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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zurabishvili Aims to 'Civilize' Russia

For most of her life, Georgia's foreign minister was able to see the country only in her mind, through the stories her emigre parents told her as she was growing up in France. Now, nearly a year after extraordinary circumstances propelled her to become Georgia's top diplomat, Salome Zurabishvili sees Georgia's problems every day -- and its potential.

After a day of tense talks with her Russian counterpart, Zurabishvili said her adopted home is "a daring country ... living next to a very big and powerful country and not losing hope that we can teach even them how to behave in a civilized manner."

Relations with Russia have been one of the toughest parts of Zurabishvili's portfolio since she became foreign minister about 11 months ago. She was France's ambassador to Tbilisi at the time and had impressed new President Mikheil Saakashvili.

"It is a very highly emotional experience ... a fantastic experience to be part of this, and that doesn't take into account my emotional links to Georgia," Zurabishvili said by telephone Friday. "The fact of taking part in the construction of a new state, a new democracy, is a fantastic experience and no other experience can qualify."

Zurabishvili, 52, grew up steeped in the culture of Georgia by her parents, but she was not able to visit until 1986.

The Rose Revolution in November 2003 attracted worldwide attention to Georgia, and Zurabishvili is a key figure in pushing for her country to remain prominent in international eyes.

"The international community has an incredibly important role" to play in trying to help ease tensions between Georgia and Russia, she said. "We have the feeling that Russia has not made the fundamental final choice between old neo-imperialist ambitions and trying to stir up some destabilization to be able to exert leverage and the new road, which means to exert influence through different means, more modern means of economic influence and cultural influence.

"We are a testing ground of what Russia will become, will evolve into, in the very near future," Zurabishvili said.