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Interview: Georgia 'On Its Way' To NATO, EU, Top Official Says

Giorgi Baramidze spoke to RFE/RL at its Prague headquarters on November 24.Giorgi Baramidze spoke to RFE/RL at its Prague headquarters on November 24.
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Giorgi Baramidze spoke to RFE/RL at its Prague headquarters on November 24.
Giorgi Baramidze spoke to RFE/RL at its Prague headquarters on November 24.
Georgia is pushing ahead with reforms aimed at joining the European Union and NATO -- and ready to talk to Russia. That's the message from Giorgi Baramidze, Georgia's deputy prime minister and state minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, who spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Daisy Sindelar.

RFE/RL: Speaking before the European Parliament on November 23, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili proposed direct talks with the Kremlin. Are we witnessing a major shift in Tbilisi's relations with Moscow?

Giorgi Baramidze:
It was an official statement, but we always try to pursue having a constructive dialogue with the Russian leadership. It's in our interest, it was in our interest, and it will be in our interest, because we're a small European country that wants to have peace and security in and around our territory.

RFE/RL: Saakashvili also acknowledged past mistakes by Georgia -- without going into specifics -- and said your country would not resort to military force to restore its territorial integrity. Was that his way of acknowledging Georgia may have acted impulsively during the war with Russia in August 2008?

Baramidze:
Not exactly. He was speaking about Georgian reforms, not about Russia. We never attacked Russia. The Russians were on our territory. We never crossed our borders.

RFE/RL: But by bringing it up, was he addressing Western concerns that Georgia would act militarily in the future?

Baramidze:
It's because of these speculations that we have once again underlined our commitment. Actually, it was done when we signed the so-called Sarkozy-brokered cease-fire agreement. But it was not enough for some people, or maybe for diplomacy to go ahead. So we have solemnly repeated it once again in front of the European Parliament, and the president has sent letters to the UN secretary-general and the OSCE secretary-general.
Practically 99 percent of the facts presented by the commission prove the Georgian case and absolutely dismiss all three of the Russian pretexts for attacking Georgia.


So we are ready. We want to push the diplomatic and political processes forward. And as far as this issue, again, of who started the war, let us read the report [into the war] commissioned by the European Union and you'll see everything. Practically 99 percent of the facts presented by the commission prove the Georgian case and absolutely dismiss all three of the Russian pretexts for attacking Georgia.

RFE/RL: Saakashvili's speech at the European Parliament came on the heels of his first bilateral meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the NATO Lisbon summit. It also follows a reiteration of support for Georgian sovereignty by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Both the United States and EU are interested in maintaining friendly working ties with Russia. Was Saakashvili's softer tone in Strasbourg a result of pressure from the West?

Baramidze:
Is that what you call pressure? Quite the contrary -- I think it was supporting us and encouraging us to move toward further strengthening our democracy and our position in the international arena. Both NATO and the EU have demonstrated very strong support for Georgia and its democratically elected government. As a result, we are stronger morally, I think, than our occupants, and we can take the first step.

RFE/RL: But at the same time, it was a shift from the past, when Saakashvili was sometimes outright belligerent when speaking about Russia.

Baramidze:
That's natural because they are occupying 20 percent of our territory. We have 80 percent of the population of these two occupied regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, out of their homes. And many of these homes and villages have been bulldozed and leveled to the ground. [The people] have become internally displaced people and refugees, and Russians -- in breach of the cease-fire agreement -- don't allow them to go back. They don't even allow the European Monitoring Mission to cross the occupation line and enter the occupied territories.
On Lisbon-prostitutes story: "It's such a stupid thing to even talk about this."


So of course we're angry. But we know that we need to be, let's say, constructive. And we need to push for constructive and peaceful dialogue.

Seven Years After

RFE/RL: November 23 marked the seventh anniversary of the Rose Revolution in Georgia, something in which you played a significant role. Seven years later, is Georgia where you wish it were?

Baramidze:
To a certain extent. Or maybe even further along. But of course we think we could have been members of NATO if there hadn't been the war with Russia and if there had been unity among NATO members.

But actually, speaking objectively, we're in an adequate place. We're equipped with all the instruments necessary to make us eligible for NATO membership. We have a NATO-Georgia commission, which is a very, very powerful mechanism for political consultations and dialogue. We have the Annual National Program, which is the only essential part of this notorious MAP [Membership Action Plan for joining NATO]. So we have everything in our hands. And we have time to do our homework. That's exactly what we're doing.

And after a couple of years, certainly technically, we will be ready -- bearing in mind that the bar for Georgia is higher that it was for other states because of Russia's resistance. And certainly we need to be much better in order to be, let's say, visibly better than others, and convince NATO members to fulfill their commitment from the Bucharest summit [in 2008] to finally invite Georgia to become a member of NATO.

So we're on our way. At the moment, the ball is in our court. We're not ready yet, but within two or three years we will be. And then it's up to the current 28 NATO members to decide when they will issue an invitation.

As far as the EU is concerned, we have the Neighborhood Policy Action Plan, which is a very important and good set of reforms that we are undergoing with help from the European Union. We have the Eastern Partnership, which is a very important policy of the European Union toward its Eastern European neighbors. And we have already started negotiations on an Association [Agreement]. We have signed visa-liberalization and readmission agreements, which will be enforced from the beginning of next year.

Certainly we have very good perspectives to move forward. Neither the EU nor we are ready for membership right now, but we for the European Union, as part of the Association Agreement, to acknowledge Georgia's long-term EU membership aspirations.

So we are on our way, in spite of every difficulty. One couldn't imagine more difficulties that a small European country could face than we've had during these last two-three years. We had an invasion from the Russian side, we have the continuous occupation of 20 percent of our territory. Simultaneously, we had the global financial crisis, and last year in the spring we had internal political turbulence. Our economy, and our government, survived everything.

Now we have 6 percent real GDP growth. The World Bank declared Georgia the world's No. 1 reformer, according to the last five-year period of economic reforms. Georgia is No. 12 in the World Bank's rating in ease of doing [business], and No. 1 in Central and Eastern Europe. And according to the EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development], we are Europe's third-least-corrupt country. Aren't these really fascinating achievements for this country?
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: hallelujuahhhh_brother from: mosow-putinggrad
November 25, 2010 10:05
this bro has taken some strange brew...

the grey matter is not in the greatest order...

what's he talking about?

what's he inhaling?

you'd think that russia needs georgia.

come on...

what a hollow bravado!!!

have a great day...and tell this spin-doctor to take some truth-inducing medicine?

if not, georgia is kaput, economically before our very eyes!!!

it can only survive on the cia-orchastred dollar drip...

and to call cia-drip independence success,

well i beg to differ..

it is disaster...

so sooner this clown is off the stage,

the better it will be for georgia.
In Response

by: Rasto from: London
November 26, 2010 12:18
The thesis of Georgia`s economic success is the effective appropriation of foreign assistance - former advisor of Vladimir Putin, Andrey Ilarionov has written in an article published on the Russian newspaper Kommersant.ru.

`Why Russia is not Georgia` - is the title of the article, in which the author compares incomes and expenditures and the effectiveness of monetary policy in Russia and Georgia. Illarionov says the incomes of Russia from oil is much more than the foreign monetary assistance to Georgia, however, Georgia appropriates these funds more effectively than Russia - this is the factor which determines economic success of Georgia.

The author quotes the statistics and says that the gross domestic product of Russia in 2004-2010 is 33%, when the GDP of Georgia after the 2008 military conflict and thousands of IDPs on the ground, grew to 49%.


by: realist
November 25, 2010 14:04
The World Bank declared Georgia the world's No. 1 reformer, according to the last five-year period of economic reforms. Georgia is No. 12 in the World Bank's rating in ease of doing [business], and No. 1 in Central and Eastern Europe. And according to the EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development], we are Europe's third-least-corrupt country.

He forgot to mention the world´s most deluded politicians.

by: unknown from: unknown
November 25, 2010 16:02
and what about democratic governance, human rights and civil society in Georgia?

all reforms in Georgia are one-sided and incomplete!


by: Zoltan from: Hungary
November 25, 2010 22:17
How funny is the life...

The once great revolutionary hero of democracy and freedom Mikhail Saakashvili now gives advices to dictator Alexandr Lukashenko how to prevent street protests in Belarus.

" As informed by the ucpb.org website, first the news that during the talks of representatives of Belarusian and Georgian governments, people of Mikheil Saakashvili offered their consultation services for preventing anti-Lukashenka protests, as one of European diplomats said. Later this information was confirmed by a source on the administration of the Belarusian head.

As noted by the source, in exchange to non-recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgian experts are ready to provide valuable advice on minimizing street protest activities.

The leader of the United Civil Party Anatol Lyabedzka comments on this situation: It’s true, the distance between the great and mean is not far. When there are no principles and values, then elastic conscience and rotten pragmatism run the show. "

http://charter97.org/en/news/2010/11/25/34105/

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
November 25, 2010 22:24
However it should be noted that Georgia under Saakashvili become incredibly open liberalized and democratized.

I hope that one day Georgia and alongside with Armenia will join the EU. Azerbaijan is a different story as they are not Europeans.
In Response

by: Rasto from: London
November 26, 2010 12:26
L.ragir.ar: Saakashvili - President of Armenia?
19.11.10 13:19

Saakashvili - President of Armenia? - an Armenian online agency lragir.ar has published an article with this title. Author, Naira Airumian writes that the relation between the two countries was eventually changing and the factor of negative attitude towards Georgia under the influence of Russia is eventually changing too.

Airumian writes how her compatriots are impressed by the new Georgia with its achievements after travelling to this country. The uimpression is so strong that most of the voters plan to cross the names of all candidates on the voting ballots and write Saakashvili there, willing to see same changes in the country as it is in Georgia. The author is particularly attracted by the construction of the new modern highway in Georgia.

She also slams the leaders of the NGO Javakhki (NGO of ethnic Armenians) who complain about ethnic pressure and discrimination of Armenian nationals in Georgia. The author says the policy of Georgian government is absolutely different and is oriented on integration of ethnic Armenians in Georgian society.

`People living in the region say that the Georgian government are fighting corruption among the ethnic Armenians too and this causes the protest of `old army`. Locals say that doing business in the region has become easier now,` the article says.

At the end of the publication, the author underlines that the distance between Armenia and Georgia is enlarged artificially`; the Armenians should look at their own interests reasonably and quit listening to the propaganda, which `baptizes` Georgians as the enemies of Armenians,` the author says.

In Response

by: J from: US
November 27, 2010 00:19
Joining EU is not a good thing for small countries. Look at Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Latvia. Look at the pressure on Ireland just last week to accept a bailout.
Now it is Portugal's turn.
In Response

by: Zoltan from: Hungray
November 27, 2010 10:36
" pressure on Ireland just last week to accept a bailout "

What? Pressure on them to accept? Ireland is de facto in bankruptcy. They didn't forced to accept a bailout but asked for it!

And the Irish, Greek or Portuguese economic problems has nothing to do with EU membership. Their reason is that these states have overspent their incomes continously. This is the result of the 'welfare' statehood...

Greece would be insolvent if they were not members of the EU. So the EU is not the cause but the solution. I hope the German initiative will prevail and the EU will introduce much harsher sanctions on states with budget deficit.

And one last thing: don't be one sided talk about the success stories in the EU (small states) like Finland, Estonia (joning the eurozone nex year) Slovenia, Slovakia.

They are far from being bankrupted. EU membership is a chance which can be used wise and can be wasted also.
In Response

by: Rasto from: London
November 27, 2010 18:44
Friend of mine lives in Ireland. I was genuinely shock to learn that when his wife lost her job she was receiving an unemployment allowance 800 Eur a month for almost a year. Nothing like that can happen in Eastern European countries not even in United Kingdom. Irish social system is unbelievable. Several years ago Irish government and society were too optimistic about their economy. People were taking loans, mortgages and when the economic boom stopped they were unable to repay. Value of properties dropped 60%. US story 2.

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