With memories of conflict with Russia only a few months old and domestic unrest growing, it is a tense time to be a Georgian ambassador. To make matters worse, many Americans can only imagine a Georgia south of the Carolinas — not in the south Caucuses.
“We welcome the delegation from Georgia — that is, the Republic of Georgia,” Niraj Patel ’11 said during his introduction of Mr. Batu Kutelia, ambassador of Georgia to the United States, and Mr. Alexandre Lomaia, permanent representative to the United Nations, at a Branford College Master’s Tea on Tuesday afternoon.
Wearing matching red ties, dark suits and diplomatic expressions, the ambassadors addressed a group of about 25 students. Some attended due to an academic interest in the region. Others wanted to know about the daily life of a high-level diplomat.
At the moment, that life does not include a lot of sleep.
“It is a cycle of actions: listen, analyze, report, talk, over and over again,” Mr. Lomaia said in response to a student question.
The two ambassadors spoke mainly about their commitment to democracy and to building ties with the U.S. For much of the talk, they chose not to refer to Russia by name, instead calling the country “our northern neighbor.”
But on the topic of conflict in Abkhazia, a separatist region near the Black Sea, they were unequivocal.
“I myself am from Abkhazia,” Mr. Kutelia said, stressing the need to “remove or neutralize negative involvement [from Russia] there.”
Russian troops remain within Georgian territory, despite a cease-fire signed between the two nations almost eight months ago.
“You will hardly find a neighbor who has good relations with Russia,” said Kutelia, a former defense minister who was appointed ambassador to the United States last December. “In medicine they have a ‘phantom pain’ — if your leg is taken off you still feel a pain in it. This is something that happens to all empires, when they go through amputation in a different way.”
The event was organized by Yale’s chapter of AIESEC and by Giorgi Kvelashvili GRD ’09, a master’s candidate in International Relations who previously worked in the Georgian foreign ministry. Six Yale students went to Georgia in March to set up an annual AIESEC summer internship program there.
“It is so hard for Americans to wrap their heads around the kind of problems Georgia’s facing,” Branford’s Dean Daniel Tauss said. “To have the former imperial controller now occupying your country, and to have no idea where that process is going to go …”
Danila Kabotyanski ’11 was less satisfied with the speakers, or maybe with students’ ability to press them.
“It seemed like the ambassadors were mainly giving the official line,” he said.
Mr. Kutelia and Mr. Lomaia also spoke at a panel Tuesday night, where they were joined by Yale professors Charles Hill, Jean Krasno and Jeffrey Mankoff.