Mikheil Saakashvili has not that many associates, with whom he started reforms in 2003. Fellows-in-arms leave Georgian President for opposition. They turn from friends into rivals. And often into irreconcilable enemies. Georgi Baramidze – is an exception of this rule of Georgian policy.
Being Internal Affairs Minister in 2003 he held a reform of law enforcement bodies in the result of which the level of corruption in police reduced to its minimum. And since 2004 Georgi Baramidze has administered the main direction of Georgian foreign policy: he is a Vice Prime Minister and State Minister on European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
Being aware his staying in Kiev, ZN.UA decided to learn the opinion of the Georgian politician on current state of bilateral Ukrainian-Georgian relations and his view on the prospects for Georgia entering into NATO, as well as normalization of relations with Russia.
-- Ukraine and Georgia repeatedly stated that they are strategic partners. And such were their relations during the times of Presidents Kuchma and Shevarnadze, Yushchenko and Saakashvili. Has anything changed after coming to power of Viktor Yanukovych? Does Kiev still observe Tbilisi as its strategic partner?
-- Yes it does and our relations develop dynamically. And although there are not so many summits but they are quite fruitful.
-- If the states are strategic partners, then how is that revealed?
-- In economy and trade: for us in many cases Ukraine is alternative to Russia within supplies of goods and outlet market, as we still have Russian embargo. In transport and education spheres. Within our approach towards political issues – the European Union, “Eastern Partnership”…
-- And within the issue of territorial integrity?
-- Of course. We really value the line of the states, supporting territorial integrity of Georgia, and especially the line of Ukraine.
We consider that there is no alternative to your country as the leader in the region, as it plays a great role within movement of Eastern Europe towards the European Union.
> Map Of Georgia
Naturally Ukraine as well as Georgia has problems in economic, social and other spheres. And as in any other democratic states, opposition criticizes government. But still we think that Ukraine moves forward. This is very important for us, because a strong, developed, democratic Ukraine is an significant factor of stability in the region, the prime condition of peaceful and European development of our country.
-- You think that even after the sentence for Yulia Timoshenko , the “case” of Yury Lutsenko our country can be still called a democratic state, successful about the issues of European integration?
-- I think that the issues named are in the agenda of the European Union. And the European Union considers these issues in relation to Ukraine… But in general your country moves forward.
-- Despite significant scope of goods turnover, economy has always been a weak point of Ukrainian-Georgian relations. How is Tbilisi going to persuade Ukrainian people to invest their money into the economy of Georgia?
-- One of the issues we are dealing with in the frameworks of intergovernmental commission on trade-economic cooperation – is stimulation of entrepreneur relations and mutual investments. From our side we do our utmost for even greater liberalization of economy, creation of more favorable environment for business performance, attractions of investments from all states. Including also, which is important for us, from Ukraine: business-contacts “concreting” political relations significantly.
-- So what is the content of the solution?
-- Despite that Ukraine takes the fourth-fifth place in the scope of investments, we would like to increase this index, to enhance the interconnection of our economies. We possess very good potential in tourism, energy and bank spheres. For example, Ukrainian “Privatbank” is already represented in Georgia. As for energy, Ukraine is interested in the project as AGRI, anticipating condensing Azerbaijani gas in Georgia with its following sea transportation into the consuming states. There are other projects, which should promote energy independence of our states.
-- Talking about AGRI, which stage is it now at? Has the Government of Azerbaijan or GNKAR (State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic) already officially addressed the authorities of Georgia for permission to construct a natural gas condensing plant?
-- There has been no official request from Azerbaijani government yet. As the companies haven’t started the construction works. As for support policy, then we – government of Georgia and Azerbaijan – have repeatedly claimed about it and are ready to contribute actively into the AGRI project.
-- It is known that Igor Kolomoiski and Leonid Chernovetski are really involved with your country. What do they invest their funds in Georgia?
-- As far as I know, Kolomoiski owns the factory “Chiaturmarganets”, Zestafon plant of ferro-fusions and HPP Vartsyhe.
-- And Chernovetski?
-- There are no big projects. But frankly speaking, I don’t count investments with names. I know that this is Ukrainian investment, but which specific name stands behind, is not that topical for us. Although I understand the implication.
-- Does Ukraine keep on supply Georgia with weapons and complete its liabilities on maintenance of earlier supplied equipment? Or does Kiev, following Moscow, consider that supplies of any types of weapons into your country aggravate the situation in South Caucasian region and “assist militarization of Georgia”?
-- The line of Moscow is shared almost by all international community. And thanks God that Ukraine stands on the side of the rest of the world.
-- So that cooperation in the sphere of VTS goes on?
-- Yes, it does. I can’t tell you the details, but we have no problems.
-- Interstate relations between Georgia and Russia are pretty complicated. At the same time Russian companies take serious positions in Georgian economy. Doesn’t this bother Tbilisi? In Russia business and power are closely connected. And the Kremlin often leads its policy with the tools of business…
-- I agree that “Gazprom” as well as some other companies, often appear to be the levers of political pressure on the state of near abroad, as well as the European Union members. At the same time we don’t think that presence of Russian business in Georgia creates troubles for us. On the opposite, we welcome Russian investors. And while the companies observe our laws, Georgia as a civilized country is not going to discriminate them.
-- Was the policy of Tbilisi during the August war the same?
-- During the war Georgia accomplished its liabilities in relation to Russia, and according to the contracts, supplied electric power. Also Russian companies didn’t sabotage work. For example, power distributing companies, which responsibility area included Tbilisi, made no obstacles for the power supply system performance. Despite the disagreements between Georgia and Russia, the ongoing occupation of 20% of Georgian territories, Russian companies – “Beeline”, VTB bank and others - still operate in our country, developing their businesses. As disagreements between the states are temporary and do not demonstrate the interests of our peoples.
-- And is normalization of Georgian-Russian relations possible by the President Putin? I guess no one doubts who becomes the next head of Russian state….
-- The situation depends fully from future Russian President. Georgia has repeatedly states that it was ready to start dialogue with Russia without conditions, in any appointed place and at any level. Grounding on our national priorities we are interested to normalize relations with the Russian Federation. To our mind the same is presented for Russian authorities as pragmatic interests of Russia. But they give preference for imperial emotions and ambitions, use methods of the end of XIX – beginning of XX century, and they want for us to get back into the orbit of Russian influence, becoming “younger brothers”. This is not of course beneficial for Russia which now distances from civilized world heading straight to self-isolation.
But we need time for Russian authorities to understand it and start establishing relations with Georgia the way Russian has it with Poland and Baltic states.
-- One of the main matters of disagreements between Tbilisi and Moscow is the line of Russian towards South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After the Russian Federation recognized independence of these regions, there is only few chances for Georgia to restore its sovereignty over these Georgian territories. Hasn’t Tbilisi yet removed from the agenda the issue on return of South Ossetia and Abkhazia?
-- No. But we follow civilized approaches within solution of this problem. Sooner or later, but the issue of occupied territories shall be solved and we’ll restore sovereignty over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We are ready to grand these regions more extended autonomy in the sphere of economy, culture, etc. under international guarantees. From our side we’ll do everything to consider and respect the will of minority. For example when the case is about Abkhazia we are ready to implement the so-called principle of positive discrimination, when minority in some important issues dominates over the majority.
-- But the level of trust to Georgia in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is too low, and hardly shall Tbilisi even in a long perspective restore its sovereignty over this region. Isn’t it easier to recognize their independence and integrate into the EU and NATO without this bag of unsolved problems?
-- This is a wrong approach in its core. As then minority, striving to be separated, shall think that it is able to achieve their goals by pushing out from the lands those who disagree with them. And this way of problem solution is able to blow up the whole world, to get it into chaos. We don’t say that we should disregard the views of minorities. But it shall be fair, also not to ignore the views of majority.
You said that the level of trust is very low. But who lives today in South Ossetia and Abkhazia? 80% of population of these regions was expelled from their lands. And appealing to the views of people, then let’s bring these people back to their homes, have plebiscite and then see what they say. Absolute majority of South Ossetia population and Abkhazia doesn’t wish division of these territories and moreover to join Russia!
And did anyone find out what do people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia want? There is no even a smell of democracy in these regions. And puppet leaders supported by Russian within occupied lands say that they were hinted from the Kremlin.
-- Do you suggest that Georgia shall be included into NATO despite the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
-- I’m absolutely sure about that. As well as that during Chicago NATO Summit the Alliance shall once again prove the decision of Bucharest Summit, that Georgia shall be a member of the Organization.
After Parliamentary and Presidential elections in our country the way to NATO shall be almost clear. Time left before the elections we shall use to demonstrate the readiness of Tbilisi to solve all our contradictions with Moscow on the ground of mutual respect of sovereignty and each other’s territorial integrity. And if Russia won’t do this, then the skeptics opposing because of it the inclusion of Georgia into the Alliance will lack of arguments against. As in this case NATO shall have to recognize that it gives Russia the instrument, assuring the veto right on entrance of other states into the Organization: it’s enough to create some conflict, and you automatically suspend inclusion of this state into the North Atlantic Alliance.
It’s not easy to admit Georgia into NATO. But it shall be worse if not to include it.
-- During Chicago Summit Georgia plans to get its action plan regarding the membership in NATO…
-- Not necessarily. We formulate the task as follows: we expect from the Summit in Chicago greater clarity of the issues what specifically is the road map for entering of Georgia into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
-- But is it possible for further approach of Georgia and NATO to incite new conflict with Russia? Is new Russian-Georgian war is possible?
-- Just the opposite. The Bucharest Summit showed that: if NATO intends to admit Georgia, then the sooner it happens, the better. But if Russia sees that the Alliance acts tentatively, this shall stimulate it to some actions. In 2008 Moscow did that, which recently has been acknowledged sincerely by the President of Russia. But even the August war the Alliance repeated that Georgia shall become NATO’s member. After this war our country was given two quite significant mechanisms for membership preparation – Annual National Program and NATO-Georgia position.
Provided Georgia wasn’t Russia’s neighbor, we would have been NATO members for a long time. But as this factor exists, the demands are higher then for other states, But they can be accomplished, And from the Summit in Chicago, we wait for clarity how the Alliance is going to accomplish its own decision. From our side everything is understood: we should proceed with our reforms, which we are doing not for NATO but for ourselves.
-- Does GUAM have future? Or this is already the same unsuccessful project as the CIS?
-- I think that there are prospects.
-- What then should be the focus in this project in order to revive it: on economy, energy, military and promotion of democratic development?
-- On everything except for military aspect. Naturally the issues of security can be discussed in future. But first of all we should focus on the development of trade-economic relations and democracy.
-- Which is the line of Georgia on privatization of the main gas pipeline, in which Russian gas is transited via Georgia to Armenia?
-- It’s simple. We are not going to privatize it.
-- Recently Turkey with the help of the Energy Minister declared that she preferred “Transanatoli” gas pipeline, instead of “Nabucco”. The line of Turkey means the end of “Nabucco”. But does this crosses the “White stream” project? Or it gains the second chance?”
-- Transanatoli gas pipeline and “Nabucco” are different names for one thing. The difference is that Nabucco anticipates transit Azerbaijani as well as Central Asian gas, and Transanatoli factory –only Azerbaijani gas. Both projects are fine with us, as they lie through the territory of Georgia. As for the “White Stream”, I don’t think that this project is buried by the commissioning of Transanatoli gas pipeline. There shall be only other timeframes. And this project shall start developing, when corresponding economic matters occur.
-- In the last two years relations of Tbilisi and Teheran have intensified significantly. Is Georgia ready to support sanctions against Iran, introduced by the European Union and the USA? Neighbor states – Russian, Azerbaijan, Armenia are against.
-- This specific question shall be considered.
We don’t play games. On the one hand, we shall proceed with our policy of approach of our peoples. As you know, there are close relations between our states and the flow of tourists from Iran grows every day as we have cancelled visa regime. On the other – not being the EU and NATO members, we try to act as if we were the members of these organizations. Sanctions are not yet considered. But in general our political line is the same as of the United States, European Union, North Atlantic Alliance…..
-- The President of Georgia today spends more time in Ankara then in Washington. Why is that?
-- I wound’t say so. But we shall always welcome intensification of our relations with Turkey as thus dynamically developing country with plenty opportunities. In the end this is the most big friendly – neighbor taking the first position within investments to Georgia. Eventually, we have a huge diaspora in Turkey: about 1 to 5 million of ethnic Georgians live there. That is why our interest towards Turkish Republic is perfectly known.
-- Although not so long ago Saakashvili visited Washington, after the coming of Barak Obama into the White House the number of meetings of the Presidents of Georgia and the United States reduced significantly in comparison with times of Bush-junior. What is the reason for reduction of top-level contacts? Is it about absence of personal mutual understanding between the Presidents? Or, as experts suggest, is the reason about changes in policy of Washington towards Georgia and South Caucasian region?
-- This is an absolutely wrong understanding of existing situation. Those who wanted to observe as negative current relations of Georgia with the United States, after the visit of President Saakashvili in Washington shall be disappointed. This is, probably, the most productive meeting of the two state leaders, as the option of free trade with USA has occurred. Also they clearly declared about deepening of our relations in the sphere of security and defense. We are talking about training of Georgian military men not only for participation in counterterrorism and peacekeeping operations, but also for enhancement of defense potential of Georgia itself. Eventually, the United States logically supported our country within entry into NATO.
-- In Ukraine they treat with jealousy the results of our reforms. How did Georgia manage to conquer corruption in state traffic patrol service, police, power bodies? How did it manage to change mentality of people? What is the recipe of Georgi Baramidze?
-- Georgia had the situation which couldn’t be worse. It happened so that due to the will of people the power was given to the team of young people, united with one specific goal – to conquer by all means corruption and hopelessness, open prospects for the country. We had no fear of radical reforms. And we’ve managed to achieve the goal.
I wouldn’t like to be perceived as a mentor. But the first prerequisite of successful holding of such reforms is a solid team, political will, clear image of the mechanism for such reforming. The second obligatory condition is great support from people. And finally the third prerequisite: one should be fanatically devoted to the idea of reforms and liquidation of corruption, to be unbiased and give no indulgences even for oneself, friends and relatives.
-- What does Ukraine lack of to hold the reforms?
-- I wouldn’t say that Ukraine lacks of something. Ukraine has it all. I consider that Ukrainian people and government have options for transformations and I suggest that it has great potential to proceed with reforms that were started by the authorities. But Ukraine of 2012 differs from Georgia of 2003 with size of territory and state of economy. And these significant factors play the role.
-- Mass Media, opposition often criticize Georgian power for narrowing democratic freedoms, and President Saakashvili is being blamed for being authoritarian. Is narrowing democratic reforms in Georgia a payment for the success of economic reforms? Can’t they be held without authoritarianism?
-- It can, and moreover we have done it this way. We demonstrate that together with the struggle against corruption and holding of liberal economic reforms, our democracy promotes. By the way, Mr. Obama in the White House told our President that Georgia is an “example of democracy in our region” and that in due time peoples shall ask their governments: if Georgia managed, why can’t we? We don’t state that we have a flourishing democracy. We still have to do a lot. Including in the sphere of corruption fighting, and strengthening of democratic institutions, supremacy of law. Ahead we have a great test – Parliamentary and Presidential elections. But we consider that it’s possible to be reformers and modernizers while being democrats. That is why, making power more balanced, we amended the Constitution, having made a step towards Parliamentary Republic.
-- But the opponents of President Saakashvili blame him of that these changes were made for him to become a Prime Minister, as he can’t take three Presidential terms one by one…
-- The opponents of our team will always have something to say. Before that we were criticized for too centralized power. Indeed, at a definite stage of reforms we were forced to have strong Presidential power. But now, the time comes when we can do things, suggested by our opposers, to grant greater authorities to the Parliament. And as soon as we did that, they started blaming us that we did that because of the President Saakashvili, personally for him. But everybody realizes that changes in the Constitution are urgent step to balance the power. And now the Parliament shall have significantly greater influence on policy, and much more levers to control executive power.
Translated by EuroDialogueXX from Zerkalo Nedeli