Vasil Sikharulidze

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Vasil Sikharulidze
Online press conference with the former Ambassador of Georgia to the United States, former Minister of Defense of Georgia, currently the Chairman of the Atlantic Council of Georgia Vasil Sikharulidze.


The press conference was organized within the framework of  Region Research Center's project “Challenges to the Security of South Caucasus Countries and NATO – 2016” supported by the Public Diplomacy Division, NATO.

Artak R. Barseghyan, Public Radio of Armenia,

Question- Mr. Sikharulidze, how would you assess the current state of the Armenian-Georgian relations, given the different geopolitical orientations of the two countries?
Answer–I would say that Georgia and Armenia have very good relations. These relations are based on mutual interests. It is in core interests of both countries to maintain good neighborly relations. Security and stability are imperative and decisive factors for development of our countries. I even go further and say that in South Caucasus we all depend on each other even more then we actually sometimes think. It is difficult to imagine full success of one without others being successful in their statecraft. Choosing geopolitical orientation is sovereign right of any country. I believe that Georgia’s NATO integration will have hugely positive effect not only on Georgia but also on the security and stability of entire region.
Even though I think we have good relations.There always is a room for improvements - We can and should further strengthen our trade, transportation, communication ties as well as business and people-to-people relations. Politically it makes no sense that we still don’t have border agreement.
Question- In your opinion, what are the prospects for development of strategic cooperation in Baku-Ankara-Tbilisi triangle?  To what extent Georgia is not prone to political influence of its western and eastern neighbors.
Answer–This cooperation mostly on energy, transportation, communication and trade has truly strategic importance for Georgia. It is as important for Georgia’s economic development as strengthening stability in the region. This cooperation has reduced practically to zero our energy dependence on Russia. This cooperation has potential to grow in same directions. I exclude that strengthening of this cooperation could have any political influence that may contradict Georgia’s core interests which first of all include security and stability in the region.
David Stepanyan,
Question- Another demonstration of "just a paper" natureof the CSTO during the Azerbaijani aggression against Nagorno-Karabakhon April (let uscall things by their names)once again displayed the white spots on the South Caucasus stability map.  Except for the Russian interests in the region, what other factor deter NATO from eradication of those white spots, including the issue of Georgia's membership in the Alliance. Please give the utmost detailed answer to this question.
Answer- Georgia’s NATO membership question is not “if” but “when”. We have 2008 Bucharest summit decision about Georgia’s membership to NATO that was confirmed by every following summits. Seemingly, NATO is in process of defining its future strategy including timing for enlargement. Crises in Europe – occupation of Georgian territories, war in Ukraine, financial problems, refugees, slow growth of Economy as well as damage to transatlantic unity caused by the Iraq war hindered this process. However, these problems are nothing to what NATO was facing 25 years ago: Soviet occupation of Eastern and Central Europe and direct military threats to all member states. But NATO has successfully overcome these challenges.
As we saw at Wales summit, NATO outlined future strategy. As risks and challenges to the European Security have become more obvious and pressing it has become clearer for many in the West that it requires more holistic and strategic approach to deal with them. In nearest future I expect more coherent and decisive strategic moves toward Europe. It will also include Georgia’s membership issue. 
Georgia’s membership to NATO will require from us strengthening of our democratic credentials. Solidification of democratic institutions, independent media and judicial system, indispensable reforms in securitysector, in combination with active foreign policy and contributions into international security, are key aspects that will lead to the success of Georgia’s integration to NATO.
Tatevik Martirosyan,
Question- Meetings and discussions on military cooperation between the defense ministers of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey have periodic nature. What is the purpose of such cooperation, and isn't it a security threat to Armenia?
Answer - Short answer is no. As I have already described above regional security and stability arethe core national security interest of Georgia. Mentioned trilateral cooperation has never been or is not directed against anyone and all parties are in full agreement on this. Cooperation is focused on defense of critical infrastructure.
“Hetq” online newspaper,
Question – What is the main security challenge for Georgia and to what extent does the current level of cooperation with NATO allow Georgia if not to solve, but at least to restrain these challenges?
Answer – Russian aggressive revisionism is a main threat for Georgia. Since regaining of independence, Russia has been and is trying to undermine Georgian statehood. For this purpose Russia is using whole spectrum of its power, starting from use of military and special services in economy and energy, in order to make propaganda. Russia continues to occupy part of Georgian territory. Unfortunately Russian leadership still thinks in terms of “spheres of influence” and is interested in having weak, dysfunctional states with weak democratic institutions close to its borders to maximize its influence on them. In this regard Russian and Georgian interests are incompatible. We want Georgia to have consolidated democracy with resilient economy, diversified trade and solid security guarantees.
NATO is a defensive alliance. Despite of what Russian propaganda may say Georgia’s possible membership to NATO as well as NATO enlargement or NATO in general is not and cannot be any threat to Russia or region. Quite in contrary – it only significantly increases security and stability, and by this, encourages economic development. I think it is obvious and proven by recent history. What NATO actually does – it limits Russia’s ability to use military power to undermine its membercountries.
Georgia is not NATO member country yet. Therefore, when we speak of deterrence, it has more complex nature which, among other components, includes influence of international community, different countries and mechanisms of different international institutions.
Question – It is believed that NATO has no potential benefit from makingSouth Caucasus an additional confrontation platform with Russia. Do you consider this opinion justified, amid the intention to establish Russian-Armenian joint air defense system? If Armenia accepts this proposal from the Russian side, will it affect Georgia’seventual membership in NATO and Georgia's security?
Answer – NATO is not seeking any confrontation with Russia or anyone else neither in South Caucasus nor anywhere else. It is a defensive alliance based on values and principles and is promoting security and stability on the European continent. I think Russian-Armenian Military cooperation will not and should not influence the process of NATO enlargement in general and Georgia’s eventual membership in particular.
Question – How do the opposite directions in terms of external security reflect in the Armenian-Georgian relations? More specifically, do you have a clear understanding of why Armenia voted against the resolution reiterating the right of return of all displaced persons and refugees to breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia during the 69th session of the UN general assembly?
Answer–UNGA resolution on refugee and IDP rights and their return from Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the places of origin and their right to property is a humanitarian resolution and fully in line with UN Charter, Universal Declaration on Human Rights and, in general, with basic norms and principles of international relations in modern world. Protecting rights of refugees and IDPs is high-priority for Georgia’s foreign policy. 
It’s been 9thsession of resolution UNGA and every year number of supports is growing. This year 76 countries supported the resolution with only15 against. I think Armenia’s position on this resolution not only negatively affects our bilateral relation, but also weakens its  international reputation.
Armen Minasyan,
Question – Do you think the Alliance is as solid and united as during the times of the Cold War? Do the security challenges of let us say Portugal and Belgium coincide with those of Georgia, which is seeking to join the Alliance?
Answer – Well, I partially answered this question already. Alliance was founded on values and principles that are as important as they were in 1949. Security environment has changed and alliance is transforming too. It is true that nature and magnitude of threats is different nowadays. However, the principle of indivisibility of the European Security and goal of building Europe as Whole, Free and at Peace, are still fundamental for the Alliance.
Question- Will Georgia join the Alliance in the nearfuture? If yes, how will it affect the geopolitical situation in the region?
Answer –I think yes. Georgia’s membership to NATO will be beneficial not only for Georgia but for entire region. It will strengthen security and stability in the region and open new opportunities for development.
Aram Sargsyan,
Question– What are the security threats related to Karabakh Conflict for Georgia?  How significant is this conflict for Georgia in terms of secure environment, considering the well-known April events in Karabakh conflict zone? As one the three States of the South Caucasus, what can Georgia do to increase the security and stability in our region?
Answer –Karabakh conflict is a threat to the security and stability in the South Caucasus. This conflict hindered development of regional cooperation in the region for more than two decades and negatively affected development and modernization processes of all South Caucasus countries. Peaceful solution of this conflict is in vital interests of not only Armenia and Azerbaijan, but of Georgia as well.
I hope this conflict will not escalate further. It is not in interests of any South Caucasian country and may have devastating impact on development of entire region. I also believe that peaceful, political solution can be found with more efforts from both sidesand international community.
Question–What can be the role of NATO in the South Caucasus region in the near future? Is there any reason to believe that NATO will become an alternative security system in our region?
Answer–Alternative to what? As I have said above, history proved that NATO expansion increases security and stability as well as stimulates economic development not only in member countries, but also in wider region. I think Georgia’s membership to NATO will benefit Armenia and Azerbaijan too.
Gagik Baghdasaryan,
Question–In your opinion, what will the Caucasus region become in the long run: another rivalry platform for NATO and Russia or a place where these powers can find a common ground?
Answer – 
Question - How do you see the further relations between Georgia aspiring to join NATO and Armenia being a CSTO member? Can the different foreign policy vectors affect the interrelations between the two countries?
Answer – 
Question - As a former Defense Minister of Georgia, do you think the resumption of large-scale military actions in Karabakh ispossible. How ready are the parties for such a development?
Answer – 



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