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24 Jul, 2009 11:03

US pledges continuing support for Georgia

US Vice President Joe Biden has visited Georgia and confirmed that Washington will support their NATO aspirations. However, despite promises to stand by the Caucasus state, the US stance towards it seems reserved.

Joe Biden enjoyed a hearty welcome in Tbilisi, greeted as he was by flag-waving supporters along George W. Bush Avenue. However, if the previous US president was known for his unconditional support to Georgia, the new administration’s foreign policy approach appears lukewarm.

While pledging American support to Georgia, the US second-in-command was careful not to jeopardize the “resetting” of ties with Moscow, an issue that loomed large throughout the vice president’s trip east.

Will Georgia get the weapons it’s asking for?

There were reports from Washington suggesting the Georgian leader had asked Biden for advanced weaponry and military aid. However, the anonymous top US official later backtracked on the statement. Meanwhile, Moscow is strongly against any rearming of Georgia.

“I start from the fact that everyone who sold the Saakashvili regime the weapons that were used in last year’s conflict have drawn the right conclusions. Many countries have reached such conclusions and we know that,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday during a media conference in Bangkok.

“As for the states that are still talking about the need to resume selling weapons to Georgia, I believe they are making a mistake. Concerning NATO, we think that the promise that Georgia will become a NATO member, which was voiced at the NATO summit in April 2008, was one of the factors that led Saakashvili to start his reckless venture,” he added.

The American vice president said that America’s partnership with Georgia involves meeting security challenges together, but refrained from giving any promises to help Tbilisi remilitarize, at least publicly.

“Joe Biden has to walk a very tight line,” said attorney at law Graham Wisner from Patton Boggs. “He knows if he agrees to provide offensive military technology, that will certainly send a very negative signal to Russia. And we have an enormous set of interests with Russia – far greater, actually, than our interests with Georgia.”

Biden’s visit to Georgia and earlier to Ukraine was mainly aimed at reassuring Russia’s two neighbors that the US will not abandon them in the wake of warming ties between Washington and Moscow. So, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili tried to capitalize on every bit of American support he could get.

“It is more political rather than strictly military,” said Dmitry Suslov of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, in reference to the pledged support.

“A new offensive on the Georgian side against South Ossetia or Abkhazia is now unthinkable,” he added. “On the other hand, the Georgian military was dismantled last August, so Saakashvili wants a sort of image thing.”

US will never recognize Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s sovereignty – Biden

The US vice president assured the Georgian leader that his country “supports Georgia’s territorial integrity in the framework of internationally recognized borders,” and thus does not recognize the two republics nor has plans to do so.

He also called on the entire international community not to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent republics.

Following Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia in August 2008, Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states the same month. Later, the independence of both republics was also recognized by Nicaragua.

Opposition gets new boost

Once praised for his democratic approach, Saakashvili is going through very tough times, trying to save face abroad while his country falls apart. Georgia’s economic prospects have nosedived with the international financial crisis and non-stop opposition protests are in their fourth month.

Saakashvili is continuously accused of authoritarianism, and many hope that Biden had a private message for the Georgian president.

“Success requires the involvement of everyone in this room, of those who were elected outside this room,” Biden said. “It requires every Georgian citizen, regardless of their political affiliation or their ethnicity, to take part in their government.”

The US vice president’s visit gave another boost to the Georgian opposition. Like the man they seek to oust from office, they, too, seek American support.

“It was a remarkably open and sincere discussion of the problems that we have internally,” opposition leader Irakly Alasania said of a meeting with Biden.

“The main message that we got across is that we need to have an honest broker and we need to have in the process America’s participation in supporting the institutions and democratic changes,” he said.

Biden’s trip ended with an address to the Georgian parliament, where he again emphasized that the US would stand by Georgia. At the same time he urged more press freedom and justice in the country.