Eastern Time zone UTC-05:00
Capital City Tbilisi
Currency Georgian lari
National Day 26 May
GEORGIA’S NEW AMBASSADOR Sophie Katsarava notes it has been “a disquieting time to arrive in London, one of the world’s great cities, now unusually quiet and empty.” She says her accreditation to the Court of St James’s “is an extraordinary honour,” but she “might be the first ever Ambassador to present credentials virtually! It is also an experience tinged with concern for our loved ones, as well as the physical and economic health of our nations around the globe.” Ms Katsarava arrived in early April with her 10-year-old daughter and looks forward to being reunited with her two sons when they can travel from Tbilisi.
The Ambassador comes to the UK with a wealth of experience, much of which – rather unusually – has been gathered while working for the British government. While studying in the mid-1990’s, she acquired her first job at the newly opened British Embassy in Tbilisi. “There I witnessed first-hand the power of diplomacy and decided that I wanted to work in international affairs.” In 2005, she joined the Embassy full-time, first as communications manager and then political officer, staying 12 years. Such was her success that she was awarded an MBE for her contribution to strengthening UK-Georgia bilateral ties, in “one of the most emotional and memorable moments of [her] career.”
On entering politics in 2016, Ms Katsarava was appointed Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee that same year. “This was a huge responsibility and honour.” As Head of the Georgia-UK Friendship group in Parliament, she initiated a memorandum with the All-Party group of Georgia to institutionalise ties between the parliaments and friendship groups. “It’s been working well, and as Ambassador in London, I look forward to continuing that work, cementing ties and cooperation.”
The Ambassador notes she is “privileged and honoured to represent Georgia in a country so close to [her] heart.” She looks forward to “strengthening and deepening Georgia’s relationship with the UK, as it embarks on a new chapter after leaving the EU. Both governments share a set of values that understand the importance of a strong NATO, and a close transatlantic bond to ensure the robust defence of democracy, individual liberty, peace and prosperity.”
The Ambassador believes that Brexit offers “an opportunity for the UK to confirm its commitment to extend trading, plus economic and political links with many countries around the world, including Georgia. For some, ‘Global Britain’ can seem like a repetitive catchphrase, but for nations like Georgia, it has real meaning. This is the start of a new chapter in the UK-Georgia relationship.” Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused some uncertainty. “But the long-term endurance of the West – of which both the UK and Georgia are proud members – is not one of those uncertainties.
“I am proud that last year Georgia and the UK signed a landmark Strategic Partnership and Cooperation agreement, which aims to establish a bilateral legal base between the countries after Brexit, and covers areas such as political cooperation, conflict resolution, Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia, defence and security, the fight against crime and terrorism, free trade, economic cooperation and energy, tourism, environment, education, science, culture, and so on. I look forward to doing my part to make our friendship ever closer.”
So how has the Covid-19 crisis affected her work? “In broad terms, the crisis has a major impact on diplomats’ work, whose primary tool is personal contacts, plus face-to-face meetings and negotiations. But we are adapting to virtual diplomacy as we work to protect our staff.” Ms Katsarava continues: “It is crucial that each country does its part to contain the virus, to protect its citizens and to work together to support those developing countries who lack resources; to support citizens through the economic impacts, and to find a way forward.
“Georgia’s government took tough and decisive measures from the early stages of the outbreak, and has so far succeeded in keeping infection numbers low… I am proud that these efforts were acknowledged by international partners and WHO. Economic impact and recovery are challenges that we all have to face, and we are working closely with the UK and other partners to support an economic recovery plan.”
The Ambassador concedes that Georgia’s location continues to be its greatest diplomatic challenge. “A difficult reality is that 20 per cent of our territory remains illegally occupied by Russia and people on these territories continue to suffer.” On the upside, she says, “Georgia continuously gets strong international support to territorial integrity and sovereignty. We are strongly committed to advancing and deepening relations with the EU and NATO.”
As a mother of three with a busy career, she admits to spending every spare minute with her children. Luckily, she loves travelling, which she can combine with her work. “There is so much we can learn while meeting people, exploring new cultures and traditions.”