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12 Jan, 2010 12:16

ROAR: “McCain is lobbying Saakashvili again”

ROAR: “McCain is lobbying Saakashvili again”

US Senator John McCain has visited Georgia to confirm his support for the country’s leadership, but politicians and analysts still see hidden motives behind his stance.

McCain, then Republican candidate for the presidency, backed Tbilisi during the tragic events in the Caucasus in August 2008. On January 11, President Mikhail Saakashvili, in return for the support, awarded McCain the Order of National Hero of Georgia. Along with it, McCain received from Saakashvili a pistol that had allegedly belonged to a US pilot taken prisoner during the Vietnam War.

The US media has written about alleged connections between McCain’s aides and companies lobbying Georgia’s interests during the 2008 presidential campaign, Vzglyad.ru online newspaper said. The senator’s campaign then denied “any connection between this circumstance and the position of its candidate regarding Georgia and Russia,” the paper added.

This time, the senator came to Tbilisi to discuss security in the region after the August 2008 events and the state of democracy in Georgia. Ironically, his visit coincided with the sentencing by a court in Tbilisi of servicemen who took part in the attempted military coup in 2009.

But Georgian authorities said that the visit of McCain and US senators John Barrasso and John Thune “demonstrated support for the country’s sovereignty and independence.” The US politicians also visited the western Georgian town of Zugdidi where they met with observers from the European Union who monitor the situation in regions adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, South Ossetia and Abkhazia unilaterally declared independence after a civil war in Georgia. Russia recognized their independence in 2008. But speaking with reporters in Batumi, McCain called on Russia to leave the republics.

In August 2008, Russian and French presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Nicolas Sarkozy concluded an agreement, according to which Georgia had to return its troops to their permanent posts, and Russia withdrew their forces to the line that had existed before the conflict.

“Moscow has fulfilled the conditions of the agreement, but Georgia keeps criticizing the presence of Russian troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” the paper said. However, the Russian forces are located there according to the agreements with these republics, it added.

“McCain is lobbying Saakashvili again,” Vzglyad said. “He wanted to confirm that the leadership of the US Republican Party is still supporting Mikhail Saakashvili,” it added.

The US senator’s anti-Russian views “remain unchanged,” Ruslan Kondratov, deputy of the State Duma from the ruling United Russia Party, believes. “McCain is probably determining election trends of US Republicans for the 2012 presidential campaign,” Kondratov told the party’s official website Er.ru.

“McCain’s visit to Georgia is a new attempt by the US Republicans to stir the interest of the international community to Russian-Georgian relations,” the deputy said. “However, now, I want to believe it, the whole world understands that there will be no return to the previous geopolitical state of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

“All the conversations about so-called ‘Georgian territorial integrity’ are nothing but a PR campaign by Russia’s implacable opponents,” Kondratov noted. He added that McCain “has always been noted for Russophobia in his political statements.” “Even now, after losing the presidential election, he is continuing to defend his anti-Russian positions,” the deputy said.

However, Regnum news agency considers McCain’s visit to Georgia “a part of his campaign for a new term in the US Senate.” Facing the coming elections, “McCain has decided to change somewhat his image as Mikhail Saakashvili’s supporter to that of the ‘friend of all Georgian people,’” the agency said.

The senator emphasized his meeting with representatives of the opposition, after which he spoke about “the need to improve institutions of democracy in Georgia,” the agency said. It added that McCain held all his official meetings “in sort of neutral territory, Adzharia’s capital Batumi, rather than in Tbilisi.”

“But Saakashvili frustrated all McCain’s efforts to distance himself from the Georgian leader” and presented him with the country’s highest award, the agency said. According to the statute of the National Hero order, McCain may receive a cash prize worth 500 minimal Georgian salaries, but the sum has not been mentioned in reports, Regnum said.

Nevertheless, the US senator found time to meet with representatives of Georgian opposition parties. “The US should support democratic institutions [in Georgia] because the assistance that had been sent to Saakashvili has already been wasted by the authorities,” the leader of Georgia’s Republican Party, David Usupashvili, told Kommersant daily. He also said that the opposition relies on Washington’s “help in holding democratic elections.”

Kommersant added that McCain’s visit may be connected with the energy summit due to be held in Batumi on 14 January. Leaders of several countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia may discuss routes for delivering energy resources from the Caspian basin to Europe through the South Caucasus, bypassing Russia, the paper said, citing Temur Yakobashvili, Georgia’s Minister for Reintegration.

“McCain represents a wing in US politics that considers Georgia an important partner and a strategic base in the region,” Vremya Novostey daily quoted Georgian political scientist Georgy Khukhashvili as saying. “But one should distinguish between the statements of the US senator and the official US position,” he added.

The analyst also added that the very fact of McCain’s meeting with Georgian opposition shows that the senator understands “the problems democracy faces in Georgia.” But it seems that McCain had proposed to opposition leaders they “reduce pressure on Saakashvili, promising to make his own efforts to correct the president’s behavior,” he said.

The Untied State’s previous support for the Georgian government, “according to the country’s opposition, has already decreased Washington’s authority in the country,” Vremya Novostey said. “Some days ago unknown people dirtied up former US President George Bush’s portrait on the street in Tbilisi that bears his name,” the paper said.

Sergey Borisov, RT