The Blog

An Interview with the Georgian Ambassador

5:58 PM, Aug 27, 2008 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Georgian Ambassador Vasil Sikharuldize is one of the busiest men at the Democratic National Convention, hopping from meeting to meeting to seek American aid for his embattled country. When I caught up with him Monday night, he told me that the need for $1 billion in economic assistance from the United States-to help rebuild both Georgia's civilian and military infrastructure-has been a focus of his talks with Democratic leaders, such as former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Obama foreign policy adviser Susan Rice.

"What we're talking about are strictly defensive capabilities," he said, arguing that it would be "unimaginable" that Georgia's small military would confront Russia. "We need new radars, new air fields, new military bases."

Though Sikharuldize said the sale of anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons from the U.S. to Georgia was not a measure currently being discussed, he told me: "We believe as a matter of deterrence this kind of equipment may be very helpful for us." The ambassador also believes that "security cooperation," including "frequent visits of U.S. officials to train Georgians," is of the utmost importance, whether conducted "bilaterally or through NATO."

Amb. Sikharuldize said that Russia's belligerence demonstrates why Georgia ought to be admitted to NATO. He argued that the NATO's Article 5-which states an attack on one member country shall be considered an attack against all-would "serve as a deterrent." As we discussed how the recent conflict may complicate Georgia's bid for NATO membership, Sikharuldize said: "We will not enter NATO with any deal that treats South Ossetia or Abkhazia as special areas"-meaning that those areas should be viewed "as full parts of Georgia as any other part of Georgia." In other words, an invasion of South Ossetia or Abkhazia would require a response by NATO members under Article 5, which would, the ambassador argues, deter a future attack.The big news in Georgia early Tuesday morning was Russia's decision to formally recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said of Russia's actions in a statement: "This is the test that we-all free people-must not fail. My friends, we are all concerned today. And today Georgia counts on your support."

Amb. Sikharuldize told me that the argument in favor of supporting Georgia has three main points: 1) to prevent human rights abuses by Russian troops, 2) to protect Europe's energy security, which depends on the safe transfer of oil and gas from the Caspian Sea through Georgia, and 3) to ensure territorial integrity of sovereign nations.

When asked if this is the same argument he would make not just to political leaders but also the American public, Amb. Sikharuldize said: "I could add to that one more very important thing, which is America's national identity. It was and is associated with defending freedom in the world. It is a beacon and a hope for every freedom loving nation in the world. … If the U.S. doesn't react, then it means there is no one else who will react. All freedom loving people see the U.S. as their protector and their ally."