Georgian ambassador: Riga summit can’t end in awkward silence

Khatuna Salukvadzė
DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

The ambassador said in an interview to BNS that Georgia is waiting for visa-free travel to the EU, which she said would be a clear demonstration to Georgians and other Eastern Partnership nations that the EU delivers on its promises, as well as a strong argument against Russia‘s propaganda.

There are opinions that no progress is going to be made with the Eastern Partnership in Riga. What expectations does Georgia hold and how realistic do you feel these pessimistic opinions are?

It will not be an easy summit. It will also be different in terms of geopolitical realities — on the background of current security outlook in the region, war in Ukraine, and a range of other aggressive acts whereby Russia has violated the principles of inviolability of borders and peaceful relations with some of its neighbors, posing a serious challenge to the very fundamentals of the European security architecture.

The Summit should send a strong unambiguous signal reconfirming Europe’s commitment to Eastern Partnership. If the Summit offers awkward silence instead, it would mean rewarding the bullying policies of Russia.

Georgians are waiting for visa-free travel to the EU. As all the technical requirements are completed, it is our clear hope that Georgian citizens will soon be able to travel without visas to European countries.

Why is visa-tree travel so important to Georgia and how likely do you think it is that it will be achieved?

It is the basic instrument to promote and deepen people-to-people contacts between the EU and Georgia, reaching out to all categories of the society — students, businessmen, civil society and young professionals. Above all, the openness of the EU and Georgia societies and enhanced mobility will greatly contribute to exchange of European values and ideas.

[It would also be] a clear demonstration to the people of Georgia, including in the occupied territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, and to those of the other Eastern Partnership countries that the EU upholds a merit-based approach and delivers on its promises.

The visa-free regime also carries a strong message of EU support in response to the extensive Russian propaganda, which is directed to undermine the public trust towards the EU and the entire European integration process. It is a sign to all inside Georgia that the European agenda does deliver and that there are concrete, tangible benefits in it for an average citizen.

[Georgia has carried out] significant legislative and institutional reforms in the fields of document security , border management and migration, as well as in the area of fighting organized crime, personal data protection and anti-discrimination which are essential preconditions for further visa liberalization.

The Eastern Partners’ prospects for EU membership currently are quite undefined. Do you expect Georgia’s membership prospects to be clearly defined during the Riga Summit?

Despite the serious external security challenges, Georgia continues to irreversibly follow the European integration path — an informed choice by citizens. As a reliable partner to the EU, Georgia delivers on its commitments. Therefore, Georgia expects that Association Agreement is not the final goal of this cooperation.

In this light, given the extremely complex geopolitical context, the importance of the upcoming Riga Eastern Partnership Summit and the messages it will deliver cannot be under-estimated.

The Summit is a unique opportunity to add a momentum to the political association and economic integration process. It is important that the Summit lends a strong political signal to the Associated states by, at least, recognizing that their aspirations go beyond the Association and note that the Association Agreement does not represent the end-goal of our relationship.

The upcoming Summit will be held in a different security situation in the region, compared to the Vilnius Summit. Do you think the conflict in Ukraine and the overall security situation will influence the outcome of the Riga Summit? And in your assessment, how related the current situation is to the said pessimistic approach to the possible outcome of the Riga Summit?

Of course, already in Vilnius in November 2013, the Russian Federation posed a serious challenge to basic principles of international law and praxis, including the sovereign right of nations to decide their own future. But since then, Moscow has gone much further in its aggressive attempts to tear down the very fundamentals of the European security architecture.

The challenge for the EU is to respond to this crisis in a way that does not lead to an escalation of tensions, but at the same time does not jeopardize international norms and principles and does not appear to reward bullying on the side of Russia. Doing all three at the same time appears difficult, if not impossible.

In Riga, the EU should once again uphold the right of sovereign nations to decide on their future and recognize that no third party can challenge their legitimate choices. The failure to do so would imply recognition of ”spheres of influence” and lead to the emergence of the new dividing lines in Europe.

Does Georgia feel pressure from Russia before the Summit?

Georgia has paid a heavy price for their European choice: economic blackmailing, political pressure, outright military aggression and subsequent occupation and annexation. Resent so called “treaties” on integration with the occupation regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are designed towards the annexation of Georgia’s territories by the Russian Federation.

How is the process of implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU going?

Georgia is determined to progress on the comprehensive democratic reform agenda and be a success story in the region for the transformative power of the European integration process. In this context, effective implementation of the Association Agreement is our top priority. Georgia has put in place the necessary institutional framework, namely: the government has upgraded internal coordination mechanisms, as well as elaborated the National Action Plan for the Association Agreement implementation and a three-year Action Plan on DCFTA. The prime minister of Georgia personally supervises and monitors the Association Agreement implementation process.

What does Georgia expect from Lithuania and its representatives during the Summit? In other words, what do you think Lithuania could do in order to help Georgia?

Lithuania plays a very active role in advancing the Eastern Partnership. Lithuania’s pivotal role in supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity, European and Euro-Atlantic integration is highly appreciated by the government and people of Georgia.

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