Tochinoshin entertained a high-profile guest yesterday…new Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili. Mrs. Zourabichvili was elected last December and is their first female head of state in the Caucasus. Born in Paris, she actually served as the French Ambassador to Georgia before claiming Georgian nationality (both of her parents were Georgian) and serving as Foreign Minister of Georgia under Michail Saakashvili, himself a rather entertaining character. Perhaps she learned an appreciation for sumo from Jacques Chirac?
In this op-ed, published shortly before taking office, she stressed her desire to strengthen the country’s European ties, including hopeful EU and NATO membership. Cold-war rivalries play out with more than bitter elections here. For five days in 2008, the country fought Russian-backed independence wars in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a warm-up for eventual seizure of Crimea. Zourabichvili was elected one month after Russia attacked and boarded Ukrainian ships in the Azov Sea. The country shares its Southern border with Turkey.
As noted in her article, the President is also hoping to end the outward flow of young talent from the country, bringing them back to Georgia. Tochinoshin has expressed a desire to return home after his eventual retirement from sumo. As long as his knees hold out, he will carry on. And, as we see in the video below, the Georgian giant has his own skills in diplomacy.
President Zourabichvili’s term has so far been characterized by these East-West tensions. Protests erupted in June when a Russian member of the Duma, and representative of the Communist Party, was allowed to make a speech from the Georgian Parliament. Public outrage at the Russian occupation of Georgian territory is still substantial and efforts by the Georgian Dream party to soften its tone and attempt diplomatic solutions with Russia have been…not liked.
The protests led to a push for sanctions against Georgia in the Russian Duma. Russia is Georgia’s largest trading partner, drinking more than 60% of its wine exports. Zourabichvili has said she would like to visit the US to meet Donald Trump as soon as invited. Her meeting with Tochinoshin appears to have been in Tokyo yesterday. If European ties haven’t been able to get her on Trump’s guest list, maybe Eastern ties will do the trick?