign an agreement about not using force. Lavrov said Rice had assured him that “if Saakashvili uses force, he can forget about NATO.” “Okay, he did use force, why is NATO silent?” the Georgian media quoted Lavrov as saying.

Later on March 21, Eka Tkeshelashvili also commented on the Russian Minister’s statement. She said that Russia is expecting that the Government of Georgia will be changed as soon as possible. She said Lavrov referred to the “regime in Georgia” and not the “Government of Georgia.”

The Georgian opposition has denied the allegation about possible links between the Russian Foreign Minister and the April 9 demonstrations. The leader of the Alliance for Georgia, Irakli Alasania, who is also attending the 2-day forum in Brussels, said that “making comments and interfering in the political processes going on inside Georgia will not help ease the tense situation in the country, even more so when such statements are made by Russia, especially after the August aggression. I do not see in them any hints about April 9 or an association between any political force and Russia,” Alasania told journalists in Brussels.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that Russia is very important for the alliance. According to the Russian TV channel Vesti Scheffer said that relations with Russia are so important for NATO that they cannot be ignored.

Georgia was on the agenda in Brussels at the forum initiated by the Georgian President. The forum was called Six Months after the Georgian-Russian War. The behind closed doors forum discussed Georgia’s relations with Russia, NATO and the EU and concluded late on Friday, the Georgian media reported. Special envoy of the United States Richard Hallbrook, who attended the forum, said that recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was “impermissible,” Rustavi 2 TV reported.

Mikheil Saakashvili said after the meeting that “the Georgian Government did everything to avoid the war.” He said that Georgian officials had worked with diplomats and international partners. “We are a European country and cooperate with EU members. We analyze the results of Russia’s actions together. We should always be prepared for this, after that [the August conflict],” Saakashvili noted.

Political analysts have assessed the Russian Foreign Minister’s statement as “direct interference” in the internal politics of Georgia. Independent political analyst Shalva Pichkhadze told The Messenger that these kinds of statements are “absolutely unacceptable” in international relations. “This statement is a lecture, something unacceptable for Georgia as a state. Even friendly states are not telling Georgia what choices to make in its internal politics,” Pichkhadze said.