President Bush capped off his five-day trip to Europe marking the end of World War II with a triumphant visit to the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Bush’s visit to Georgia, after the ceremonies marking the end of the war in Moscow’s Red Square raised the ire of Russia. But, as NBC News’ David Gregory reports, Bush’s hero’s welcome in Tbilisi was crucial to recognize full legacy of the end of WWII.
Diplomatically speaking, how bold was it for Bush to bookend his trip in Georgia – especially after the Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, boycotted the memorial marking the end of WWII in Moscow because of Russia’s refusal to close two military bases in Georgia?
It was an important way for Bush to address some of the changes and shifts among the former World War II allies and to balance his presence in Moscow’s Red Square on Monday for the celebrations marking the end of World War II.
It was also a way for Bush to recognize that this former Soviet republic — turned into a democracy with the bloodless Rose Revolution of 2003 — is, as the president declared, an American ally and an inspiration.
The visit also offered a challenge to Russia that they accept changes in the region.
Bush backed the country’s effort to defeat some 300,000 separatists from two regions aligned with Moscow, instead saying that the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia must be respected... by all nations.”
Georgia’s independence movement is specifically worrying to Russia because of its strategic location — it borders Chechnya. That is one reason that those soldiers are still occupying two military bases here.
But, speaking more generally, another aim of Bush’s visit was clearly to encourage young democracies in the region and throughout the world.
How was Bush’s speech "Celebrating Democracy and Freedom" received in Tbilisi?
He was received very well. He really does get a hero’s welcome when he comes to places like this that are filled with the exuberance of democracy.
Georgia still has some of its own problems — it has a pretty sizable separatist movement, and significant issues with Moscow over the military bases that are still here. So, democracy has not fully taken root here, but it's on its way.
This is the first time an American president has visited Georgia. So, there was a huge reception and that’s great place for the president, too.
Last night Bush danced in Freedom Square and had a long, unscheduled dinner with Saakashvili. It is usual for the president to get up on stage and shake the way he did — he was clearly enjoying the huge reception he received and fully absorbing it.
He held up Georgia as an example for others to follow. Presumably where the president would really like to focus his attention — which is the Middle East. He likes to point some of these new democracies as an example to that region.
How did the Georgia visit fit into the larger message of Bush’s mission on this trip to mark the end of the war?
This visit was a great opportunity to wave the American flag. It’s a way for him to champion democracy. He has made that the core of his foreign policy, so what better place to go than Georgia which appears to be well on its way.
Throughout this, if you look at the overall theme of the trip, he came here to honor the sacrifices of World War II. What better way to send that message than to say freedom really should prevail and to emphasize that even today it is necessary to put freedom on its path. That’s what the legacy of World War II really was — the struggle for freedom.
In one report from Georgia, there was a quote from a Georgian saying that Bush’s visit means “we are not alone” in the struggle to become a democracy. How true is that? How significant was it for Bush to be there to show American support behind the Georgian effort? To help push for the removal of Russian military bases there?
It is significant. The president went out of his way today to stop in Georgia and to back the Saakashvili in his effort to keep the country united — so that was really a rejection of the separatist desire to split off from Georgia. So, I think it’s quite significant.
The foreign aid that we have contributed is quite significant. It ranks right up there with the most generous aid packages we’ve made anywhere in the world on a per capita basis. So, that is important to note as well.
With this being one of the last events marking the old allies victory in Europe, how symbolic is Bush’s last stop was in Georgia? How much does it represent the shift eastwards to the smaller former Soviet republics and away from the Cold War behemoth that was the Soviet Union?
The trip really “gives history the full treatment,” as one Bush’s aides said.
The goal of Bush’s trip was to the honor the sacrifice of those countries that were the allies —Russia, France, Great Britain and the United States. But, it was meant to mark the darker legacy of the end of the war — what happened in Central and Eastern Europe after World War II with the rise of Soviet aggression and Soviet tyranny. That was “one of the great wrongs in history,” as the president said.
So, by visiting a place like Georgia, it helps try to put history in context. That is to say 60 years later, the Soviet Union is dead and we have a new relationship with Russia, which is complicated and may not be everything we would want it to be.
In this old sphere of influence, the old Soviet Union is gone and has been replaced by a growing, budding desire for free and democratic government. And that’s so important to have happen both here and in other parts of the world — like the Middle East.