Ivanishvili On NATO, Russia And Georgia's Geopolitics
The future foreign policy of Georgia's government under its new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is the subject of much speculation, especially in Washington, Moscow and Brussels. While Ivanishvili repeatedly vowed to continue Georgia's road to Euro-Atlantic integration and continue the Georgian military's deployment in Afghanistan, President Mikheil Saakashvili tried to paint Ivanishvili as a puppet of Moscow.
Ivanishvili's first post-victory press conference -- the one where he demanded Saakashvili's resignation -- didn't seem to go so well. But partners in Washington and Brussels had to be happy with what they heard. Ivanishvili promised that his first trip abroad would be to the U.S., and reiterated his strong support for NATO membership. His full comments on foreign policy don't seem to have been reported anywhere (in English) except for on the twitter feed of Georgian journalist Avto Koridze. They're worth reading (cleaned up a bit from twitterese).
"I think Russia's position of irritation about Georgia's integration in NATO was deepened by Saakashvili. I know that Georgia's integration in NATO is not very pleasant for Russia, but I don't think it is a strategic issue for Russia. I think it is possible with correct diplomacy to convince Russia that Georgia's integration in NATO is not a threat.... The Baltic countries are an example of NATO integration and good relations with Russia. We will not change our strategy of NATO integration for anything."
On the 2008 war over South Ossetia:
"My opponents said that Russia was planning to invade for three years, I'm saying Russia wanted to come to the Caucasus for centuries. Russia wanted to come to Caucasus for centuries, but it was our government's provocation that allowed them to do so."
On Georgia's geopolitical position and ambitions:
"It will be very hard for a small country like Georgia to have several strategic partners but we should be acceptable to our neighbors and our strategic partner, the U.S.... Georgia cannot be a big geopolitical player, and Saakashvili [tried[ to do this. We [Georgia] should be a regional player."
He doesn't seem to have addressed Afghanistan, which is the most concrete thing that Georgia offers the U.S. and NATO now, but he has said that he supports the mission. Nor did he address the issue of the U.S. arming Georgia, which has been Saakashvili's top priority in his relations with Washington.
Anyway, it would at first blush seem unusual that Georgia would continue down this Euro-Atlantic path, as we've come to associate it so closely with Saakashvili. But Saakashvili really inherited this policy from his predecessor, ex-Soviet foreign minister Edvard Shevardnadze: it was under Shevardnadze, recall, that the U.S. and Georgia first carried out a big military cooperation program, the Georgia Train and Equip Program. What Saakashvili added was an overt hostility to Russia. And that's really the only change that Ivanishvili seems to be proposing from Saakashvili's policy.