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Georgia's President wants the world to remember the countries near Ukraine during war

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Among the dignitaries and diplomats, all the bigwigs who gathered beneath the stained glass of the National Cathedral for Madeleine Albright's funeral here in Washington this week, was the president of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili. She leads what is a small country in the southeastern corner of Europe, a country that shares a border with Russia and has a history of being invaded by its far-bigger neighbor. Now, I had Zourabichvili in her capital last month. She sat for an interview with us in her offices at the presidential palace in Tbilisi, and she was outspoken both on events in her country and in nearby Ukraine. She's also a champion of women's rights of female leaders on the international stage. So we have invited her back.

President Zourabichvili, welcome to Washington. I am glad to speak with you again.

PRESIDENT SALOME ZOURABICHVILI: Thank you. I'm also very glad to speak with you.

KELLY: Now, I know you're here for a number of reasons but primarily because of Madeleine Albright's funeral. And I wish she were here to join us in talking about strong female leaders because she certainly was one. Did you know her?

ZOURABICHVILI: Yes, I did. I did know her in my previous functions. And she was extremely promoting the women leadership the way we understand it. She was also very much outspoken about the rights of those countries that were formerly in the Soviet Union to have and defend their independence. So we had many things - and as a refugee that had left a country, a totalitarian country, she also understood very well what human rights and a nation's rights means. So there were very many common points.

KELLY: Well, and what do you think the role of women leaders in conflict is? I mean, what do you think they bring to the table that is different?

ZOURABICHVILI: I think that they bring a different perspective. And in the 21st century, to see a country that is invading another one is something that, to me, looks very anachronic. And I think that women have a more maybe realistic view of what the world can do in solving conflicts and post-conflict situations, which also is a very important issue.

KELLY: Yeah. I guess we could note that there have been past strong female leaders of Russia who've also invaded. Catherine the Great (laughter) would come to many Ukrainians' minds.

ZOURABICHVILI: (Laughter) That's true. What is important is not the fact of being a female leader. it's whether we bring to the different issues that we're dealing with a different attitude. And that was certainly not the case of Catherine the Great or of some of the past women leaders.

KELLY: Well, speaking of female leaders, you held meetings today on Capitol Hill, including with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

ZOURABICHVILI: Another woman leader, yes.

KELLY: Indeed. What is it you want American lawmakers - Pelosi and others - to know about your country, about its place in the world right now?

ZOURABICHVILI: Well, I have a very simple message here in Washington, which is that we understand, and we are in full solidarity with Ukraine. We want the maximum support of the United States for Ukraine because Ukraine should win. And I am glad to be here today in Washington, the day when President Biden announces the $33 billion support to Ukraine. And I think that it's a very right and timely decision.

But what I want to convey is that it's important that while dealing with the Ukraine issue, while helping Ukraine to win, it's important not to forget two other countries, Moldova and Georgia, that are the two other associate countries to the European Union that are there at very sensitive places - one in the Caucasus, the other one close to the Ukraine war region - and that those two countries are the two countries that are not protected by either the NATO Article 5 or by the European Union direct solidarity, at least as yet. So at this time, I think it's very important that the support of the United States is outspoken to both our countries. Moldova has - and I just talked to Maia Sandu a few hours before. Their problem is...

KELLY: The female president of Moldova, your counterpart there.

ZOURABICHVILI: Yes. We need our partners to be outspoken in their support to our positions. We are not at war. We do not intend to be at war. But we need to be on the map.

KELLY: One of the ways that war in Ukraine is already impacting your country is refugees. Georgia is hosting tens of thousands of refugees and more coming every day, many of them women, the majority of them women. What are you doing to meet their needs?

ZOURABICHVILI: We're offering them everything, from hosting them to schooling of the children to medical facilities. And on top of that, they are very well received because we have these old cultural ties. So they are, I think, feeling as much as home as possible, and we want to make them feel as much as home as possible.

KELLY: Yeah. Last thing, President Zourabichvili. So many of the predictions for this war have turned out wrong, including the prediction that Russia would win and win really easily and fast. What are you watching for as we are now, sadly, into the third month of this war?

ZOURABICHVILI: I'm watching the tragedy of the war, but at the same time, the fact that it has really changed all the calculus that had been made by everyone, including by the Russian leadership, that they would win easily. Then now there is a second stage where they thought that they could take over the eastern side, at least, easily, and that's not happening. So all their predictions have been wrong, including on the fact that the West would be disunited. And nobody's disunited, and everybody is doing everything that they can. And I think that's the recipe for what I hope will happen - is a Ukrainian victory.

KELLY: Salome Zourabichvili. She is president of Georgia. She's here in Washington this week. Madam President, good to see you. Thank you.

ZOURABICHVILI: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Morning EditionAll Things Considered
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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