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Georgia: Official Calls Russian Bases Illegal

Washington, 3 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Chairman of Georgia's parliament says Russian military bases in Georgia have absolutely no legal basis, and he doesn't see improvement in this area of Russian-Georgian relations in the foreseeable future.

Zurab Zhvania made the comment today in Washington during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Zhvania says the current military agreement between Russia and Georgia which was initialed, but not signed in 1994, requires Russia to meet two preconditions before the agreement can be considered for ratification in the Georgian parliament.

Zhvania says the first precondition is to aid in a successful resolution of the Abkhazia conflict, and the second is to provide a substantial weapons supply to strengthen the national army of Georgia.

Zhvania says not even the "slightest progress" has been made on either issue. He adds that in the immediate future, if bilateral relations with Russia on this topic continue in the same manner, there are "no prospects" that the Georgian parliament will ratify the agreement.

Zhvania says relations with Russia are often good, but that many problems still remain, such as the presence of Russian troops on Georgian soil, and Russia's refusal to extradite Igor Georgadze, a suspect in the 1995 assassination attempt on Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

He adds that Georgia wants to be accepted by Russia as an equal partner -- a sovereign nation which has its own national interests and dignity.

Zhvania also addressed issues of Georgia's economy and efforts to privatize key industries. He says Georgia is working toward a real market economy and privatization is planned for all sectors.

The only delay, says Zhvania, might be in the telecommunications industry, but added that it, too, would eventually be privatized.

The Georgian government is well aware of the benefits of privatization, says Zhvania, adding that 80 percent of all budget revenues in Georgia today come from private industry.

Zhvania acknowledges that Georgia, like many of the countries of the former Soviet Union, are suffering from corruption problems. He says that President Shevardnazde has put the problem high on the government's agenda, and is taking an aggressive approach to deal with it.

Part of the way the government is hoping to solve the problem, Zhvania says, is to encourage "proper individuals" to run for public office and improve the legislative process. For example, he says the parliament is already working on laws that would make certain economic processes more" public and transparent."

However, Zhvania says the most exciting prospects for Georgia, as well as other neighboring countries in the region, are international development and economic projects, many of which are already underway.

Zhvania says creation of the so-called "New Silk Road" or "Eurasian Corridor" is a critically important issue for Georgia. He says the new corridor can be used for more than just transporting oil and gas -- it can also provide an important route for moving cotton, aluminum and other raw materials from Central Asia to Western markets.

Yet Zhvania says the New Silk Road is more than just an exciting economic prospect. He adds the creation of this new corridor is bringing together the nations in the region in a way they have never experienced before.

Says Zhvania: "We are witnessing now the process when people of the region of the republics of Central Asia, Ukraine, of Georgia, Azerbaijan and others are starting to realize how long-standing our common interests are -- to build a better future for our nations. These forces, these leaders of our region, who look for a new level of cooperation, not just for meeting common economic goals, but to fulfill needs for finding better mechanisms for regional security and provide more stability and peace to this part of the world."