After break from Moscow, Georgia feels its pull again
President Saakashvili urges NATO and the EU to hasten embrace of Georgia.
MOSCOW AND TBILISI, GEORGIA
Mikhail Saakashvili is a man in a hurry. Since being lofted into Georgia's presidency by the "Rose Revolution" almost three years ago, he has turned his nation toward the West in hopes of gaining a secure berth in NATO and the European Union before the momentum of Georgia's pro-democracy revolt fades.Skip to next paragraph
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"I am really fed up with every European delegation coming [to Georgia] and saying, 'Oh, this place looks just like Europe,' " says Mr. Saakashvili, a youthful, US-trained lawyer, in an interview. "Well, it doesn't look like Europe, it is Europe. We don't have to prove it every time again."
But time may not be on the side of Saakashvili, nor his peers in Ukraine, Moldova, and Azerbaijan, all of whom have bumped their post-Soviet states out of their traditional orbits around Moscow and are pleading for greater economic and political backing from the West.
Most of those states have recently found themselves under heavy pressure from Russia to reverse their choices, including Moscow-backed internal political agitation, commercial embargoes, and threats of energy cut-off.
Saakashvili will meet President Bush at the White House Tuesday, where he is expected to ask the US to champion Georgia's case for more Western support at the Group of Eight summit meeting in Russia, slated for July 15-17.
"I believe G-8 should be about values, the values about which [the organization] was created," says Saakashvili, citing Georgia's turn to democracy, economic freedom, and human rights. "Let's hope the G-8 produces something."
In May, the four states revived their regional grouping, GUAM (Georgia-Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova), as a vehicle to promote democracy and economic cooperation as they move toward greater integration with Europe – and away from Russia. This makes explicit a rift that has been creeping upon the former Soviet Union since Georgia's revolution threw down the gauntlet to Moscow. Some countries, including Belarus and Uzbekistan, are clustering more tightly around Russia, which tends to accept their authoritarian political systems and statist economic drift.
"This is a conflict of different visions of the future," says Oleksandr Shushko, research director of the independent Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kiev. "Russia wants to be a separate center of power and influence, different from the Western community, and to keep the post-Soviet area as an integrated region under Moscow. The GUAM countries' view is that there is no more post-Soviet area. That's finished."
Russia has reacted angrily to the challenge – particularly the expressed desire of Georgia and Ukraine to join the Western military alliance.
"NATO is the instrument of American foreign and military policy in Europe," says Oleg Bogomolov, honorary director of the Institute of World Economy and Political Studies in Moscow. "Russia cannot understand why NATO is expanding into the east, or why the US is promoting the disintegration of the post-Soviet space."