- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Help wanted

Georgia badly needs U.S. and international support to stand up to its vastly larger neighbor Russia in an escalating border confrontation, the speaker of Georgia’s Parliament said on a Washington visit yesterday.

“We are really extremely worried about recent developments,” Nino Burjanadze told a National Press Club briefing, according to our correspondent David R. Sands. “We think that Russian policy in our region is unfortunately quite dangerous.”

Relations between Tbilisi and Moscow, never easy in the best of times, plummeted in recent months over Georgian charges that Russia stepped up its meddling in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two separatist enclaves that have resisted control by the central government in Georgia.

The Bush administration has been a leading supporter of the pro-Western government of Georgian President Mikhail Saakhashvili, backing the bid of the former Soviet republic to join NATO. Russia strongly opposes Georgia’s NATO hopes, and some regional analysts say Moscow is stirring up tensions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in part to torpedo Georgia’s NATO hopes.

Russia has forged economic, political and diplomatic links with residents of the two breakaway regions, even offering Russian passports to residents.

Last week, Russia deployed a large contingent of soldiers to Abkhazia as “peacekeepers,” a move that Moscow said was in response to a “provocative” buildup of Georgian forces on the de facto border with the breakaway region. But Mrs. Burjanadze denied that her government is considering military force as a way to reclaim control of the two regions.

“There are no war plans being developed or considered by the Georgian government,” she insisted. “That is why is it so important that we have strong support from the international community.”

Mrs. Burjanadze was due to meet with top State Department officials and with National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

Mrs. Burjanadze, the most prominent female politician in Georgia, has been the subject of speculation back home after abruptly withdrawing from this month’s parliamentary election. She had been widely expected to lead Mr. Saakhashvili’s United National Movement Party and to retain the speaker’s post that she has held for the past seven years. Yesterday she said she had no plans to drop out of politics altogether.

“I will continue to support democracy in our country,” she said, “and do my best to resolve the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

School for diplomats

After opening their doors to the public over the weekend, European ambassadors this week are practicing more public diplomacy by serving as substitute teachers at 32 area schools in preparation for Europe Day celebrations on Friday.

“The high school visit is always a highlight for me,” said Ambassador John Bruton, head of the European Union office in Washington.

Europe Day marks the establishment of the six-nation European Coal and Steel Community on May 9, 1950, which grew into the 27-nation European Union. European Open House activities continue this month and are listed at www.eurunion.org.

In addition to Mr. Bruton, ambassadors going to school this week include Giovanni Castellaneta of Italy, Wojciech Flera of Poland, Rastislav Kacer of Slovakia, Andreas Kakouris of Cyprus, Pekka Lintu of Finland, Alexandros Mallias of Greece, Mark Miceli-Farrugia of Malta, Eva Nowotny of Austria, Vaino Reinart of Estonia, Klaus Scharioth of Germany, Joao de Vallera of Portugal, Adrian Vierita of Romania, Pierre Vimont of France, Carlos Westendorp of Spain and Samuel Zborgar of Slovenia.

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

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