In his address to the UN General Assembly Session on September 21 Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili reiterated Georgia’s commitment to deal with the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia "through solely peaceful means" and proposed a "stage-by-stage conflict settlement plan." In his 25 minute long speech Mikheil Saakashvili also spoke of relations with Russia and offered to facilitate "mechanics of new relations" between the two countries, which envisage the creation of a joint, anti-terrorism center.
Conflict Resolution Plan
President Saakashvili said that breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia are "black holes," posing threats to the entire Caucasus region and contain "the potential to affect European security." He urged for internationalization of the conflict resolution process, in which Russia plays a key role at the moment.
In his speech Saakashvili outlined the following measures, which should be implemented to speed up the conflict settlement process:
• Confidence building between the conflicting sides;
• Demilitarization and decriminalization of conflict areas;
• Internationalization of the peace process;
• Broadest form of autonomy for the separatist regions;
"I would like to introduce the idea of a new "stage by stage settlement plan", designed to speed resolution of these conflicts, one that consists of specific confidence building measures, that follow a plan, and that call for enhanced cooperation from the international community," Mikheil Saakashvili said.
"Step One is to initiate confidence building measures... These measures can include exchanges that link NGO’s to NGO’s...students to students...journalists to journalists...health care workers to health care workers...athletes to athletes...and mothers to mothers," Mikheil Saakashvili said. He added that building confidence means "pursuing joint economic projects that create wealth."
The Georgian President said that Step Two focuses on specific measures, including removing the instruments of war through demilitarization and eliminating the climate of fear through decriminalization. "These elements can be conducted in parallel with some of the confidence building measures," he added.
"We also need to internationalize the peacekeeping forces and introduce a generally international format," Mikheil Saakashvili added.
"Step Three envisions a global solution with global guarantees that lead to the establishment of the fullest and broadest form of autonomy... one that protects culture and language, guarantees self governance, fiscal control and meaningful representation in national government," the Georgian President continued.
He also stressed that economic growth is a precondition for the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity. "What all parts of Georgia need today is development, investment, security and lasting economic growth. We will peacefully re-incorporate South Ossetia and Abkhazia so that all citizens of Georgia can share in the fruits of our success. I believe the most effective mechanism for establishing Georgia’s long-term continuity and wholeness is the creation of a strong economy," Mikheil Saakashvili said.
He said that Georgia will not use violence to solve these conflicts, "because no democracy can go to war against its own people." But he also added, that Georgia "will never get used to the loss of control over its territory - they [the conflicts] cannot ever be forgotten."
Relations with Russia
Before his address to the UN General Assembly, Mikheil Saakashvili told Georgian reporters in New York that Tbilisi will not be confrontational with Moscow. In his speech, Saakashvili unveiled several proposals which, thinks Saakashvili, will promote Russo-Georgian ties to the level of cooperation that Georgia and the US share in the fight against terror:
• Setting up a joint anti-terrorism center;
• Greater sharing of information, intelligence;
• Expanding joint border patrols to the entire Russian-Georgian border;
• No foreign military bases on Georgian soil;
"The time has come for Georgia and Russia to enter a new stage of cooperation that will have as its goal the defeat of this common enemy [terrorism]," Saakashvili said.
"The mechanics of a new relationship with Russia means pooling our resources and efforts to create a joint anti-terrorism center to conquer our common threat. It means expanding joint border patrols to the entire Russian/Georgian frontier, so that no holes are left exposed," he added.
The Georgian President said that these efforts will require greater sharing of information, intelligence, and a greater degree of trust - "all of which Georgia stands ready to conduct."
"In order to replace mistrust and misperceptions that sometimes derail our progress, Georgia today proposes to establish more discussion between Russia and Georgia through joint bodies, where bilateral issues and misgivings could be regularly discussed and considered," Mikheil Saakashvili said.
He also added that Russia and Georgia should together consider issues such as protection of the rights of Russian citizens now living in Georgia, "so that no inhabitant of Georgia will ever feel forgotten or unprotected." Most of the residents of Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetian and Abkhazian regions are now the citizens of the Russian Federation.
Saakashvili also pushed the issue of withdrawal of the Russian military bases from Georgia, but at the same time stated that Georgia has “a very firm position and will not have any new foreign military bases on its territory.” He added that the Russian military bases on the Georgian soil are “left over from a period that no longer exists. Left over from a country [Soviet Union] that does not exist.”
Recently the Russian media quoted sources in the Kremlin saying that the issue of a possible deployment of a military base in Georgia by a country other than Russia or Georgia represents a hitch in the signing of a comprehensive framework agreement between Russia and Georgia.
Russia insists on a provision being included in the agreement which restricts Georgia from allowing any foreign country to deploy its military bases on the Georgian soil, while Georgia refuses to accept this provision.
On September 21, Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili met with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Session.
In a statement issued on September 22, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetian, as well as bilateral ties between Russia and Georgia, was discussed during the talks.
"Mr. Lavrov has underlined Russia’s readiness to develop friendly relations with Georgia. And economic assistance, restructuring of Georgia’s debt, delivery of utilities [gas and electricity] is a confirmation of this. In return, we would like to see the Georgian side take into consideration our legal interests, particularly concerning the security of Russia, including the fight against terrorism," the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement reads.
Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili told Georgian reporters after the talks that she urged her Russian counterpart to establish direct contacts between top-level officials in both countries in order to avoid misunderstandings within bilateral relations.
"We have agreed to have direct contacts and not to speak with each other through statements issued by the [both countries' Foreign] Ministries. I have invited him to visit Georgia in October when we are organizing Russian culture days in Tbilisi," Salome Zourabichvili said.