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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Group Champions Democracy

APYushchenko and Saakashvili sharing a joke at their meeting at Borjomi, where they called for a new regional alliance.
BORJOMI, Georgia -- The presidents of Ukraine and Georgia on Friday called for the setting up of a new regional alliance that would champion freedom and democracy in former Soviet soil -- a move likely to anger Moscow, which is concerned about losing its clout on its former home turf.

Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko and Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili said in a statement that the Commonwealth of Democratic Choice would become "a powerful tool for freeing our region from the remaining divisive lines, violations of human rights, any spirit of confrontation and frozen conflicts."

"That will help usher in a new era of democracy, security, stability and peace across Europe, from the Atlantic to the Caspian Sea," the two said after talks Friday in Borjomi, a renowned Georgian spa.

They said the new alliance would be inaugurated during a summit in Ukraine this fall and invited the United States, the European Union and Russia to attend it as observers. They said that the new grouping would unite democracies of the Baltic, Black Sea and Caspian regions, but would not elaborate which specific nations could join.

The name of the new alliance sounds like a deliberate parallel to the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States -- a loose alliance of 12 former Soviet republics that includes both Georgia and Ukraine.

The plan for a new alliance is likely to irritate the Kremlin, which has viewed popular uprisings that recently toppled unpopular regimes in Georgia, Ukraine and another former Soviet nation, Kyrgyzstan, as part of a Western-guided effort to isolate and sideline Russia.

"We need to know what values, what freedoms our neighbors adhere to," Yushchenko said at a news conference after Friday's talks. "If we manage to find a way of protecting democratic values ... we will live in a stable, economically prosperous region."

Asked whether the planned new grouping would strain their nations' ties with Moscow, Yushchenko responded in a conciliatory manner, saying that he wants to develop friendly ties with Russia.

Saakashvili made a veiled hint at Russia's imperial ambitions when he said that a residence where he and Yushchenko met Friday had hosted members of the Russian imperial family, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and other leaders of the Soviet empire.

"Even in their nightmares, they couldn't have imagined that presidents of independent Ukraine and Georgia would sign declarations here," Saakashvili said.