Sunday

16th Jun 2019

Georgia sceptical Russia can be 'friend' of Eastern Partnership

  • Tbilisi doubts Moscow can be 'friends' as long as it keeps troops on its territory (Photo: mid.ru)

Georgia will not oppose Russia's participation on a case-by-case basis in EU's Eastern Partnership with six former Soviet republics, Georgian deputy prime minister Georgi Baramidze told this website, but is sceptical about Moscow's willingness to be "friends" with these countries.

"If Russia or any other country can bring any real added value, we won't be against, but we certainly want to see if Russia really wants to be a friend, as it is still occupying parts of Georgia and ignoring the ceasefire agreement [after the 2008 Russian-Georgian war]," Mr Baramidze said on Tuesday (25 May) in a telephone interview.

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The Georgian official took part on Monday in an Eastern Partnership meeting hosted by Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski in the Baltic Sea port of Sopot.

Mr Sikorski told reporters after the meeting that his country has proposed the creation of a "group of friends" for the Eastern Partnership, which could include Russia, as well as other countries, such as Norway, Canada, the United States or Japan.

Launched in May 2009, the Eastern Partnership involves Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and aims at gradually working towards liberalisation of EU visa regimes, the creation of a free-trade zone as well as using EU funds for various projects in the region.

Mr Baramidze said several ministers from the region expressed doubts about the idea of having Russia join EU's special partnership programmes with the six ex-Soviet countries and that the final agreement was "not to name any particular country", but instead to leave the door open to "those who want to be real friends and contribute financially" to the scheme.

Poland's offer comes a week ahead of a key EU-Russia summit in Rostov on Don, where Moscow is expected to be offered the perspective of a visa-free regime with the EU, despite concerns raised by Warsaw and Baltic and Nordic capitals.

As the move requires only a qualified majority of member states, and most EU countries, notably Germany and France, are in favour, Moscow is expected to get the green light for a visa-free framework.

"If the EU wants to give Russia a visa-free roadmap, it should do the same with the countries of the Eastern Partnership. We are not less prepared, we have biometric passports, we signed re-admission agreements with the EU, co-operation with Europol works well," Mr Baramidze said.

Were Russia to gain visa-free travel ahead of Georgia, it would create a clear discrimination within Georgia, he argued. The inhabitants of the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, who have been "illegally passportised" by Moscow would be "better off" than the Georgian passport holders, he said.

Georgia has only recently signed a visa-facilitation agreement with the EU, meaning visas can be acquired cheaper and faster by its citizens – something that Russian passport holders had already in place in 2008, when the two countries fought a brief war.

Ukraine and Moldova are hoping to be given a roadmap for visa-free travel by the end of this year.

EU enlargement and neighbourhood policy commissioner Stefan Fuele, present at the Sopot meeting, said that Ukraine could have its plan "on the table at our accession council in mid-June," two weeks after the Russia summit.

"This is not an easy task because this is a technically demanding and politically very sensitive at the same time," Mr Fuele said.

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