22nd Apr 2019

EU-Russia relations in jeopardy as bombs hit Tbilisi

  • A mountain top church in the Georgian countryside (Photo: wikipedia)

The suspension of EU-Russia negotiations on a new bilateral pact, freezing talks on visa-free travel for Russian citizens and holding back EU humanitarian aid to Chechnya until Russia ends aggression in Georgia could be among ideas debated by EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Wednesday (13 August).

Once fighting dies down, the EU may also offer to send policemen - but not soldiers - to help keep the peace in Georgia's breakaway regions and speed up free trade and visa facilitation deals with Georgia and Ukraine, "to show that those countries are not part of a 'grey zone' for Russia to expand [into]," a senior EU diplomat told EUobserver.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The EU launched talks in July on a new pact to replace its old Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia and pays around €18 million a year in aid to help rebuild war-torn Chechnya. But Russia's incursion into Georgia last week threw EU-Russia relations into turmoil, in the gravest European security crisis since the 1999 Kosovo war.

In the early hours of Monday morning (11 August), Russian jets struck two targets within earshot of Tbilisi city centre and Russian tanks advanced toward Gori, 65 kilometres from the Georgian capital. The moves came despite a unilateral Georgian ceasefire on Sunday, with Moscow saying Georgian forces have violated the ceasefire announcement.

"According to our sources, Russia is going to launch a last attack on Georgia with the aim of regime change," the EU diplomatic contact said. "I'm afraid the Russians may storm Tbilisi soon. I hope the ministers [still] have something to discuss next week."

The French EU presidency has called the emergency EU foreign ministers session for 10:00 local time on Wednesday to respond to the situation, with EU ambassadors to meet in Brussels on Tuesday afternoon to prepare the agenda. No extraordinary meeting of EU leaders is foreseen for now, despite a call by Poland to hold an emergency summit.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy will travel "in the coming days" to Moscow to meet Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

Meanwhile, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner and Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb arrived in Georgia on Sunday night. The plane touched down at Tbilisi International Airport just a few hours after the airport was struck by Russian bombers.

"We must find the means for an immediate ceasefire, accepted by both sides," Mr Kouchner told AFP following talks with Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili. "We must move quickly, this is not a diplomatic exercise, it's an exercise of survival."

"We are now in the business of crisis management, we are now in the business to broker peace. We are not in the business of seeking who has done what, when, where and how," Mr Stubb said.

Bitter resentment

Russia says its actions are designed to protect Russian passport holders and peacekeepers in the Georgian breakaway republic of South Ossetia, in line with existing treaties. It has accused Georgia of "genocide" in shelling the South Ossetian town of Tskhinvali last week, during what it called Mr Saakashvili's "suicidal" bid to defeat the rebels.

But Georgia says the Russian-backed separatists provoked its attack on Tskhinvali, which Russia used as a pretext to attack the small NATO and EU-aspirant state. It says the Russian push is designed to reassert power in Russia's old sphere of influence and to cut off an emerging oil and gas corridor between Europe and the Caspian Sea.

The UN refugee centre estimates that 10,000 to 20,000 people have become internally displaced in Georgia, but news reports on the ground indicate the figure could be tens of thousands more. Casualty estimates range from a few hundred soldiers and civilians, to over 2,000 mostly civilian deaths, with at least two reporters killed.

EU and US leaders conducted intensive telephone diplomacy over the weekend, with the US president and the NATO secretary general both criticising Russia's "disproportionate" use of force. US practical help has so far been limited to helping airlift home 2,000 Georgian soldiers from Iraq, while the EU has earmarked €1 million for humanitarian aid.

"Over the past few years I lived in a democratic country, and I was happy. Now America and the European Union spit on us," a Georgian soldier told an IHT reporter on Sunday, as Georgian troops retreated from the South Ossetian front line.

EU seeks mini-trade detente with US

EU states have agreed to open trade talks with the US in a bid to rebuild relations with their oldest partner on the world stage.


Russia divides Europe's eurosceptic parties

Divisions on how to handle Russia's "neo-imperial appetite", among other factors, are set to block Italian Matteo Salvini's dreams of a new EU league, Jan Zahradil, a leading Czech MEP and a candidate for EU commission president has said.

EU migrants sneaking into US from Mexico

Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us