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After break from Moscow, Georgia feels its pull again

President Saakashvili urges NATO and the EU to hasten embrace of Georgia.

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Mikhail Saakashvili is a man in a hurry. Since being lofted into Georgia's presidency by the "Rose Revolution" almost three years ago, he has turned his nation toward the West in hopes of gaining a secure berth in NATO and the European Union before the momentum of Georgia's pro-democracy revolt fades.

"I am really fed up with every European delegation coming [to Georgia] and saying, 'Oh, this place looks just like Europe,' " says Mr. Saakashvili, a youthful, US-trained lawyer, in an interview. "Well, it doesn't look like Europe, it is Europe. We don't have to prove it every time again."

But time may not be on the side of Saakashvili, nor his peers in Ukraine, Moldova, and Azerbaijan, all of whom have bumped their post-Soviet states out of their traditional orbits around Moscow and are pleading for greater economic and political backing from the West.

Most of those states have recently found themselves under heavy pressure from Russia to reverse their choices, including Moscow-backed internal political agitation, commercial embargoes, and threats of energy cut-off.

Saakashvili will meet President Bush at the White House Tuesday, where he is expected to ask the US to champion Georgia's case for more Western support at the Group of Eight summit meeting in Russia, slated for July 15-17.

"I believe G-8 should be about values, the values about which [the organization] was created," says Saakashvili, citing Georgia's turn to democracy, economic freedom, and human rights. "Let's hope the G-8 produces something."

In May, the four states revived their regional grouping, GUAM (Georgia-Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova), as a vehicle to promote democracy and economic cooperation as they move toward greater integration with Europe – and away from Russia. This makes explicit a rift that has been creeping upon the former Soviet Union since Georgia's revolution threw down the gauntlet to Moscow. Some countries, including Belarus and Uzbekistan, are clustering more tightly around Russia, which tends to accept their authoritarian political systems and statist economic drift.


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