Sunday

19th Nov 2017

Georgia PM says 'why not?' on Eurasian Union

  • Ivanishvili at his summer home in Ureki, on the Black Sea coast (Photo: EUobserver)

One day after Armenia said it will join Russia's Eurasian Union, Georgia's PM has said it might, in due course, do the same.

Speaking on national TV on Wednesday (4 September), the Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, said: "I am keeping a close eye on it [the Eurasian Union] and we are studying it. At this stage we have no position at all. If in perspective we see that it is in our country's strategic interest, then, why not? But at this stage we have no position at all."

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The remark caused an instant reaction in Georgia's parliament.

Giorgi Gabashvili, an MP from the opposition UNM party, told the house: "I hope the Prime Minister lied and I hope the Georgian government in fact is not studying this option."

The PM's office later published a press release, circulated in Brussels by its PR firm, Cambre Associates, which noted: "While not ruling out the possibility of joining such a union in the future, should it be judged in the national interest, he [Ivanishvili] stated that 'At this stage, we have no position at all'."

Georgia's foreign minister, Maia Panjikidze, added: "The whole world is [studying the Eurasian Union project], including the EU. It is near us, of course we have to know what is going on."

The Eurasian Union is Russia's plan to create a new bloc of former Soviet republics in 2015.

But Georgia's official line is that it aims to join the EU and Nato instead.

As a first step, it plans to initial a political association and free trade pact with the European Union in November.

Meanwhile, with Russian forces still occupying two Georgian regions after a war in 2008, Russian relations are a hot topic.

For his part, Giga Bokeria, a senior UNM politician and the outgoing head of Georgia's National Security Council, told EUobserver that Ivanishvili's remark "is, at best, a sign of his incompetence."

He said: "I hope no one in his government is seriously studying it [the Eurasian Union]."

He noted: "The Eurasian Union is an instrument of [Russian leader] Putin to prevent the Euro-integration of neighbouring countries, to keep them in Russia's backyard as satellite states."

He added: "If Ivanishvili says he has 'no position' on it, even this is alarming. How can a democratically elected government have 'no position' on an instrument designed to subvert the country's sovereignty?"

Ivanishvili's remark came after Armenia's President, Serzh Sargsyan, on Tuesday surprised EU officials by saying his country will join the Russian bloc instead of signing EU pacts.

Russia is Armenia's main security guarantor in its frozen conflict with Azerbaijan.

In a sign of mounting pressure on its neighbours, Russia recently threatened Moldova and Ukraine with trade sanctions if they initial EU agreements.

"We expect more pressure before the Vilnius summit," a senior Moldovan diplomat told EUobserver on Wednesday, referring to an upcoming EU meeting with former Soviet countries.

Ivanishvili in July told this website it is his "dream" to transform Georgia into a "typically European" society.

But his ruling coalition contains far-right elements who say liberal EU values, such as gay rights, are incompatible with Georgia's Eastern Orthodox identity.

Ivanishvili became a billionaire in the metals, real estate and banking sectors in Russia in the 1990s.

He told EUobserver he has "no backchannels" to the Kremlin, however.

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