WASHINGTON, May 1 (RIA Novosti) – US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that Washington supports Georgia’s aspirations to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), ambitions that Moscow has repeatedly warned will only inflame tensions in the South Caucasus.
“We are very supportive of Georgia’s aspirations with respect to NATO and Europe,” Kerry said ahead of a meeting in Washington with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose decade in office has seen a severe deterioration in ties with Russia, culminating in the 2008 war over the Moscow-backed rebel region of South Ossetia.
Kerry also praised “the democratic transition that has been taking place” in Georgia, a reference to the bitterly fought parliamentary election last October that Saakashvili’s political party lost to that of his chief rival, billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s current prime minister.
Under political reforms enacted during Saakashvili’s tenure, the Georgian prime minister now has more power than the president.
“The president engaged in the first peaceful election transfer of power, and I know is committed to continue the work for the democratic aspirations of the ‘Rose Revolution,’” Kerry said, referring to the massive 2003 street protests against an allegedly rigged election that swept Saakashvili into power.
The protests, together with the so-called “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2005, are widely considered by Russian officials to have been orchestrated by Western governments to undermine Moscow’s influence in its former Soviet backyard.
The Georgian president has also been accused by political opponents of strong-arm tactics and stifling free speech at home.
Saakashvili, meanwhile, has accused Russia of politically motivated trade bans against Tbilisi and propping up rebel governments in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Georgia lost control over one-fifth of its territory after Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away and were recognized by Moscow in the wake of the August 2008 war with Russia.
Both regions enjoyed de facto independence since the early 1990s, following earlier conflicts with Georgia.
Saakashvili thanked Kerry for his support when he was a US senator during the Russia-Georgia war. Just months after Russian forces crushed the Georgian military in the conflict; Kerry was in Tbilisi when Georgian and European Union observers said Russian troops retook a Georgian village near the border with South Ossetia.
“You came to Georgia at a very difficult moment, a dangerous moment for you physically and personally, but you – basically you braved it and you came,” Saakashvili said before Wednesday’s meeting. “And we will never forget.”
Georgia broke off diplomatic relations with Russia following the war. Tensions, however, have started to thaw in recent months, with Russia recently lifting its import ban on Georgian wine.