• Hall Hall Joins VOA Georgia to Discuss US-Georgian Relations

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  • How to Win Friends and Influence People on a Global Scale

    Dale Carnegie’s famous self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, centers on investing in personal relationships in order to achieve success. President Donald Trump has demonstrated an instinctive understanding of this principle in the way he has interacted with a succession of world leaders, whether over a round of golf at Mar-a-Lago or an informal dinner in Washington. Yet his administration is set to undermine one of the most effective vehicles for this on a global scale, through proposing a radical cut in funds for the State Department’s international scholarship and exchange programs.

    That’s not completely surprising. These programs are often seen as only benefiting foreigners or as wasting money on fuzzy people-to-people contacts, with little tangible outcome for US taxpayers. At a time of competing domestic priorities, it is unsurprising that some believe the funding could be better spent elsewhere.

    But cutting funding for the exchange programs would be a giant mistake.

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  • Mikheil Saakashvili: “By my own standards, I failed on every account in Odesa.”

    Mikheil Saakashvili strode into the Toronto Four Seasons Hotel on a Saturday morning, all smiles and apologies for being late. The café was empty, except for myself, a handful of patrons, and a young waiter who had recently immigrated from Ukraine. I told him who I was waiting for and he smiled.

    Saakashvili is only forty-nine, but has accomplished more politically, and can drop more names, than the previous three US presidents combined. He became president of Georgia in his thirties, turned the country around, was nearly assassinated with his good friend George W. Bush, stared down Vladimir Putin, and became a Ukrainian citizen to join the effort to transform Eastern Europe’s sleeping giant.

    He supported the Euromaidan from afar then was recruited by President Petro Poroshenko, a university pal. Months after becoming an adviser, Saakashvili convinced Poroshenko to appoint him as governor of Odesa oblast to reshape the corrupt port. For less than one year, he ruled with an iron fist and began cleaning up port operations, then suddenly announced his resignation in a typically dramatic fashion. At a press conference, he accused Poroshenko of supporting "corrupt clans in the Odesa region."

    He is unusually forthcoming as an interviewee. “By my own standards, I failed on every account in Odesa. We proved that it was possible to operate customs without corruption. Some people miss this. But we only accomplished 5 percent of what we wanted to do.”

    Poroshenko, he added, has missed his chance to transform the country. “This is because he spends most of the time running his businesses. They cannot be combined. They’re part of the old system. He is part of the old system,” he said.

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  • What Can Ukraine Learn from the Balkans?

    Ukraine wants to join the European Union, but the level of support among many EU member states is low or nonexistent. Many are afraid of Russia’s reaction and lack a clear understanding of both the climate in post-Euromaidan Ukraine and the country’s strong commitment to Western integration.

    The situation is challenging in all aspects. War still raging along the demarcation line in the Donbas, US policy toward the EU and Ukraine is unclear, Russia is strongly opposed to Ukraine’s entrance into the EU, and Ukraine itself faces the twin challenges of war and reform. Only EU and NATO accession can provide a lasting framework that allows Ukraine to master all of the challenges at the same time. The model has been proven through the accession of central European and southeastern European countries and will most likely be similarly successful in the third wave occurring in Eastern Europe.

    If the EU does not allow the country to have realistic European hopes, post-Maidan Ukraine could fail, just as the Orange Revolution did, with all of the related tragic consequences. But how can one ensure a credible EU perspective and increase progress toward EU accession in all sectors simultaneously? To achieve this, Ukraine requires a new strategic approach and an alliance of friends, partners, and allies composed of countries with similar interests.

    In the nearby neighborhood are eight countries—Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia—that had similar traumatic experiences with war and destruction in the 1990s, and that now have seventeen years of reconstruction and pre-accession behind them. They have shared a similar strategic objective of joining the EU and NATO, and some have achieved it: Croatia joined NATO in 2009 and the EU in 2013, for example. Those that are already inside can help the others that are still on their way and facing similar challenges with domestic reform and the EU’s enlargement fatigue.

    The reform and transition experience of the Balkans matters for Ukraine.

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  • One Small Step for Georgia, One Giant Leap for the EU

    At a time when doors across the West are closing to migrants, one small country has managed to buck the trend: the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia. On March 28, the country secured visa-free travel to the Schengen area of the EU, which includes all member states except Ireland, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania, and Bulgaria, as well as to non-member states Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. While this is a landmark achievement for Georgia, counterintuitively, in some respects it is a bigger deal for the EU. Not only does it affirm the EU’s ability to honor its commitments, but it also serves as a timely reminder of the EU’s enduring appeal to its neighbors, and its ability to incentivize reforms and maintain unity in the most difficult of political circumstances. Coming just as the UK files the papers for its separation from the EU, the decision on Georgia should be welcomed by all who still believe in the post-Cold War ideal of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace.”
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  • Linderman Quoted by the Accent on Georgia's Diplomacy and its Democratic Performance

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  • The End of the Rose for Saakashvili

    Dynamic, revolutionary, modernizer, narcissist, opportunist: all of these are terms that have been used to describe Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia and would-be Ukrainian leader. Over the course of a storied political career, all have been true to varying degrees. But what is true now is that Saakashvili has exceeded his expiration date as a positive force, both as a transformative figure in his homeland and as the Black Sea region’s foremost reformer and opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    After acquiring a Western legal education, Saakashvili first joined and then broke from then-Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze’s hopelessly compromised government. Corruption, criminal gangs, a lack of economic opportunity, and the failure of basic utilities cast a pall over Georgians’ daily lives. By many accounts, Georgia was a failed state.

    Saakashvili’s meteoric ascent to power began with his resignation as Minister of Justice in 2001, whereupon he co-founded and led the United National Movement (UNM). It continued with his local electoral success in Tbilisi in 2002 and culminated in his rallying of popular support against the fraudulent results of the 2003 parliamentary elections. His peaceful Rose Revolution marked the first indication that people of some post-Soviet republics were willing to struggle toward the hopeful prospect of Western liberal democracy rather than retreat into strongman models.

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  • Coote Interviewed by Accent on Georgia's Negotiation of a New Gas Transit Contract with Gazprom

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  • Break the Caucasian Chalk Circle

    As hopes fade that President-elect Donald Trump will take a stronger line on Russia than candidate Trump, and worries grow about his commitment to key Euro-Atlantic institutions such as the EU and NATO, it is not just small countries on the fringe of Europe, like Georgia, whose future is at stake. It is time for all countries affected by Russia’s hostile activities to be more proactive in defending their interests—without relying on US leadership.

    For too long, countries like Georgia have been viewed as largely helpless victims of a bigger power play between Russia and the West. But unlike the Georgian child in Bertolt Brecht’s 1948 play, “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” who risks being torn in two literally as his birth mother and adoptive mother tussle over him, Georgia is a grown-up country with a voice and an opinion of its own. It is time for all the protagonists in the modern day version of this play to accept this reality, and pay more respect to the aspirations of Georgia’s own people.

    This has become critically relevant on the eve of Trump’s inauguration; he has made no secret of his desire to achieve a rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Many analysts suspect that in the interests of securing cooperation on key global issues such as the fight against terrorism, this could involve accepting as fait accompli Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, as well as overlooking its intimidation of neighbors like the Baltic states, record of atrocities in Syria, and interference in Western elections.

    For Georgians, a worry is that as part of this new “grand bargain” with Putin, their own longtime aspiration to join NATO could be put on ice.

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  • Wilson Joins VOA Georgia to Discuss the Recent Congressional Delegation Visit

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