An unprecedented procession of foreign statesmen has passed through Tbilisi in recent weeks. Kicked off by Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, the series continued with visits by British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev and, just last week, Turkish Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenant, Armenian President Robert Kocharian and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Not since 1991 has a post-Soviet country witnessed such an influx of top-level visitors in such a short time. The reasons behind such international attention are threefold: first, to advance the negotiations which will turn Georgia into the principal transit country between the Caspian region and Europe; second, to dissuade Moscow from using military muscle against Georgia; and, third, and most immediately, to see President Eduard Shevardnadze returned to office with a clear popular mandate in the April 9 presidential election, in which he faces two Russian-oriented opponents. Russia, having bet on Shevardnadze’s opponents, is the only neighboring country to sulk at the prospect of the president’s reelection.
Departing from diplomatic canons which prevail in more settled regions of the world, the visiting leaders openly endorsed Shevardnadze for reelection. Kuchma, underscoring the common Ukrainian-Georgian interests “on every fundamental issue” in the economic, diplomatic and security spheres, declared that he “wishes to see [his] friend Shevardnadze continuing as president for another five years.” Kuchma and Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk discussed the reactivation of trilateral security cooperation programs of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine (Prime-News, March 17; see the Monitor, March 20, 22; Fortnight in Review, March 31).
No less explicitly, Aliev stated that his visit “aimed to show support for the election of Eduard Shevardnadze. I say openly that Shevardnadze must get reelected and hope that he will be.” Aliev added a call to the Azeri minority in Georgia to vote for Shevardnadze. As a further gesture, timed to the culminating phase of the electoral campaign, Aliev announced significant concessions to Georgia at the expense of Azerbaijan in the matter of apportioning the transit revenue from the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Although those concessions stem from commercial considerations, the timing of the announcement was politically inspired (Azerbaijani Television, Turan, The Baku Sun, March 22, 23, 24; AzerHabar, March 22-28).
CIA Director Tenant’s visit, while confidential, is understood to have focused on the situation in the Chechen sector of the Georgian-Russian border and on U.S. security assistance to Georgia, including support for the presidential security service. General Cakmakoglu announced an expansion of existing Turkish assistance programs to develop Georgia’s armed forces (Prime News, Kavkasia Press, March 24-30).
During his visit Chancellor Schroeder paid tribute to Shevardnadze’s role as Soviet Foreign Affairs Minister in facilitating the reunification of Germany. Shevardnadze in turn noted the interconnection between German reunification and the attainment of Georgian independence as part of one chain of events. Underscoring that linkage, Germany’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who was Shevardnadze’s partner in the negotiations which led to German reunification, accompanied Schroeder to Tbilisi. Germany is the single largest aid donor to Georgia in Europe, with direct disbursements worth 350 million marks since 1993 and another 300 million in German contributions to European Union aid to Georgia. Schroeder presented an additional credit worth 60 million marks. Addressing the Georgian parliament, the Chancellor pledged continued diplomatic and economic support, provided that Georgia continues market reforms and negotiates a political settlement with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The German diplomat Dieter Boden is now in a position to help mediate a settlement with Abkhazia in his capacity as the UN Secretary General’s special envoy. Boden’s appointment last year, over Russian resistance, marked a step toward internationalizing those negotiations (Prime-News, Kavkasia Press, Tbilisi Radio, March 30-31; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Welt, April 1).
Shevardnadze’s opponents protested against foreign leaders descending on Georgia to endorse the incumbent president for reelection. The practice is not entirely new, however. Last fall, Presidents Aliev, Shevardnadze, Aleksandr Kwasniewski of Poland and Chancellor Schroeder himself in Ukraine openly endorsed Kuchma for reelection against leftist and pro-Moscow opponents.
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