A relatively short time ago, the Embassy of Georgia with the seat in Bratislava was opened. Mr Nikoloz Nikolozishvili is the Georgian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Slovak Republic since October 3, 2006. He acts at the same time as the Ambassador to the Republic of Slovenia., We have discussed with His Excellency the current state of the relations between Slovakia and Georgia as well as the up-to-date challenges and issues of Georgia on the area of foreign policy and economy.
At what level are the relations between Georgia and Slovakia in the present? In what way have they changed during the period in which Georgia and Slovakia have existed as independent republics?
The Slovak-Georgian relations have been developing firmly since our countries gained their independence. Ever since, we have also been closely cooperating in terms of international organisations like the UN, OSCE etc. Slovakia and Georgia have a good deal of things in common. The main thing is that we have been pursuing the establishment of the European type of a democratic state, which would be strong not due to its territorial size, but because of its values and the historical tradition of the fight for freedom. In a recent interview (on March 11, 2007), the Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Ján Kubiš confirmed that apart from other Eastern European states, also the Caucasian countries, particularly Georgia, are among the regional priorities of the Slovak Republic. As Mr Kubiš pointed out, not only in accordance with the EU norms, but also from the viewpoint of the historical experience of your country itself, Slovakia supports Georgian membership in NATO. Moreover, the Slovak Republic is absolutely supportive of a peaceful solution of serious conflicts on the basis of Georgian territorial integrity.
Georgia opened its Embassy in Bratislava in October last year. On February 12 – 13, 2007 the official visit of the Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs to Slovakia took place during which a wide spectrum of bilateral relations and the prospects of its further development were talked over. We are convinced that this visit will be a powerful impetus to the future development of the relations between two friendly states.
There is also interest in the deepening of economic cooperation on both sides. Although the figures are modest meanwhile, owing to the rapid growth of both countries‛ economies we have potential that hasn‛t been utilised yet. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Georgia enables cooperation in the field of trade and economy. Other bilateral economic treaties are in the phase of active negotiation. In the period of last four years, a large amount of foreign investments has been flooding into Georgia and we would be glad to see also any Slovak ones among them.
How would you characterise the relations between Georgia and international structures, the EU and NATO for instance, member of whose is the Slovak Republic?
The membership of Euroatlantic structures, namely NATO and the European Union, takes precedence in Georgian foreign policy. We are fully aware of the fact that the integration into these structures will take some time, but Georgia is on the right track. This has been already proved by several achievements. We have signed a partnership agreement with the EU and we entered into intensive dialogue with NATO, final objective of which is the Georgian membership of the Alliance. In general, this cooperation has been developed in an fierce and determined way.
Georgia is a country with 3,000-year old history, but according to us, it is exactly the united Europe that should be the ultimate historical destination of our country.
How is the membership of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) perceived by Georgia itself? Does this alliance meet the needs of Georgia?
The Commonwealth failed to solve problems, the solution of which was actually the reason for its inception in 1991. First and foremost it failed to secure an equal, mutually favourable cooperation among the subjects of the former Soviet empire. Moreover, none of the conflicts was settled by CIS and none of the decisions made by any head of the state was carried out. We reposed a lot of hope in CIS primarily as regards the peaceful conflict settlement in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. All this, however, proved to be a false dawn.
Has this alliance any future according to you?
In my opinion, the only chance for CIS rests in its becoming the guarantor of state independence, territorial integrity and stable development for all countries involved. However, such manners are not rife with this international organisation. On the contrary, it is abused to camouflage imperialistic recurrence in some cases. Nevertheless, Georgia is not hasty in resigning its membership of CIS, because there are still friendly and allied countries like Azerbaijan, Ukraine etc. among its members. We do not intend to “slam the door” so that nobody can accuse us of radicalism or the sparking of tense situation.
The commonwealth hasn‛t brought any benefit, but the malfunction of this organisation is thus much dire that even the membership of it is harmless.
How would you characterise the relations between Georgia and Russia as well as their development after the Rose Revolution?
A couple of days after the Rose revolution, its leader and the new President of Georgia Micheil Saakashvili made a symbolic gesture of extending his hand to Russia and proposed to lay the foundations for completely new mutual relations, to wipe the slate clean, as it were.
It meant to forget about the insults and ambitions of the past and to commence a mutually beneficial cooperation. Unfortunately, as soon as the restoration of Georgian territorial integrity and peaceful conflict settlement were on agenda, some powers within Russia struggled to foil this process. It seems that somebody doesn‛t want to allow our country to develop in a free and stable way. In addition to this, economic and energetic blackmail along with the pressure aimed at preventing our country‛s progress entered the scene. As we may see, some powers in Moscow are totally frightened of the success of Georgian democracy and thus also the origin of a stable, developed, democratic and unified country in the area of Southern Caucasus. It would doubtlessly presuppose the expansion of democratic territory representing a peril to forces infected with imperialistic syndrome.
Georgia has really achieved an imposing economic growth. To what extent do the favourable macroeconomic indicators reflect the standard of living of the population?
Georgia takes undoubtedly the first place in terms of our region according to all economic indicators, which reflected not only on international economic organisations‛ ratings, but also on the standard of living of an ordinary person. In Georgia, in contrast to the bygone era, not only are wages and pensions paid in time, they even grow in amount and simultaneously ten thousands of job opportunities arise.
Which countries are the most important business partners of Georgia?
Among them are Turkey, Russia and Azerbaijan. We believe the after the EU entry of the countries of the Balkans and the opening of transport corridors, there will be an immense growth of trade with the countries of Eastern Europe.
What kind of products amount to the largest share of import in Georgia? Which countries are these products imported from?
Energy bearers represent the largest share. This emerges from the natural conditions. The vast majority of energy bearers is imported from Russia and Azerbaijan.
Do the Georgian political elites consider the Russian power engineering to be a potential weapon which can be aimed at Georgia? How do you perceive this problem with regard to the future prospects and what are the possibilities as to the protection against this weapon like for Georgia?
Unfortunately, Russia overtly uses its dominance in the field of energy bearers as a weapon, as a means of coercion in relation to neighbouring countries. But every kind of pressure stirs up counter-reaction. Georgia deals actively with the diversification of energy resources. Our country will no longer be dependent on Russia as an exclusive gas and oil importer in the not-too-distant future. The success of the project of energy an corridor between the East and the West along with the start of the transport of energy bearers from Caspian Sea to the West across Georgian territory is a precondition for it.
What products comprise the largest share of Georgian export? Which countries are these products exported to?
Wine as well as agricultural products made up a considerable amount of export. Due to political grounds, Russia has closed its market for us, but we managed to find alternative markets. In addition to this we expand our export to the EU countries.
What is the impact of Russian embargos on Georgian economy like?
The Russian embargo caused certain troubles, notwithstanding it missed the mark, because it failed to hamper the development of Georgia. Irrespective of these impediments, the last year‛s economy recorded a double-figure growth, namely 10 per cent. President M. Saakashvili even thanked Russia for these obstacles, which in fact, spurred Georgian entrepreneurs to search for new markets, triggered the quest for new technologies and the forging of contacts with new partners.
Have the tense relations between Georgia and Russia taken their toll on the relations with Armenia, Russian long-term ally?
The friendship between Georgia and Armenia has lasted for millenniums. That‛s why there has been a firm tradition developing still now. The solidity of these relations cannot be affected by the cooperation with other countries in any way. Georgia as well as Armenia are interested in preserving and developing these long traditions. Our relations have been developing in economic and political spheres as well.
To what extent do the economic relations copy the political processes? Does Georgia try to direct, for instance, foreign investments in accordance with its political relations with the Russian Federation? Is Georgia ready for bigger Russian investments in this day and age or does it purposefully seek other markets?
Not only is Georgia prepared to open the door to Russian investments, but it has already accepted important investments in the sphere of banking, power engineering and many other spheres. There are no restrictions on our side since Georgian Government is open to every investment. An investment goes hand in hand with job opportunities and the development of relations between two countries restores mutual trust. Sometimes troubles might occur, for example, when the accomplishment of mutually advantageous investments is prevented solely by political motives.
What is the impact of Russian Federation‛s retaliatory measures taken due to the arrest of Russian citizens accused of espionage on Russian economy?
By imposing transport and economic restrictions Russia acted to the detriment of not only Georgia, but also Russia and Russian citizens. For many years, the Russians were used to Georgian trademarks, they used to visit Georgia, but their government does not take into consideration the interests of ordinary people.
Is it conceivable to solve economic issues emerging from the relations with the Russian Federation on the ground of WTO if Russia joins this organisation? What stance may we expect from the Georgian side?
We are convinced that the primary aim of the sanctions implemented on Georgia by Russia is to force Georgia to yield up its focal requirement. We cannot back Russian membership in the international trade organisation unless this is met. The content of the requirement is the Russian obligation to close down the uncontrolled customs on the Georgian-Russian frontier situated along the territory of Abkhazia and the so called South Ossetia which are run illicitly. After meeting this demand, Georgia is free to cooperate with Russia within the international trade organisation.
There are Russian peacekeeping troops deployed in the territory of Georgian separatist republics. What is the stance of Georgian ruling elites and political parties on them like? What is the attitude of Georgian population like?
The standpoints of Georgian population and Georgian Government coincide in this case, namely, these peacekeeping forces do not fulfill their function, in reality they do not contribute to the settlement of the conflict, but they hold it down. They encourage the existence of contrasts and add fuel to the flames. Therefore Georgia claims the substitution of Russian peacekeeping forces for genuinely neutral international forces which would not only keep peace, but also grant the progress towards peacekeeping process.
Does Georgia construe the presence of Russian military objects in its territory as a disruption of its sovereignty? What does (did) prevent Georgia from accepting their presence and profiting from them like Azerbaijan did?
First of all, there isn‛t any agreement known between Azerbaijan and Russia on the retention of Russian military objects in Azerbaijan‛s territory. The radar station in Gabalin which is leased to Russia, belongs to Azerbaijan, but it is an interior affair of a neighbouring country. As far as Georgia is concerned, not only do we perceive it this way, we have even made particular decisions and achieved concrete international as well as bilateral treaties according to whose Russian military bases will abandon Georgia by the end of 2008.
What do you expect the impact of the departure of military bases on the people‛s standard of living in their surroundings will be like?
Georgian Government has already undertaken all the necessary steps in order to propose an alternative job opportunity to that part of population employed in Russian military bases. This initiative is under way in Achalkalaki and Batumi. Georgian military forces will buy up from the inhabitants of Achalkalaki the whole agricultural production part of which has been regularly bought by the Russian base up to now etc.
In the present, is the departure of military bases under way as scheduled?
Russian Federation has meanwhile done its duties, even in advance. It is testified by the departure of a garrison town in Tbilisi and the surrendering of an important part of military objects to the Georgian Ministry of Defence.
What are the attitudes of Georgian ruling elites, political parties and citizens towards possible integration into NATO and the EU like?
According to the latest sociological poll 75 per cent of Georgian citizens support the entry of our country into NATO and other Euroatlantic structures. It means that the attitude of the Government, political parties as well as population is the same as to this issue. A couple of days ago, the Georgian Parliament unanimously adopted the Memorandum through which it once again confirmed the will of the Georgian nation to integrate into the Euroatlantic Alliance.
To what extent is the status of the Most Favoured Nation within the WTO a help to Georgian economy? In what way has the European Neighbourhood Policy influenced Georgia and how is the acceptance of the ENP Action Plan received?
The European Neighbourhood Policy is of great moment to our country since it offers us the possibility to develop political as well as economic relations with the entire Europe. Therefore this plan has got a positive and unanimous reception in Georgia. After Georgia had joined the World Trade Organisation, it got an opportunity to deal on the top world markets which was a powerful impetus for Georgian businessmen and producers.
How would you describe the relations of Georgia with other countries in the region?
Georgia enjoys good relations with neighbouring countries. Among them are Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and across the Black Sea there are Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. These relations along with cooperation are based on the principles of mutual esteem, help and favour as well as the avoidance of interference in other coutry‛s interior affairs.
What is your opinion on the cooperation of the countries united in the Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development in the present times as well as for the future? What fields does this cooperation encompass?
We assume that there is future in GUAM resting on those principles of equality and general values like other European alliances do as well. The cooperation includes the areas of economy, power engineering, policy and security.
What are the relations between Georgia plus other countries, I mean the members of the Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development, and regional alliances that the neighbouring countries belong to?
The membership of GUAM isn‛t an obstacle to the cooperation with other regional alliances. The question remains, which of them are more viable and corresponding to their demands.
In what way have the Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development and the relations between Georgia and Ukraine changed after Viktor Yanukovych took the seat of Ukrainian Prime Minister?
We have always regarded Ukraine a friendly country regardless of who was the head of the Government. This country has gone through fundamental changes after the Orange Revolution. Political process always represents a kind of compromise among political powers, although, irrespective of inner-political processes, the cooperation between Georgia and Ukraine has proven itself to be quite successful. Several visits of the Ukrainian President to Georgia testify to it.
How do you assess the current level of relations between Georgia and Belarus?
In connection with the relations between Georgia and Belarus, we do not meddle in other countries‛ interior affairs. We will be glad welcome the free choice of the Belarusian nation as far as it is confirmed by democratic and transparent elections.