On Friday, Nikolai Rurua, head of the Georgian Defense commission announced that Georgia’s current 850-strong Iraq contingent will be expanded, bringing the total to 2,000 Georgian boots on Iraqi ground in 2007. The deployment is intended to last around a year. Rurua also announced a smaller surge in Georgian presence in Afghanistan.
With refreshing earnestness, Rurua laid out the logic behind the move: “Our strategic partner needs help. This is why we are doing this.” He described the additional deployment as “a form of political support for the United States.” In fact, it would have been hard to imagine tiny Georgia otherwise deciding to throw its weight behind a renewed commitment to stabilize the region, just as all the big boys are scrambling to find a face-saving exit strategy. A Jamestown brief noted:
Georgia, a country of less that 5 million stuck in an extremely delicate situation, seems to be playing its geopolitical hand rather well. Last year, following the jailing and expulsion of four Russian spies, Georgia faced Russian anger in the form of doubled gas prices, suspension of troop withdrawal from Georgian territory, a general blockade and all sorts of other nasty things.
These days, it is internal disputes over the status of the western region of Abkhazia (which wants to secede and join Russia) and doubts over Russian ability to restrain itself from meddling trouble the young democracy. In fact, Abkhazia was bombarded just last night.
But with the Caucasian winter behind, and relations with Russia slowly warming (diplomatic relations have been restored), Georgia likely feels less vulnerable, and able to assert its national interest with greater confidence. GDP grew by 8.6-8.8 percent last year, the country has recently subscribed an energy pact with Turkey and Azerbaijan, and it is discussing the possibility of replacing Russian troops occupying separatist territories with EU forces, as noted by the WSJ.
“Everything that Russian nationalists threatened has happened to us, yet we are still alive,” Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili told the Journal.
Georgia’s biggest asset, however, is its location. Georgian pipelines offer prospects of energy diversification for Europe, which dreads leaving its energy needs in the hands of politically whimsical Russia. The United States has also been working to support Georgia as an alternative distribution route for natural gas.