Top diplomat brings experience and insight — makes an impact in Ottawa

Konstantin Kavtaradze has been the Georgian Ambassador to Canada for only a short period but has had great success in raising the profile and ties between Tbilisi and Ottawa. Kavtaradze is one of Georgia’s most seasoned diplomats and for the past 28 years has been at the forefront of many of the tense international developments that have befallen his small but feisty democratic country.

Kavtaradze’s previous postings include serving as Ambassador of Georgia to Finland, Sweden, and Poland. He is also a former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Georgia. Kavtaradze and other Georgian diplomats continue to build strong relations with the European Union, Turkey, Canada, the United States and other western countries, despite being the fact that their country is still partially under the military occupation of an invading Russian force.

Georgia is one of the ancient kingdoms and oldest Christian countries in the world. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it covers a territory of 69,700 square kilometers and has a population of 3.7 million people. It is bordered by the Black Sea to the west, Russia to the north, Turkey and Armenia in the south, and Azerbaijan in southeast.

Because of its strategic location, Georgia has experienced continuous wars and revolutions for centuries. It’s been invaded and occupied by the Greeks, Persians, and Romans and by the Arabs in the 7th century. From the 11th to the 13th century, Georgia experienced a Golden Age of cultural, political and military ascendancy, until the invasion of the Mongols during the 14th century. Later it came under the tutelage of the Russian Czars.

Georgia first declared its independence as a Republic from the Russian Empire on May 26 1918. Five years later the Soviet Red Army rolled in and took over the country. Georgia lived through the horrors of WW2 and the tyranny of Stalin and communism for seven decades before regaining its freedom again in 1991 when the Soviet Empire collapsed. In 1995, the Georgian government held its first presidential elections as a democratic country.

Relations for the new republic were always tense with Russia. Even though Georgians have always looked West, Russia has long wanted to control Georgia. In August 2008 this tension erupted again over discussions and a plan for Georgia to join NATO.

A Russian invasion force entered Tbilisi and other parts of the country. A ceasefire ended the short war but much was lost. A decade later, thousands of Russian forces still occupy Abkhazia and South Ossetia (also referred to as the Tskhinvali Region), which together equal 20 per cent of Georgia’s internationally recognized territory.

These Russian forces still threaten key transit links, railways, and pipelines linking the heart of Eurasia to Europe. The Georgian government has never ceded the territory to the Russians and has remained calm, patient and resilient while watching as South Ossetia and Abkhazia grow into large Russian military bases with thousands of Russian troops and hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles.

Puppet governments in these occupied regions have declared sovereignty but depend solely on Moscow for their security and economic well-being. No country in the world except Russia has recognized their “independence”. The international community still considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be Georgian territory and consider the Russia invasion of the area as an egregious attack on Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Georgia currently has no diplomatic relations with Russia and Kavtaradze says this will remain the case until the Russians leave. “You cannot have diplomatic relations with a country that is occupying one quarter of your country. We may have to wait but we are patient and realize this may be the long game.”

In the meantime, Kavtaradze says his current mission in Canada is “to talk to Canadians about Georgia, its history, our shared western values, bi-lateral relations and expanding trade, economic and cultural ties.”