About the Event

The World Affairs Table events feature discussions on topics pertaining to bilateral relationships between the U.S. and other countries. Each discussion is followed by a culinary tasting event with cuisine and drinks from the country of focus. The World Affairs Table allows audience members to both engage in substantive foreign policy discussions and experience culture and cuisine, all in the span of one evening. Ambassador David Zalkaliani of Georgia joined us to discuss foreign policy, international diplomacy, and Georgian politics over food and beverage. The reception was catered by Sakartvelo on Chestnut Street and included Georgian wine and khachapuri. 

Honorary Consul General Kozlov began the event by introducing the Ambassador and noting the uncomfortable parallels between the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and the invasion of Georgia in 2008.

Ambassador Zalkaliani began his remarks by stating how the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution have long inspired movements around the world and have served as inspiration for Georgia. He pointed to Georgia’s central location in the Caucasus as a reason for the country’s key role in trade and the confluence of cultural influence from its neighbors. The Ambassador described the dramatic changes which occurred in Georgia after gaining its independence in 1991 and the country’s realignment towards the United States and the European Union. He expressed his gratitude to the United States for its assistance during that time of transition and highlighted cooperation with the West as a major factor in Georgia’s growing prosperity. He lamented the separation of families and harm which resulted from the 2008 Russian invasion and expressed regret that the international community did not oppose Russia then as many countries oppose the invasion of Ukraine now. Nonetheless, he stated his hope that Georgia will regain its occupied territories. Furthermore, he celebrated the opportunities that have come from economic partnership with the U.S. and asserted that future admission to the EU will strengthen Georgia’s state and democracy.

 

The first topic of the moderated conversation was about Georgia’s partnership with NATO and the Russian invasion following the 2008 Bucharest Summit’s resolution that Georgia would join NATO in the future. The Ambassador emphasized that Georgia is committed through its constitution to joining NATO and the European Union. He elaborated that even though Russia opposes this goal, Georgia remains committed to integration and optimistic that their partners in Türkiye will advocate for their admission to the alliance. Ambassador Zalkaliani noted the concern that Georgia might bring its disputes with Russia into NATO or the EU, but countered that his country’s commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes would prevent escalation. He further explained that Georgia already meets NATO’s requirements for military interoperability and he pointed to Georgia’s close cooperation with the alliance during the war in Afghanistan as an example of Georgia’s desire to contribute to greater global security. The conversation then turned to the matter of ending Russian occupation of Georgian territory. The Ambassador highlighted the proximity of Russian troops to Tbilisi and stated that Georgia hopes to avoid a war that would inevitably be harmful to all of the region’s inhabitants. Ambassador Zalkaliani stated his opinion that the Russian Federation aims to swallow up Abkhazia and South Ossetia while Georgia aims to be a welcoming place for minorities and the inhabitants of the occupied territories. He contrasted Georgia’s commitment to freedom of movement and economic prosperity to what he described as the “illiberal” policies of Russia. The next topic of discussion was about the number of Russians who have moved to Georgia as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Ambassador stated that the situation is complex and requires a balanced response. On one hand, he expressed that Georgia hopes to foster a friendly economic environment which attracts foreign investment and businesses. On the other hand, he described the Georgian government’s concern for preventing Russian individuals and companies from using Georgia as a loophole to avoid sanctions.

 

The audience Q&A began with a question about how the Ambassador handles severe disagreements during negotiations. Ambassador Zalkaliani recounted his time working in the diplomatic corps soon after Georgia’s independence and how the experience developed his skill for negotiating even with counterparts who cannot reach a consensus on any issue. A second audience member asked the Ambassador whether Georgia is observing the American presidential elections and how Georgia will react to the results. Ambassador Zalkaliani emphasized that Georgia respects the choice of the American people and stated that cooperation between the two countries is a matter of bipartisan agreement which he expects to continue after the election. He pointed to examples of partnership during the past four presidential administrations, including initiatives for NATO integration, facilitation of international trade, and defense cooperation. The next question was about Georgia’s perspective on the debate in Congress over aid to Ukraine. The Ambassador expressed his hope that his concern over what effect a Russian victory in Ukraine would mean for the security of the region. Turning to cultural matters, an audience member praised the beauty of icons in churches throughout Georgia and asked what initiatives there are to protect such art. UNESCO, USAID, and the American State Department were highlighted as several key partners for preserving important cultural artifacts. The discussion portion of the event ended with the Ambassador encouraging audience members to visit Georgia to experience the country for themselves and to try khachapuri, khinkali, and Georgian wine.

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