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WASHINGTON – The country of Georgia in the Caucasus has been a strategic democratic ally for the United States, which has invested hundreds of millions of dollars there in recent years. But now all of that investment, that time and effort may be sliding toward Moscow instead of Washington, according to report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
That’s because newly elected Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili appears to be pursuing a foreign policy that is opposite to what the former president, Mikhail Saakashvili, who was backed by the West, pursued.
Saakashvili’s party lost in recent parliamentary elections and now, Ivanishvili, a billionaire who made his fortune in Russia, appears to be steering a course that is more open with Russia.
Saakashvili’s relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin had become so strained that Moscow cut off Georgian imports into the country and had labeled Saakashvili a “terrorist” for actions that led to the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia.
The outcome wasn’t good for Georgia, which lost two of its most important provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russians now occupy both provinces and are building up their military in both locations.
Ivanishvili, however, is sending a different signal to Moscow, one that appears to be more conciliatory even while paying lip service to the idea of Georgia’s affiliations with the West.
Soon after his election as the new prime minister, Ivanishvili wanted to meet with U.S. officials but could not obtain any meetings since officials wanted “higher-level” officials, according to one Georgian source.
Yet, the U.S. wants Georgia to continue leaning Westward, since it regards the small country in the Caucasus as strategic and is one in which the U.S. has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to persuade leaders to look West.
This includes the yet unsuccessful effort to get Georgia accepted as a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Georgia also is strategically located in the Caucasus since it is the only country that borders all the other countries in the region. Georgia also is the shortest land connection for Azerbaijan with its ally Turkey over the endless Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.
The country of four million people also offers a land corridor between Russia and its close ally Armenia where there is a military base which the Russians are expanding. That gives Moscow more of a strategic advantage in the Caspian Sea and puts Russian forces in a position to come to Iran’s aid in the event of an Israeli attack.
Under Saakashvili, Georgia committed Georgian troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and plans to maintain Georgian troops there after troops from the U.S. and NATO have left at the end of 2014.
Under Ivanishvili, however, there are hints that informal discussions are under way between Russian and Georgian officials to consider rejoining the Russian-run Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS.
Saakashvili had removed Georgia from this defense and economic arrangement soon after becoming president in 2004.
While officials of the prime minister’s office deny any such discussions are under way, he also is signaling that another country in the Caucasus, Armenia, which is close to the Russians, is a “good example for Georgia, and it can be a source of envy in a positive sense” for improving relations with Russia.
Such a statement raises concerns that Ivanishvili is showing that he is shifting the country’s foreign policy orientation toward Russia, according to regional expert Vasili Rukhadze.
For the rest of this report and other Intelligence Briefs, please go to Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin:
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