Saakashvili travels to the U.S. to restore his image

WASHINGTON. (Galina Zevelyova for RIA Novosti) - On March 19, Mikhail Saakashvili will arrive in the United States to meet with President George W. Bush.

The situation in which the meeting will take place is difficult for Georgia - the opposition leaders are on a hunger strike at the steps of the parliament building, protesting the results of the recent presidential elections, while Abkhazia and South Ossetia are demanding recognition of their sovereignty with renewed energy after Kosovo proclaimed its own independence.

Saakashvili's main objectives are to receive support for his efforts to uphold Georgia's territorial integrity, try to speed up its entry into NATO, and, most importantly, restore his shattered image of a democratic leader. The Georgian president understands that without the latter he will not make progress on other issues.

The White House press release recently called Saakashvili a key ally in the war against terror, particularly in Iraq, and a major partner in an important region. However, Washington refrains from Bush-style May 2005 rhetoric in Tbilisi where the U.S. President named Georgia under Saakashvili "a torch of liberty in the world."

Saakashvili tried to make up for the American restraint with his own eloquent statements. "Come to Georgia and you will witness an extraordinary transformation, a triumph of Western values that did not cost a single American bullet nor the life of a single European soldier," he wrote in Newsweek. "Our now an emerging liberal European democracy rooted in the rule of law and respect for human rights. Our elections are truly free, our economy is one of Europe's fastest growing, and the World Bank ranks Georgia as the No. 1 reformer in the world."

This is how Saakashvili describes Georgia to the United States. He is trying hard to fit his country into Bush's doctrine on promoting global democracy. To do this, the Georgian leader is presenting Georgia as a major success of U.S. policy, and himself as a young democrat with idealistic views, who received his education in the United States, and is trying to implement Western ideas at home.

Since there are not many examples of America's successful democratization of oppressed countries, Bush often quoted Georgia's example as a model, which could inspire other nations aspiring for freedom. This is why Washington was shocked by the crackdown on protestors, closure of TV channels and the imposition of emergency rule late last year. The supervisors of Georgian democracy were at a loss and had to admit that, to quote the Washington Post, "Indeed, in a single week, the president of Georgia - Mikhail Saakashvili... probably did more damage to American 'democracy promotion' than a dozen Pervez Musharrafs ever could have done. After all, no one expected much in the way of democracy from Pakistan, but a surprising amount was expected from Georgia..."

The presidential elections on January 5 partially saved Saakashvili's image. First, the political crisis was eventually resolved by democratic means despite all the shortcomings of the election process typical of all post-Soviet countries. Second, he won with a more presentable 53% of the vote (as compared to 96% in 2004). The Georgian president hopes that his meeting with Bush will dispel all doubts about his love of democracy.

Skillfully exploiting the ideas of democratization, which are so dear to many Americans and form the backbone of Bush's doctrine on changing the world, Saakashvili does not forget about geopolitics. He is successfully playing on the contradictions between Russia, which is trying to preserve its waning influence in the South Caucasus and the United States, which is supporting "geopolitical plurality" on post-Soviet territory and trying to weaken Russia's domination in the region.

For Saakashvili, integration with NATO and subsequent entry into that organization is not an end in itself, but an instrument for settling relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia on his own terms, and for weakening Russia's positions in these breakaway republics. He understands that it will be increasingly difficult to incorporate these republics back into Georgia. But in any event, the key to solving this question is in Moscow rather than Washington or Brussels.

If Saakashvili ignores Russia's interests, Moscow may well use U.S. experience in relations with Taiwan for developing ties with self-proclaimed republics. It may start expanding cooperation with them, while formally recognizing Georgia's territorial integrity. If Georgia steps up its integration with NATO, Russia can avoid incorporating these republics. It would be enough to give them a vague status of an associated free territory like Puerto Rico. According to the UN, Puerto Rico is not a self-governed territory, but under American law, it is "a territory appurtenant and belonging to the United States, but not a part of the United States."

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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