• Barroso (r): 'The future is open, but at this moment we cannot commit to anything more precise' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Barroso: Putin 'promised' not to derail EU-Georgia pact

21.05.14 @ 18:17

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The EU and Georgia have said Russia “promised” them not to disrupt plans to sign an association and trade pact in June.

European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso told press on Wednesday (21 May) that when he met Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Brussels in January he urged him not to “disturb” the plans and that Putin “promised not to do that - that’s what he said to us.”

The promise came before Putin shocked Europe by partitioning Ukraine.

It also came before he threatened Moldova with a trade blockade if it signs an EU accord, and amid provocations in Georgia, such as putting up barbed wire fences on its de facto borders with Russian-occupied regions.

But for his part, Georgian PM, Irakli Garibashvili, echoed Barroso’s optimism.

He said his special envoy to Russia recently met with Russian deputy FM Grigory Karasin, who “confirmed that Russia does not intend to interfere with the association agreement, therefore I’m more than confident we will sign it without any complications.”

Barroso’s meeting with Garibashvili in the EU capital comes after a similar meeting with the Ukrainian and Moldovan governments in the past few days.

The diplomacy is designed to show people in the former Soviet states that the EU is still keen to build closer ties despite the Ukraine crisis.

It aims to sign the association and trade accords with Moldova and Georgia on 27 June. It also aims to sign a Ukraine free trade pact next month, assuming this Sunday’s elections produce a new Ukrainian President who has the mandate to do it.

Barroso underlined the treaties give the three countries full access to the EU’s single market, but do not amount to a promise of future EU membership.

He said on Wednesday: “This is not a normal agreement, it is about economic integration … [But] we can’t offer to Georgia now that it will accede to the EU. This is not possible, but we will be as close as possible.”

“The future is open, but at this moment we cannot commit to anything more precise.”

Garibashvili noted that EU leaders have in the past said the association pact “is not the final goal of our co-operation. This is very important for us”.

Georgia broke free from Russian control during the so-called Rose Revolution in 2003 and wants to join both the EU and Nato.

Its former president, Mikhail Saakashvili, championed its pro-Western path, but his government was ousted in free elections in 2012 by the Georgian Dream coalition - a movement controlled by billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili.

He has said he also supports EU integration.

But he has not categorically ruled out joining Russia’s Eurasian Union instead. He also launched a corruption purge on Saakashvili-era ministers, jailing several of them, and calling in Saakashvili himself for questioning.

With some EU diplomats uncertain of Ivanishvili’s intentions, Barroso underlined on Wednesday that “respecting the rule of law, avoiding selective justice and guaranteeing the necessary political space for all parties and civil society, are all key elements” of building better EU ties.