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Sarkozy in Tbilisi

By Messenger Staff
Monday, October 10
The visit of the French President Nicholas Sarkozy was the hottest topic in the news for the last several days in Georgia. The Georgian leadership was content with the three hour long visit of Sarkozy and his speech on Freedom Square in Tbilisi. The speech delivered by Sarkozy was understood as a statement of complete support for the Georgian state position and the course its leadership has been undertaking for the past several years.

As is well known, Sarkozy was the person under whose brokerage the ceasefire document which stopped the war between Russia and Georgia was signed on August 12, 2008. So, accordingly Georgian society was anticipating how Sarkozy would state his position concerning the above mentioned agreement and the fulfillment of its terms. The French president started his speech by exactly recalling the August war and though he did not use word occupation he used the term “amputated territories” in regards to Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. Once again President Sarkozy confirmed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, he also insisted on the return of IDPs from Georgia's lost territories to their places of original dwelling, and moreover insisted on allowing an EU monitoring mission to the territories not controlled by Georgia currently.

The French president hailed the commitments taken unilaterally by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on the non-use of military force against the breakaway regions. He also encouraged other participants of the conflict to take the analogous commitments. One does not need to be an expert to conclude that all these remarks were targeted in the direction of Moscow however the French president also highlighted that Russia is a strategic partner of France and he encouraged the Georgian leadership to make steps to bring about better relations between Russia and Georgia. Sarkozy also called for an end to confrontational rhetoric.

In his immediate comments after Sarkozy’s speech, Saakashvili stated that he is ready for beginning dialogue with Russia, but as everybody knows the Russian leadership is excluding completely any possibility of political dialogue personally with Saakashvili. As for the rhetoric both sides are keen on intensively use confrontational language towards each other.

Sarkozy sent out different messages in Tbilisi as well. Referring to Russia, he also condemned the idea of restoring the Soviet Union and the interference in the free choice of Georgia of where to integrate and with whom. Sarkozy supported Georgia’s western choice. All these opinions were understood by the Georgians as support and protection from possible aggression from the north. The French president highly evaluated Georgia achievements since the Rose Revolution and stated that domestic reforms and a strategy of openness is the best chance for Georgia to convince the population of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that their future is with Georgia. The following of this strategy is the best means to convince the EU that Georgia is a European country: “when I am in Tbilisi I feel I am in Europe,” Sarkozy added.

Of course Georgian analysts and politicians understand that in the near future Georgia will not be integrated either into NATO or the EU, nor is anyone expecting Russia to withdraw its armed forces from the occupied territories, however it may be safe to assume that there will be no repeat attack on Georgia in the near future. The most important processes for the country are those developing inside Georgia itself. Much depends on the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. The ruling authorities could not conceal the feeling of self satisfaction thinking of guaranteed victory in those elections. However, just on the eve of Sarkozy's visit the decision of the Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili to participate in the elections upset the contentment of the ruling elite and the balance of political force inside the country.

Knowing Georgia, the battle for electoral victory will be fierce. Already the first steps made by Ivanishvili have proved his straightforwardness and he might prove popular with the electorate. The development of political processes in Georgia will show how realistic are its European claims and how European its ruling administration really is.