We don’t have any illusions, the PM said
“The situation on the occupied territories of Georgia is a humanitarian catastrophe,” said the Prime Minister of Georgia, Mamuka Bakhtadze, at the ‘World in 2018: Upside Down?’ international conference, organized by the McCain Institute in Tbilisi.
He said that creating a strong European democracy and a robust economy in Georgia were crucial for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
“The occupation is the most painful issue we are facing today. Twenty per cent of Georgia is occupied by Russia,” the PM said.
“I want to remind you that, before the war, the population in the Tskhinvali region was 120,000, and it has since decreased to 20,000, out of which 7,000 are Russian military personnel.
Also, Abkhazia’s population used to be 550,000, and it is now barely 120,000.It is a very painful issue for us, and we have been trying to properly respond to this humanitarian catastrophe.”
He said that the Georgian government had come up with a very important initiative called ‘A Step Towards a Better Future’.
“The idea at the heart of the initiative is to provide the people living on the occupied territories with access to healthcare and education. But this, of course, does not sit well with Russia,” said Bakhtadze.
“We don’t have any illusions,” he continued.
“This path is full of challenges, but we will stand our ground. In order to resolve the conflict peacefully, we will need a strong European democracy and a robust economic environment where everyone will have a chance to reach their potential. These are the two basic prerequisites for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.”
When asked by a Financial Times editor if Russian propaganda was an issue in Georgia, Bakhtadze said that it was.
He further said Russia was trying to influence the Georgian public’s opinion and change the positive attitude that Georgians have towards being a potential NATO member and the country’s accession to the EU.
“We have to reduce poverty, which will be the best response to the challenges coming from Russia. Unfortunately, poverty often leads to the emergence of nationalism and xenophobia, and Russian propaganda seeks to take advantage of these weaknesses.”
“However, Moscow’s efforts have not been successful,” he added. “Russian propaganda will never succeed in Georgia. According to the results of the most recent election, pro-Russian parties have not been able to secure more than 5 per cent of the votes. Most Georgians support NATO and EU integration.”
• The focus of the ‘World in 2018: Upside Down?’ conference was Russia and its propaganda.
This is the fourth time this conference has taken place in Georgia. Every September, the conference brings together regional security experts, Georgian politicians, civil activists and businessmen. Its goal is to promote Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.