Georgian President: “We don’t want an American military base”
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili says she is against the creation of a US military base in Georgia, since this “will be perceived as a provocation.”
Just one day after re-tweeting a highly controversial message from US President Donald Trump, Zurabishvili is again at the centre of attention, and has been criticized by the opposition for her statement.
What did Zurabishvili say?
In an interview with Voice of America, Salome Zurabishvili answered a journalist’s question about what she thought about the possible opening of a US military base in Georgia.
“I don’t think it would be advisable. I think this country is in a place where security needs to be strengthened. There is no need to take steps that can be perceived as a provocation and, at the same time, I do not think that the United States is ready to have a military base here, which will attract the attention not only of Russia, but also of terrorist movements that are very active in our region. Based on our relations, we must deepen and expand cooperation and not take steps that could provoke a reaction from others”, said Salome Zurabishvili.
The reaction of the authorities
Vice-Speaker of the Georgian Parliament Tamar Chugoshvili asked why the question of the American base in Georgia was on the agenda of the VoA interview.
“As far as I know, there is no [ongoing] discussion of this topic. The issue of American bases is not on the agenda and I do not think that we need to have a big discussion on this issue. However, any military cooperation with the United States is a priority for our country. This country is our main partner and ally”, Chugoshvili said.
Vice Speaker Gia Volsky suggested that ultimately, perhaps the president would not be against an American military base.
“The president may have her own opinion, but I don’t think that in the long run Salome Zurabishvili would have the same attitude. She probably had in mind the fundamental preparation of issues such as building a base or NATO membership. You should ask her additional questions”, Volsky said.
Later, the Secretary General of the Georgian Dream party, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, stated on behalf of the ruling party that Zurabishvili does not express the will of the ruling party, and accordingly, the government.
“Salome Zurabishvili is not a member of our party and has no relation to the Georgian Dream. She was an independent candidate [in the presidential election at the end of 2018], and we decided to support her … So I would ask that she not be identified with the party”, said Kaladze.
“The Foreign Ministry must immediately confirm that the statement that we allegedly do not want a US military base is a government position, or refute it,” said Roman Gotsiridze, commenting on the position of Zurabishvili, the chairman of the United National Movement faction.
Gotsiridze says that per the new constitution, the president of Georgia does not have the right to independently determine foreign policy and this issue requires coordination with the government.
“If she continues like this, she will end up impeached,” Gotsiridze said.
A leader of the European Georgia party, David Bakradze, said the messages voiced in the interview with Salome Zurabishvili, play into the hands of Russia alone.
“This is exactly the kind of statement that directly plays into the hands of Russia, that Georgia should not be part of the Western security system and this country should be alone [against the] Russian occupying army. I demand an official clarification from the Georgian authorities on whether the position of the Georgian government agrees with that of Mrs. Zurabishvili, which directly disagrees with Georgia’s future commitment to join NATO and which directly contradicts Georgia’s entry into the Western security system”, said David Bakradze.
Military cooperation of Georgia with the USA
Defense cooperation between Georgia and the US began in 2002, when the United States began to finance the training and equipping of the Armed Forces of Georgia.
Georgia sent a military contingent to the US mission in Iraq and NATO in Afghanistan.
Deepening cooperation in the field of defense is regulated by the Charter of Strategic Partnership, signed in 2009. The United States helps Georgia in the training of military specialists and the reform of its defense forces.
In 2017, Washington made an unprecedented decision to supply Georgia with modern American weapons, Javelin anti-tank systems.
The United States, along with other NATO members, regularly participate in joint exercises in the territory of Georgia.
Until now, there have not been any negotiations or discussions between Tbilisi and Washington D.C. as to the permanent deployment of US military forces in Georgia.