Georgia's Diplomatic Shuffle
"America is our biggest and strongest partner, and for a country like Georgia, this is the most important diplomatic post you can imagine," current Georgian Ambassador to the United States Temuri Yakobashvili recently told the Washington Diplomat. So when he steps down on March first, his replacement will be a key player in the US-Georgian relationship. That man is Dr. Archil M. Gegeshidze.
Gegeshidze is formerly a senior fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS), known colloquially as Dr. Rondeli’s group, a position he took after the Rose Revolution. Not known as particularly political, he is said to be approachable, reasoned, and calm.
During the turbulent nineties, Gegeshidze worked for former President Eduard Shevardnadze as chief foreign policy advisor, assistant national security advisor, and finally head of the Foreign Policy Analysis Department at the State Chancellery. In 1999, during his time in government, he earned diplomatic rank but has never served in a diplomatic post before. He was a Fulbright scholar at Stanford University and currently teaches geopolitics at Tbilisi State University. His academic interests lie in security and political risk analysis in the South Caucasus. In addition to English, he speaks French and Russian.
Yesterday, nine ambassadorial nominations, including Gegeshidze’s, were made by President Mikheil Saakashvili and submitted to Parliament. Other nominations were made for ambassadors to Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, and Ukraine.
The candidates were submitted by the president but selected by the new Georgian government led by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. In December, Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze wrote to Saakashvili requesting that he replace several key ambassadors, a letter made public by the president’s administration in January when he agreed to confirm candidates suggested by the new government.
All this comes following the October parliamentary elections in which the new government came to power and as the country navigates an awkward co-habitation period. Saakashvili currently retains many of his executive powers until his term expires in October 2013, including the right to appoint and call back ambassadors, while Ivanishvili is in charge of other important government functions. Although the two leaders agree in principle about Georgia’s foreign policy orientation, they have not agreed on who should represent the country on the international stage.
Panjikidze’s letter to Saakshvili said that embassies in strategically “important” countries should be staffed by diplomats “who will properly pursue policies of the new government,” adding that ambassadors in some countries were “in service of [Saakashvili’s] National Movement’s partisan interests.” The new government has said it would treat jailed former officials more leniently in exchange for the president’s cooperation.
Yakobashvili was not replaced; he resigned. Agreeing with Panjikidze, he told the Diplomat he is leaving to make room for someone who “would have better relations with the new leadership and more trust from them."
Gegeshidze is now tasked with forging new bonds between Washington, Georgia's "biggest and strongest partner," and Ivanishvili's new government in Tbilisi.
Laura Linderman is an assistant director with the Council's Eurasia Center.
Photo credit: President of Georgia