- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

Georgia’s quest

The speaker of the Georgian parliament wants the United States to apply diplomatic pressure on Russia to stop Moscow from interfering in the affairs of the former Soviet republic.

Nino Burjanadze is spreading that message from Foggy Bottom to Capitol Hill this week, as she meets with State Department officials and members of Congress to give them an update on Georgia’s progress since the “Rose Revolution” that inaugurated democratic reforms 18 months ago.

She said her government would like to get the United States involved in negotiations to end violent separatist conflicts that, she said, Russia continues to inflame to destabilize Georgia.

Mrs. Burjanadze recalled a meeting with a member of the Russian parliament who told her that Moscow has no interest in helping resolve the uprisings in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions, even though Russia is officially leading peacekeeping efforts in those areas.

He said Russia sees instability in Georgia as a way to keep it from moving further toward the West by joining NATO and the European Union, she said.

“Russia wants to maintain influence in Georgia,” she said in an interview. “They think the conflicts will be obstacles to our membership in NATO.”

Relations with Russia is a constant obsession with Georgia, which relies on Russia for energy but holds deep suspicions of its giant northern neighbor that dominated the country for nearly 200 years. Russia is expected to complete a withdrawal of troops and close several military bases by 2008.

Mrs. Burjanadze said her country holds hopes for the expected benefits of an oil pipeline that will run from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey.

“We need energy independence from Russia,” she said, adding that Georgia wants to develop normal relations with Russia and encourage Russian investment in areas of the economy that are not related to national security.

Mrs. Burjanadze said she provided an update to the U.S. officials on her government’s efforts to promote democracy, combat corruption and encourage economic growth.

President Mikhail Saakashvili was elected in 2004, after pro-democracy demonstrations forced the resignation of Eduard Shevardnadze, whose government was riddled with corruption.

“Corruption was so high, it was a threat to national security,” said Mrs. Burjanadze, who served as interim president after Mr. Shevardnadze resigned in November 2003.

She said Mr. Shevardnadze’s cronies went unpunished or got a light sentence when they were exposed for financial crimes.

“There was a syndrome of impunity under Shevardnadze,” Mrs. Burjanadze said. “Today corruption as an institution does not exist.”

Now, those accused of corruption, even members of the ruling party, can expect to face prosecution, she said.

Mrs. Burjanadze noted that she received praise for the pace of democratic reforms in meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar and others. She also defended her government against internal criticism from some government opponents.

“It’s most important to have constructive criticism, but my concern is that the opposition is not strong enough,” Mrs. Burjanadze said.

Angry in Peru

The U.S. ambassador in Peru is losing patience with the government’s refusal to extradite an accused drug dealer who fled to the Andean nation, where he is suspected of working for a man on trial for narcotics trafficking.

Ambassador James Curtis Struble this week complained that Jorge Chavez “moves freely around the country, threatening, intimidating and obstructing justice while his boss is on trial for drug trafficking.”

Chavez was arrested in Miami in 1995 on charges of dealing cocaine but pleaded to a lesser charge and agreed to become an undercover FBI agent. He then fled to Peru.

Mr. Struble said Chavez is an enforcer for suspected drug kingpin Fernando Zevallos, on trial in Peru for trying to smuggle cocaine to Mexico.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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