3rd Feb 2023

Germany calls for EU neighbours meeting on Georgia

Germany is calling for an EU neighbours meeting on Georgia to try and bring stability to the volatile region, amid conflicting claims from Moscow about whether it had promised to "pullback" or "withdraw" its troops from the small South Caucasus country.

The conference - tentatively named "reconstruction and stability in Georgia and the region" - would include many of the countries already involved in the EU's neighbourhood policy, a mechanism aimed at binding countries to the bloc through trade and economic ties.

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  • Russian soldiers - staying or going, as agreed? (Photo: Wikipedia)

German chancellor, Angela Merkel, mentioned deepening the EU's contacts with these neighbouring countries following a meeting with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili on Sunday (17 August).

"She particularly mentioned countries which haven't been directly included in the [EU] neighbourhood policy so far," German government spokesman, Thomas Steg, said, according to Reuters.

Berlin's aim is to extend the neighbourhood policy's coverage. At the moment, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are involved in Brussels' neighbourhood policy, but gas-rich Turkmenistan - mentioned specifically by Ms Merkel on Sunday - is not.

"We will suggest that the EU presidency arranges for a conference of the EU and, within the framework of the neighbourhood policy, the neighbouring states in the south Caucasus and the region," the spokesman said, referring to the current French EU presidency.

Germany's proposal comes as the European Union attempts to work out as a whole what its response to the Georgia-Russia war should be.

On Monday, French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said that EU governments were not ready to issue an ultimatum to Moscow, with national capitals remaining divided about how strongly to chastise Russia and how to apportion blame.

No ultimatums, yet

"We don't want to threaten," Mr Kouchner said at a news conference, reports AFP. "We are serious. There is a red line. The red line is the withdrawal of the troops. They must withdraw the troops."

"At a given moment, we will be faced with ultimatums," said Mr Kouchner, but noted "We are not there at all."

Paris is deliberating whether to call a meeting of EU leaders, something that is set to depend on the way and the speed with which Russia removes its troops from Georgia.

But Moscow is already sending a muddy message on what it is doing with its military.

On Monday, it said it had begun to withdraw troops. "Today, in line with the plan, the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers has begun," said the deputy head of Russia's general staff, general Anatoly Nogovitsyn.

But he added that there had been a misunderstanding about Russian president Dmitry Medvedev's promise to pull forces out of Georgia.

"There is a distinction between the understandings of a 'pullback' and a 'withdrawal'... In the conversation with French president Sarkozy, the discussion was about a pullback of forces, not a withdrawal," he said, reports Sky News.

According to general Nogovitsyn, the troops would pull back to the borders of South Ossetia, the breakaway region that sparked off the conflict on 7 August. But he did not say how many troops would remain in Georgia.

NATO debate

The EU's difficulty in finding a united line on Russia is likely to be echoed in NATO on Tuesday with foreign ministers from the organisation gathering in the Brussels headquarters to discuss the crisis.

While eastern European states, the US and the UK are expected to push a tougher line on Russia, western European countries such as Germany and France are expected to be reluctant to be too openly hard on Moscow.

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