TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — The billionaire whose opposition coalition won Georgia's parliamentary election tapped two former diplomats with pro-Western views on Monday to take key positions in the government when he becomes prime minister later this month.
Bidzina Ivanishvili's choices reinforce his pledge to maintain the former Soviet republic's close ties with the United States and to work toward closer integration with the European Union.
The pro-Western course was set by President Mikhail Saakashvili, who remains president for another year but lost the power to form the government when his party was defeated in a parliamentary election a week ago.
Among the members of the next government announced Monday are Maia Panjikidze, a former ambassador to EU countries, who will become foreign minister, and Irakly Alasania, a former ambassador to the United Nations, who will take the post of defense minister.
The future foreign minister said Georgia's pro-Western course will not change. "This is the choice of the Georgian people," said Panjikidze, who served as ambassador to Germany from 2004 to 2007 and ambassador to Germany from 2007 to 2010.
"Our main partner will be the U.S. and these relations should deepen. But we should not forget our neighbors, those near and far, and we should begin with relations with Russia," she said.
Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia, has stressed the need to restore relations with Moscow, which have been severed since the two countries fought a brief war in August 2008. He has taken pains, however, to counter accusations that he will put Georgia back under Russian domination and announced that his first foreign trip as prime minister will be to the United States.
The 38-year-old Alasania served as Georgia's ambassador to the U.N. from 2006 until December 2008, when he resigned and joined the opposition to Saakashvili.
Ivanishvili announced his choices to fill about a dozen Cabinet positions, but said he was still working on the appointments for the ministers of finance, economic development and education.
The new government, to be led by Ivanishvili as prime minister, will be confirmed after the new parliament convenes on Oct. 20. His Georgian Dream coalition will hold 83 of the 150 seats, with the remaining 67 seats under the control of Saakashvili's party.
As president, Saakashvili will retain greater powers until his second and last term ends after an October 2013 presidential election. After that election, however, a constitutional reform goes into effect that will transfer some of the president's powers to the prime minister.