Georgia's Strategic Partnership With Ukraine

TBILISI, Georgia -- Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko will be vacationing in Georgia from July 26-30, and although the Georgian president's administration stresses that this is an unofficial visit, it nevertheless underlines the close ties between the two countries, as well as offers an opportunity for the further deepening of relations.

The Ukrainian president is slated to visit many of Georgia's tourism highlights, including Tbilisi and Mtskheta, Borjomi and Bakuriani, Vardzia, Svaneti and a vineyard in Kakheti. President Mikheil Saakashvili is reportedly cutting short his stay in Holland, where he is visiting his wife Sandra Roelofs who is pregnant with the couple's second child, in order to accompany Yushchenko. During the trip meetings are also scheduled for Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli and Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze.

The visit symbolizes not only the strategic partnership developing between Georgia and Ukraine but also the close personal relationship between the presidents of the two countries. Saakashvili was vocal in his support of Yushchenko in the run-up to the Orange revolution and ensuing presidential elections, and the two men have met a number of times since, including spending their New Year holidays together in Ukraine.

Their relationship has been central to the development of ever closer relations between Georgia and Ukraine. The two countries, along with fellow GUAM member Moldova, share similar goals and difficulties. Most obviously, both have expressed their strong desire to become members of NATO and the European Union, and this has entailed a cooling in relations with the Kremlin.

Russia is duly taking measures against both countries, by raising the price of Russian gas exports, for example, and this in turn means the strategic partnership between the countries is of even greater importance. While Georgia has much to gain from close ties with Ukraine, which is after Russia the most powerful post-Soviet country, Georgia's strategic position between Ukraine and Caspian gas and oil fields means Ukraine too has much to gain from the partnership.

The two countries are currently planning deeper economic integration, and this is of particular importance for Georgia, whose biggest trade partner is currently Russia. The Ukrainian market offers great potential as a recipient of Georgian products, and with relations with Moscow currently so strained, Tbilisi is eager to diversify not only its energy sources but trade partners as well.

Georgia could also potentially benefit from closer ties with Ukraine with regard to its ongoing efforts to resolve its internal conflicts. Russia is obviously the country best placed to intervene in the Ossetian and Abkhaz conflicts to pressurize the separatist regimes to come to the negotiating table, but it seems highly unlikely that this is a route Moscow will take. Kiev, on the other hand, is keen to play a role in resolving these conflicts, as well as the Moldovan-Transdnestrian conflict, which it is admittedly in a stronger position to influence.

It is arguably in Kiev's interests to see an end to ethnic conflicts in the region, as Ukraine could potentially be threatened by a similar conflict with the eastern part of the country, which is predominantly populated by ethnic Russians, seeking to break from the western part. It goes without saying that an increase in the role played by Ukraine in resolving regional conflicts would be in the interests of Moldova and Georgia.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has published a statement recently declaring Ukrainian support for the Georgian government's initiatives to peacefully resolve the South Ossetian conflict. The statement reads that the recent Batumi international conference to discuss the proposals was an important step towards conflict settlement, and that the initiatives provide a real base for dialogue between Tskhinvali and Tbilisi.

Western countries and organizations have also praised the Saakashvili peace initiatives but past experience suggests that this verbal support is unlikely to translate into genuine efforts to get involved in the peace process. It remains to be seen whether Ukraine will make this move from statements of support to active involvement, but the people of Georgia hope that Yushchenko's visit will lead to just that, and there is no doubt that this would be a positive step.

Source: The Messenger