German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Tbilisi: The first day of an important visit
Ten years after the August 2008 war, Germany continues to support Georgia’s territorial integrity and requires the withdrawal of Russian troops from its territory. This was the main message that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered to Tbilisi on her first official visit in ten years.
However, Georgian politicians and experts say that the Georgian authorities were unprepared and missed an opportunity of great importance.
What did Angela Merkel say at the joint conference with the new Prime Minister of Georgia?
JAMnews summarizes the results of the German Chancellor’s first day in Georgia.
The German Chancellor arrived on her first official visit to Georgia on 23 August.
She was greeted by Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani, Georgian Ambassador to Germany Elgudja Khokrishvili and German Ambassador to Georgia Heike Paich at the Tbilisi International Airport.
Chancellor Merkel began her joint press conference with the Prime Minister of Georgia by expressing support of the territorial integrity of Georgia:
“We support the territorial integrity of Georgia and are doing everything we can to resolve this conflict,” she said.
“Have you discussed Georgia and the occupation of Georgia in any form with Putin?” was the first question directed towards Merkel at the press conference. She indirectly answered the question, saying that Putin knew her position.
Merkel’s answers were rather cautious. She avoided the word ‘occupation’ and other wording adopted by Tbilisi, although she noted that the situation around Georgia was ‘unfair’. Georgians also noted that Merkel used the term ‘demarcation line’ instead of ‘occupation line’.
“Tomorrow I will have the opportunity to visit the administrative border, the demarcation line, including where the EU mission is represented. What’s happening is unfair,” the Chancellor said.
She more clearly and confidently noted that she had fixed her position ‘in connection with Ukraine’ at her meeting with Putin. According to her, this is part of ‘one context’:
“The president of Russia knows my position, including with regard to Ukraine. We are talking about this. It is one context. Despite great efforts, very little is done to ensure that this great injustice is left in the past once and for all. This should not become business as usual. There should be no getting used to this situation. We have to talk about this as much as possible every day.”
Georgian Prime Minister’s remarks
According to Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze, he and the German Chancellor discussed the situation in Georgia as well as prospects for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, calling Germany a faithful ally.
Bakhtadze spoke about Russia and stressed that it is not fulfilling the obligations of the 12 August 2008 ceasefire agreement and continues to occupy 20% of the territory of Georgia.
He stressed that Georgia had chosen a peaceful policy and referred to the Geneva talks as an example.
Bakhtadze also said that the Georgian authorities were trying to reconcile themselves with the population of the conflict regions, restore confidence and are taking concrete steps to this end.
“I am confident that your official visit will bring relations between Georgia and Germany to a new level,” said Bakhtadze to the Chancellor. He also noted that the continued support of the Chancellor and the Government of Germany was of immense value for Georgia.
Bakhtadze said several times that Georgia is part of European civilization, that its Euro-Atlantic course is unchanged and that Georgia has hopes for Germany’s support on this path.
Assessments of experts and politicians
Angela Merkel’s visit to Georgia is considered significant both by the authorities and the opposition. However, according to politicians and experts, the Georgian side was unprepared. As a result, the chance to communicate with Europe’s most influential politician was not used properly.
Georgian experts evaluated Bakhtadze’s speech at his press conference rather critically, saying he was ‘weak’ and ‘did not raise any specific or important topics for Georgia at the press conference’.
“The main expectation from visits of such a high level is that the authorities will raise important issues for the country. Unfortunately, the Georgian Prime Minister did not do this. First of all, it struck me that he spoke very little about NATO. He had to publicly speak about specific areas, for example, the Action Plan on Accession, or about the greater military involvement of NATO in Georgia. The Prime Minister did not talk about any specific issue … This is partly due to his inexperience, and in part the policy of Ivanishvili which we know well – Ivanishvili does not want Georgia to be the subject of disagreement between Russia and the West,” said opposition MP Sergi Kapanadze from European Georgia on Pirveli TV.
Giorgi Rukhadze, the founder and director of European Studies at the Georgia Strategic Analysis Centre (GSAC), said that he was somewhat disappointed with the statements Angela Merkel made.
He expected stronger statements of support from the German Chancellor.
“Mrs. Merkel did not mention the word ‘occupation’ or the occupation line. She actually confirmed that there was no talk of Georgia at the meeting with Putin. She did not mention NATO nor did she talk about Georgia’s European prospects. I apologize for these expressions, but she limited herself to the themes of the Frankfurt book fair, sewage and water pipes and the State University of Georgia,” said Rukhadze.
He further said that Bakhtadze also did not actually voice any special messages at the press conference regarding Georgia’s European prospects and prospects for joining NATO. Issues which really affect Georgia were not on the agenda, including the NATO issue, which was not discussed at all.
“Today in Tbilisi she abstained from [making] statements against Russia and [being] critical of Russia,” Rukhadze said.
At the end of the day Angela Merkel visited the memorial to the Heroes of Georgia, where she laid flowers and stood for the national anthems of Germany and Georgia.
- Merkel’s visit to Georgia will last until 24 August. The most significant part of her visit will be the conflict zone. She will also meet with representatives of opposition parties at the Tbilisi Marriot Hotel and have a meeting with students of Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University.
- Her visit is part of her South Caucasus tour. Next, the German Chancellor will go to neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan.
- She last visited Georgia exactly 10 years ago on 17 August 2008, following the events of the August war with Russia where she met with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.