What You Need To Know:
✅ Trump’s presidency will allow pro-Russian groups in Georgia to leak out;
✅ ‘[Georgian goverernment] is operating on inertia, and probably just waiting to see what is going to happen;’
✅ Republican Senator John McCain visited Georgia and Ukraine in December to reassure them of U.S. support.
Hromadske’s Nataliya Gumenyuk spoke to the editor-in-chief of Coda Story Natalia Antelava during the discussion panel on Hromadske International's ‘What Eastern Europe Expects From Trump’ special via Skype on January 22nd, 2017 in Kyiv.
What are the main issues for Georgia and the expectations from Trump's administration, besides being self-reliant as always?
I don't think anyone knows what to expect from Trump. I don't think there are many expectations here. There is quite a lot of general anxiety about which direction it will take. I think there is also a lot of excitement among some of the groups that have been very much underground, more pro-Russian groups – or not even openly pro-Russian, but groups that kind of ducktail in a much easier way with the Russian line of thinking – more traditionalist and so on.
I think they definitely expect to come to the surface, and you see them speaking out more. As far as the government is concerned, I think they are operating on inertia – probably just waiting to see what is going to happen. We don't even know what is going to happen with the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia. I heard an interesting rumor today, that is not totally confirmed, that apparently the U.S. Ambassadors can choose between hanging pictures of either the president or the constitution at the Embassy. And there was some rumor that the U.S. ambassador here has hung the constitution. Again, it's unconfirmed with the Embassy. There is a good illustration of the kind of general turmoil around this change. And I think everyone is sitting tight. I think in one sense, there is in Georgia, after years of feeling like a country that has been punching above its weight, now Georgia is feeling quite small and powerless in the face of this much greater changes.
U.S. embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo credit: U.S. Diplomacy Center
Still, the Georgian administration and government used to have a really good connection to the Republican party. Do you feel that they are trying to catch up and trying to find another way, if not Trump, but they have hopes for the administration?
I think everyone is going to cultivate all the connections that they have. John McCain was here and in Ukraine in December just before Trump's inauguration, meeting everyone in the government and opposition and so on. He was reassuring Georgians, as he did in Ukraine, that the U.S. will stay long. There is definitely an understanding among the Georgian political elite, on whatever side of the political spectrum they're in, that the game has changed. No one quite knows yet what this game is going to be.
Anything we say here is very much guess work. We just don't know what kind of president he is going to be. What we know is that the only thing that Trump has been consistent about is his refusal to talk negatively about Russia. And that's unprecedented for the U.S. presidential candidate, as it was and for the president-elect and now for the president. But what will it mean in real terms, will he get Tillerson as the secretary of state? What kind of Secretary of State will he make, what kind of president will Trump make? We don't know. I think there is a real sense here that Georgians are just caught up in this much bigger game – much bigger battle.