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Demonstrating support

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, July 7
The visit of the US Secretary of State to some former socialist republics was not just an ordinary event. It should be evaluated in the context of US policy in this region, which is to simultaneously reset relations with Russia whilst maintaining relations with its neighbours.

An immediate reaction to the visit is that it made clear that Georgia will not be sacrificed for the sake of the reset policy, as some Georgian and foreign analysts had suspected it would be. Clinton’s visit to Georgia was understood as a demonstration of support for Georgia and also the Saakashvili administration. This is again significant, because the Russian leadership, and recently President Medvedev, have often repeated that Moscow will not conduct any negotiations with Georgia as long as Saakashvili is its President. A couple of days ago Saakashvili stated that this country was ready to conduct negotiations with Russia without any preconditions, thus putting all responsibility for not making this happen onto Russia.

The supposition that after the August 2008 Russian invasion Saakashvili has become isolated from the West and cannot rely on its support has proven unfounded. Moscow's attempts to isolate him have also failed. Saakashvili could also have been isolated by the West due to his non-democratic style of governance, and the opposition named Saakashvili as the source of serious problems in democratic development. However the May 30 local elections were evaluated by observers and the US administration as democratic, the US seeing in them a guarantee of further democratisation. Some analysts here suggest that Clinton’s demonstration of support has given Saakashvili the green light to take over as PM when his two allowed Presidential terms expire in 2013.

It was very important that Secretary Clinton also met the Georgian opposition, who assess Georgia’s so-called democratic progress differently and highlight the authoritarian features of the present regime. We think that Clinton deliberately did not meet those political leaders who are talking to Moscow and thereby made a public distinction between those who remain neutral and those who look north. This could however make the marginalised parties even more radical.

The foreign policy outcome of Clinton's visit is that it has demonstrated the firmness of the USA's position in the South Caucasus. Secretary Clinton hinted that the separatist population could be attracted back to Georgia by better economic and democratic conditions. Of course there should also be further contact with Russia and maybe compromises, but it was encouraging that Clinton and other US officials are more and more frequently using the word occupation to describe the presence of the Russian forces in the breakaway regions. There is some speculation in Georgia about the meaning of this term, with most Georgians understanding it as a description of a military and legal reality while some argue that occupation only means being busy in English, implying that the term simply means that Russian soldiers are present there. Here in Georgia analysts expect Westerners to clearly identify what is meant by this word. However the term is understood by Russians in the same way it is understood by Georgians, and obviously the fact that these territories are occupied is considered the new reality there rather than what Russia promotes as the new reality, i.e. that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are now independent. Frequent use of the term occupation gives Georgians an assurance that in the near future the word de-occupation will also be frequently used.

Here in Georgia Clinton’s visit is understood as a guarantee of security, insurance against possible new aggression from the Russian side. The one precondition for this continued US support is putting the basic building blocks of a democracy in place: a free press, an independent court, human rights protection, free elections etc.