WASHINGTON – Georgia’s new foreign minister says the ex-Soviet nation’s territorial integrity and Western aspirations are not up for discussion in its dealings with Russia, which has propped up the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and recognized their independence.
Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze told RFE/RL in a March 18 interview that Georgia’s push for greater integration with the European Union, membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and restoring its international recognized borders are “red lines” as it moves to mend tattered ties with Moscow.
"This [bilateral] dialogue [with Russia] is oriented to find ways to have relations in those areas which are not out of the red lines. And the red line is Georgia’s foreign-policy aspirations, its European integration, its integration into North Atlantic structures – (and) first of all, its territorial integrity," said Janelidze, who became Tbilisi’s top diplomat in January.
Janelidze spoke on the tail end of his visit to Washington, where he met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican-Kentucky), and other officials.
"We are grateful for the position of the United States for supporting our territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Janelidze told RFE/RL. “It was once again explicitly said during these meetings [with U.S. officials this week] and mentioned also by [Kerry]."
Tbilisi ended diplomatic relations with Moscow after it recognized the independence Abkhazia and South Ossetia following Russia’s short war with Georgia in 2008.
The two sides in recent years have held bilateral talks aimed at improving their strained relations led by the Georgian prime minister's special representative for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin.
Karasin this week sparked outrage in Georgia after the latest round of these talks, held in Prague, by criticizing what he called “provocative anti-Russian rhetoric being deployed both in Tbilisi, and in international forums.”
Russia has long bristled at Georgia’s push for closer economic and political ties with the EU and fiercely opposed Tbilisi’s bid for NATO membership.
Georgia was designated by NATO as an "aspirant country" in 2011, three years after the alliance pledged to eventually grant the country membership.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last month that Georgia is moving closer to the military alliance by making reforms and major contributions to "our shared security," adding that NATO is committed to helping Georgia on its membership path.
But officials in Tbilisi have expressed impatience with NATO over what they see as lip service when it comes to Georgia’s potential inclusion in the alliance.
Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli told RFE/RL in August that any tentativeness by NATO to fulfill its membership promises risks encouraging Russia to continue pursuing aggressive policies.
Janelidze struck a more diplomatic tone when asked about Georgia’s expectation for the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw in July.
"For this Warsaw summit, we look forward for this confirmation of this progress on our membership aspiration path, and also we are talking about the next steps for enhancing our practical cooperation for defense-capability building," he said.