US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday sought to reassure Georgia of Washington’s commitment to strengthening ties during a visit to the region where Russia is asserting its influence.
Pompeo’s meetings with leaders of Georgia came a week after Moscow brokered a peace deal between neighbours Azerbaijan and Armenia that sees 2,000 Russian peacekeepers stationed in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Anti-government demonstrators blocked the main street through the capital Tbilisi during the visit to voice anger over recent parliamentary elections the opposition said were rigged.
“We’ve been great friends almost 30 years on for your democracy,” Pompeo said during a meeting with Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia.
Pompeo vowed support for Georgia’s democratic development and said the United States recognised “the pain and difficulty connected to the occupation of your country,” referring to Russian troops stationed in two breakaway regions.
“Know that we want to do everything we can to support your democratic process… with free and fair elections,” he added.
Russia’s deployment of peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabkh last week unsettled Georgia, which in 2008 lost a brief war with Moscow over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia recognised the breakaway provinces and stationed military bases in the regions, derailing Tbilisi’s bid to join NATO, a long-time aspiration backed by the US but angrily opposed by Russia.
Pompeo made the visit to Georiga as part of a tour of seven US allies and he held talks with President Salome Zurabishvili and later with Gakharia and Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani.
“Our strategic partnership is based first of all on values – freedom, democracy, and of course shared geostrategic interests,” Gakharia said during his meeting with Pompeo.