Georgia and Russia appear set to reverse years of hostile relations after Mikhail Saakashvili extended the olive branch during his swearing-in as Georgian president. The staunchly pro-western leader has steered Georgia towards NATO membership since sweeping to power in a peaceful revolution in 2003.
It is among several Western-leaning policies to have earned Moscow’s displeasure. But Saakashvili’s re-election has been welcomed by Vladimir Putin – the Russian president surprised observers by sending his foreign minister to the inauguration in Tblisi.
Saakashvili acknowledged the gesture and spoke of extending “the hand of partnership” to his northern neighbour. “We should be friends”, he added.
While a thaw may be occurring in relations with foreign adversaries, there is little sign of a reconciliation with his domestic rivals. The opposition, which claims the recent ballot was rigged and is planning a legal challenge, held a protest in Tblisi to coincide with the inauguration and keep the pressure on the Georgian president.
Saakashvili called the snap election after a crackdown on opposition rallies late last year raised concerns in the West.