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Cablegate: Georgian Officials Hope for Continued Friendship

VZCZCXRO0597
PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHSI #0177 0411447
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 101447Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2840
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS TBILISI 000177

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV UP GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIAN OFFICIALS HOPE FOR CONTINUED FRIENDSHIP
AFTER ELECTIONS IN UKRAINE

1. (SBU) Summary. Georgian government responses to the
apparent election of Victor Yanukovych in Ukraine has been
generally positive, with all following President
Saakashvili's lead in congratulating the Ukrainian people for
their well-run election. Additionally, officials from
Saakashvili to the MFA have noted their belief (and hope)
that relations would not be impacted negatively by the
victory of a candidate commonly viewed from Georgia as a
friend of Moscow. Despite the upbeat comments, Georgian
private opinion has been more mixed, with concerns expressed
about the loss of a strong ally in the region. End Summary.

MISHA OFFERS CONGRATULATION AND COMPARES PROGRESS

2. (SBU) Senior Georgian officials including President
Saakashvili struck a positive tone in public responses to
election results out of Kyiv. Stressing the importance he
places on remaining Ukraine's "friend," Saakashvili
complimented Kyiv on the election results and process and
stated that, regardless of who won, Georgia would remain
Ukraine's partner. He went on to note that Georgian
officials have good contacts with both the Tymoshenko and
Yanukovych camps, and he expressed hope Georgia would retain
its good relations with the new Ukrainian president. Citing
Georgia's interest in a strong and economically successful
Ukraine, Saakashvili noted that the absence of a unity
government had constrained Ukraine's economic development.
While generally positive in his comments to the press,
Saakashvili also made a point to differentiate Georgia and
Ukraine, citing statistics showing how far ahead Georgia was
in eliminating government corruption and simplifying the tax
system. Additionally, he stressed that Georgia was no longer
a "post-Soviet country" and was among the "most developed"
states.

3. (SBU) After expressing his personal satisfaction with the
process, and saying the rest of Europe would envy the manner
in which the election was conducted, Saakashvili also
discussed publicly the issue of Georgian election observers.
Saakashvili confirmed that Georgia did not send election
observers for the second round due to "misunderstandings"
that took place in the initial voting, in reference to claims
of interference by Tymoshenko opponents, who held up
transcripts of phone conversations about the issue which took
place between Tymoshenko and Saakashvili.

PARLIAMENT, MFA JOIN THE CHORUS

4. (SBU) In remarks on Georgia television, Parliamentary
Speaker Davit Bakradze expressed his hopes and "deep
confidence" that friendly relations would continue between
Georgia and Ukraine. Bakradze said that strategic
partnership would continue based on their traditional
friendship and good neighborliness which has always existed
between the two peoples. On February 8, Ukrainian Ambassador
to Georgia Vasili Tsibenko met with Georgian Deputy Foreign
Minister Davit Jalagania to pass the results of the second
round, as well as discuss areas for future progress in the
bilateral relationship. In public remarks, Deputy Foreign
Minister Nino Kalandadze noted that despite reports of
Yanukovych's victory, she saw no "cracks" in the strategic
partnership and that despite skeptical attitudes about danger
in the future of the relationship, she was convinced that
relations would continue to be excellent regardless of the
president.

CHATTERING CLASS LESS OPTIMISTIC

5. (SBU) Independent Georgian experts took on a less
optimistic tone in their comments following the presidential
elections, with some making the obvious point that t would
be highly unlikely for Saakashvili to have as good a
Qbe highly unlikely for Saakashvili to have as good a
relationship with either Ukrainian candidate as he has with
President Yuschenko, who is godfather to his youngest son.
Giorgi Khutsishvili from Tbilisi's International Center on
Conflict Resolution noted that both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych
have expressed interest in better relations with Moscow,
which is a sign of a changed political environment in the
area that Tbilisi can not ignore; Georgia would have to
modify its tough line towards Russia or risk increasing its
vulnerability. Former Georgian Ambassador to Russia Zurab
Abashidze noted that while Yanukovych was certainly the
preferred candidate of Moscow, he would likely still pursue
good relations with both Russia and the West. Georgian
Institute for Public Affairs analyst Tornike Sharashenidze
took on a more positive tone, stating that a more pro-Russian
Ukraine will cause U.S. and European influence to be much
more focused on the Caucasus and Georgia than before.
BASS

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