Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 141

Georgia has taken one more step in–as officials recently described it–its uphill effort to “work its passage” toward Europe and NATO (see the Monitor, July 1 and The Fortnight in Review, July 16). On July 20, the parliament approved President Eduard Shevardnadze’s initiative to send a Georgian platoon for peacekeeping duty in Kosovo under NATO command. The twenty-strong unit is Georgia’s first to have been trained specifically for participating in NATO-led operations. NATO members France and Turkey have both offered to include the Georgian unit in their respective Kosovo contingents.

Ultimately, however, Georgia’s move reflects the country’s close relationship with the United States. Interviewed on the eve of the parliamentary vote, Shevardnadze for the first time described Tbilisi’s relations with Washington as “gradually assuming the nature of a strategic partnership.” Hailing the U.S. Congress’ recent adoption of the Silk Road Strategy Act as “historic,” Shevardnadze predicted that it will lead to a larger American presence in the South Caucasus-Caspian region. Last month Azerbaijan had shown the way as the first post-Soviet country to join NATO’s peacekeeping operation in Kosovo (see the Monitor, July 5). The Azerbaijani platoon will be deployed with the Turkish contingent–a natural choice in view of the two countries’ linguistic affinity.

In a parallel development, equally reflective of the Tbilisi-Washington relationship, the U.S. National Democratic Institute (NDI) has bestowed its annual award on Shevardnadze for merits in democratic state-building. Czech President Vaclav Havel was Shevardnadze’s immediate predecessor as a recipient of the NDI award. Shevardnadze commented that the NDI’s decision reflects Georgian society’s ongoing effort to advance from “chaos and anarchy” toward a law-based democratic state. Last year Shevardnadze was awarded the prize of the Republican-affiliated Richard Nixon Center, which had cited primarily foreign policy considerations (Radio Tbilisi, Prime-News, July 19-20).

Moscow, which regards the South Caucasus as its historic sphere of interest, has few higher cards to play in Azerbaijan, but can play a panoply of them in Georgia. Those cards include residual Russian troops, the Abkhaz secession, centrifugal elements in other areas and–in the short term–the recently created opposition alliance led by Ajaria’s Supreme Soviet chairman Aslan Abashidze (see the Monitor, July 14), which hopes to checkmate the governing Union of Citizens of Georgia in the upcoming parliamentary elections.