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8 Dec, 2008 14:39

Meet Georgia’s new Foreign Minister …who’s Russian

Relations between Georgia and Russia are rock bottom after the war in South Ossetia, with most diplomatic ties severed. But can the new Georgian Foreign Minister mend the rift? Grigol Vashadze has Russian citizenship and friends in Russia’s foreign minist

He is a career diplomat and an alumni of the same university as his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. They both graduated from the Moscow University of International Relations. He served in the Soviet Foreign Ministry for almost a decade before becoming a businessman.

In 2008, Vashadze returned to his diplomatic roots as a Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia. There was a brief period when he served as a Minister of Culture, but after last week’s reshuffle in the cabinet, he took the highest diplomatic position in Georgia.

Unexpectedly for a top Georgian official, Vashadze keeps his Russian citizenship that he received after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moreover, his Georgian citizenship was granted to the diplomat by a special presidential decree as recently as 2007, he told the Russian Kommersant daily.

In the interview, he said several top diplomats in the Russian Foreign Ministry are good friends of his, although he didn’t reveal which ones.

Ties with Russia also run in Vashadze’s family. He is married to the world-famous ballet dancer Nina Ananiashvili, who rose to prominence at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre.

There are ways for Georgia and Russia to overcome their differences, according to Vashadze.

Despite this, he believes there are three things that Tbilisi will never bargain: Georgia’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Likewise, Moscow has said it will never reverse its decision to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

But Vashadze says that in diplomatic language, ‘never’ often means ‘could well be’. The question is: which side will adopt which definition?

Political analyst, Vladimir Kozin said what is a positive sign is that “Vashadze knows us [Russians] very well”.

Some are hopeful this could be a step in a new direction for Georgia and Mikhail Saakashvili

Georgia’s UN envoy to join the opposition?  

Another sign of the winds of change blowing into troubled Georgia was the resignation of Irakli Alasania, the country’s ambassador to the UN.  The repeated failures of Georgia’s government are what some believe motivated Alasania to quit the regime at the same time as the defence and foreign ministers were fired.

He'd barely stepped down before the prospect of a new role opened up – this time as opposition to Saakashvili. Two of Georgia's opposition parties are to merge and they say Alasania would be an ideal candidate to lead the new coalition.

David Gamkrelidze, leader of the New Rights Party said:

 “I think the Russian side will see also that Irakly Aslanian is a person that can keep his word and his promises.”  

Alasania is expected to make an official announcement this week detailing why he had such a change of heart.