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President Zourabichvili’s Address at the 13th Annual Georgia Defence and Security Conference in Batumi

Distinguished guests,
“We are here convened - and I want to thank for that the Minister of Defense and thank you all for the high level of participation to address the issue of Security and Defense for Georgia, its region and its role in a wider environment.

“Security challenges for Georgia, as well as for the region, are growing.
“Georgia is not that distant from what is called the arc of crisis of the wider region where war, terrorism, internal political turbulences or migrants are challenging security, peace and development. Georgia has managed to remain an island of stability, and has succeeded not to let its economic and democratic development be adversely affected, but the efforts to achieve this have to be maintained and redoubled to prevent terrorism of encroaching on Georgia’s territory. That means more information exchanges with our partners and more transparency and controls on our borders and on movements over them.

“Threats are taking newer forms, and like most countries here represented, cybersecurity has become a major challenge. Last week in Georgia - 13 000 domains were attacked and among them the presidential administration itself was among the victims. Georgia is mobilizing new resources and ready to cooperate in a more active manner to counter these threats and be prepared to better protect its installations.

“The Black Sea itself represents today both the main potential for Georgia’s future economic development but also a security challenge. The potential is its role as a hub between EU and Asia, the new projects of infrastructure, transport and connectivity linking Georgia more and more directly to its EU partners on the other shore. But that means also that the economic cooperation on and around the Black Sea has to be accompanied  by more  security awareness and more strategic and defense cooperation in order to prevent any incident or escalation like what we have seen on the sea of Azov . The frequent port calls of our partners from NATO in Batumi and Poti are a strong support. It is of vital importance to us that we deepen all forms of cooperation with all our partners on the Black Sea.

“Challenges to stability do not have to be of a military nature: we have seen recently how disinformation, defamation and fake news can threaten the foundations of the society.  Such was the destructive nature of the recent attacks on the Georgian Church and its leader. Fortunately, the consolidated reaction of the society when faced with such challenge has proven its maturity and capacity to resist such manipulations.  

“But beyond new and multiform threats, for Georgia, the main and everyday security concern remains that deriving from the occupied territories, the lack of control over 20 % of the whole territory. This occupation means a constant tension with Russia, endless incidents that could flare up in more dangerous situations that Georgia is constantly trying to prevent, having signed a unilateral declaration of renunciation to the use of force. 
“But the humanitarian distress of the populations living on both sides of this line could at any time challenge the peace and the peaceful development.

“Only during the last week, two humanitarian tragedies unfolded: one woman – Margo Martiashvili - died for not having been allowed to use the crossing point and get treatment, another woman Tamar Gigauri is fighting for her life since she was forcefully transferred to Tskhinvali hospital, and not given the chance to get the medical treatment available only on our side of the occupation line. I want to use this forum, and appeal through you to the international community, to the co-chairs of the GID to address urgently this humanitarian tragedy and look for effective solutions.

“The lack of adequate response to a situation that is lasting since 2008 is in itself a possible security challenge since the frustration or despair of these populations could give way to incidents or escalation that is in our common interest to control and prevent. Russia should be convinced of the necessity to adhere to its commitments of 2008 and pursue together with the international community, in Geneva as in other multilateral or bilateral formats, all the roads to a peaceful solution. That is the only way towards a lasting security for all in the region.

“The answer of Georgia to these challenges is to be found both in its defense policy and in its peaceful economic and political development.
“Defense policy for Georgia means getting ever closer to the “open door” of NATO as the ultimate security provider. This integration process is now enshrined in our Constitution, supported by our population and is without alternative. It is a process that is not only promising for the future but also and already allowing Georgian military forces to enhance their defense capabilities through the multiple joint exercises that we have been able to carry in common, through the Substantial NATO Georgia package that has been successfully completed but a new phase will start, and through intensive bilateral cooperation with our partners. It is a process in which Georgia is bringing its full contribution, be it by keeping its share of defense expenditures to 2 % or its participation in peace missions in Afghanistan, Central Africa or Mali.

“The answer of Georgia is in its economic development, its 5% annual growth. The development – one can talk of a boom - of its touristic and hospitality sector, but also transport infrastructures, technology and agriculture sectors.

“The answer has also been the steady democratic development characterized by a new Constitution, peaceful elections and now the move to a fully proportional electoral system, a new electoral code worked out together with opposition parties that will enter into force in view of the 2020 parliamentary elections and a judiciary reform that is entering a new decisive phase. Fighting fake news, disinformation and polarization is another challenge to be overcome by Georgia when looking towards the 2020 electoral contest.
“A strong, resilient, vibrant and peaceful Georgia is the best we can offer to our neighbors and our partners, to the security of our region and beyond!"
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