• 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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  • Shaffer Quoted by Jewish News Service on Netanyahu's Visit to Azerbaijan and its Long History of Tolerance and Secularism that Underlies its Warm Relations With Israel

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  • Shaffer Quoted in The Times of Israel on Netanyahu's Trip to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan

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  • Between Trump and Putin: A Way Ahead for Georgia

    The election which mattered most for Georgia was not the one that returned the incumbent Georgian Dream party to power last month, but the one that took place in the United States last week. Georgia’s leaders were swift to congratulate President-elect Donald Trump and express confidence in the US-Georgian relationship. But privately, they may harbor deep concerns. Trump’s unexpected victory risks upending the strategic goals around which an otherwise-polarized Georgian establishment has largely been able to coalesce: membership in NATO and the European Union as a way of entrenching their security and independence from Russia.

    Trump has made no secret of his disdain for NATO, questioning why the US should continue to offer protection to allies that don’t pay their fair share. Nor has he been shy in his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who describes Georgian membership in NATO as a red line. This is no empty threat: NATO’s pledge at the 2008 Bucharest summit to one day make Georgia a member was followed only months later by Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Even today, any perceived deepening of Georgian ties to NATO is accompanied by Russian sabre rattling.

    The concern is that a President Trump, keen to focus on problems at home, skeptical of major US interventions overseas, and desirous of better relations with Russia, will be open to a grand bargain with Putin.

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  • Why Georgia Deserves More Love from the EU, NATO, and the US

    On November 11, Mikheil Saakashvili stole the show again. After resigning from his post as regional governor of Odesa oblast in Ukraine, he vowed to build a new political party and called for early parliamentary elections there. While Saakashvili dominates the news cycle and pundits continue to examine his every move, it’s worth taking a closer look at his home country of Georgia and its recent elections, where the former president still plays an outsized role.

    On October 30, Georgia’s ruling party Georgian Dream scored a decisive victory in the second round of voting, securing enough seats to change the constitution and pass legislation easily. Georgian Dream won 115 of the 150 seats, while the United National Movement won twenty-seven, the Alliance of Patriots ended up with six, and the Industrialists-Our Homeland bloc got one. Independent candidate Salome Zourabichvili was also elected.

    These results require sustained attention, especially given Georgia’s recent history of abuse of power from both the United National Movement and Georgian Dream.

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  • Herbst Quoted by Accent on Hillary Clinton's Support for Ukraine and Georgia

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  • Dealing with Putin

    As presidential nominees, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have taken divergent views of Russia and its relationship with the United States. Clinton, a Democrat who as secretary of state presented a big red “reset” button to her Russian counterpart in 2009, has taken a hawkish view of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Trump, on the other hand, has said that it “wouldn’t be so bad” if the United States got along with Russia. How, then, should they approach Russia when either of them are elected president on November 8?

    The next president of the United States—regardless of whether it is Clinton or Trump—must do more to deter Russia, former US officials said at the Atlantic Council on November 3.

    “In terms of the Russia policy, we need to change the dynamics. It is not working now. Something needs to change,” said Judy Ansley, who was an assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration.

    Ansley argued for a “stronger and much more assertive approach to Russia.”

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