I failed to give sufficient space towards the Bush visit to Georgia – but I have been looking back at some of the coverage.
Bush’s warning to Putin, his host in Red Square only 24 hours before at the 60th anniversary celebration of the defeat of Nazi Germany, was focused on two separatist enclaves within Georgia’s borders – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – that are aligned with Russia.
Earlier in the day, at a joint news conference with Saakashvili in the Parliament building, Bush embraced the Georgian president’s plan that the enclaves become autonomous and self-governing, but not independent. He approvingly said that Saakashvili “wants the country to remain intact.”
Bush’s words were immediately criticized by the president of Abkhazia, Sergei Bagapsh, who told the Interfax news agency that “the Abkhaz people have already opted for an independent state at a referendum and this choice should be respected.”
Bush took a careful stance on the biggest conflict right now between Russia and Georgia, the two Russian military bases on Georgian soil that the Georgians want removed. The two countries are in negotiations, but Saakashvili boycotted the 60th anniversary celebration in Red Square to protest a lack of progress. Bush said at the news conference that he had spoken to Putin about the matter.
“He reminded me that there is an agreement in place – a 1999 agreement,” Bush said. “He said that the Russians want to work with the government to fulfill their obligations in terms of that agreement. I think that’s a commitment that’s important for the people of Georgia to hear. It shows there’s grounds to work to get this issue resolved.”
Some discussion is also happening over on Irish Eagle. I tend to agree with Peter on this one, Georgia is important to US interests – NATO or no NATO. Energy supplies from the Caspian that do not go through volatile central Asia, or Russia, but instead via friendly Georgia, Azerbaijan, and NATO ally Turkey are, in my estimation at least, hugely important. Besides that Georgia is in a strategically important area, gateway to Europe and the Middle East – its only a 200km trek to the Iranian border (where believe it or not many people speak Georgian).
I reckon Georgia is important enough for the US to maintain a presence there almost indefinately – whether it comes to war with Russia or not is hard to say – but Georgia is certainly seeking a security guarantee in the form of NATO membership. The regions of Abkazia and Ossetia are certainly a problem for Saaskashvili – he has more or less staked his Presidency on bringing them back into the fold. The Russian airbases in question are perhaps more important to Russia than it lets on, the same bases were some of the most important during the Cold War.