President Saakashvili indicated on July 15 that six-post Soviet states, which are now part of EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative, had a potential to create ”a joint platform”, which would help these countries not only to integrate with Europe, but also to tackle Russia’s “pressure and blackmail.”
Saakashvili spoke on the matter at a joint news conference with visiting French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, in Tbilisi - few hours before meeting with EU foreign policy chief, Katherine Ashton, in Batumi. Ashton’s visit marks the launch of EU-Georgia talks on Association Agreement.
President Saakashvili said that Russia tried “through direct threats and blackmailing” to press other countries, including Georgia’s regional neighbors, “not to even talk with us.”
“But despite these attempts, Georgia has very good relations with the neighbors and these relations are recently taking very concrete and tangible nature,” he said.
He said that last week he paid “an unofficial visit” to Ukraine where he had met with Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych - “with whom I had a chance to meet for number of times before his election as president and with whom I have always had good relations.”
Saakashvili said that in Ukraine he also met with President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, with whom he had “a lengthy conversation on issues of bilateral interest.”
“I think that no matter how different the countries might be and no matter how different our problems might be, dialogue in frames of [EU’s] Eastern Partnership, as the first stage for our joint integration to the European Union, is very important,” Saakashvili said.
Apart of Georgia and Belarus, EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative also includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine.
Saakashvili said that like European Coal and Steel Community grew into European Union sixty years ago, “Eastern Partnership was an opportunity for political and economic integration” for six post-Soviet states, “which will move towards rapprochement to the European Union.”
Saakashvili, however, also made it clear that EU-membership was a long-term perspective and “we do not know what kind of [structure] EU will be after a decade.” But it was important to lay a foundation for regional integration into the Europe today, he said.
In this context he said that Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), from which Georgia withdrew after the August, 2008 war, was “demoralized and it does not work.” He said that Russia was using its levers of blackmailing against its neighbors and he brought an example of Moldova and said that although Russia initially removed embargo from import of Moldovan wines, “then against imposed the embargo after the President of Moldova said something”, which Moscow did not like.
“We should not be naïve and we should not think that we may get some concessions from Russia only if we - if you'll pardon the expression - lick them one place as some offer us to do,” Saakashvili said.
“When there is a union of countries, when there is a joint platform, joint policy, it will be very difficult [for Russia] to resort to blackmailing and to act in accordance of divide and rule principle. That is why our relations [with neighbors] are so important,” he said.
Saakashvili also said that EU “is interested with Russia” and for that reason EU “has no interest in having a vague space of countries” between Europe and Russia.
He said that he did not want to use a term “buffer” in reference of this space – countries between Russia and EU – but there should be “an extension of Europe.”
“And in this regard we really had a diplomatic breakthrough recently,” Saakashvili said apparently referring to his recent talks with Ukrainian and Belarus leaders. “That is the right path from which we will never turn away.”
After talks with Kouchner, Saakashvili departed to Georgia’s Black Sea resort of Batumi where he held talks with EU foreign policy chief, Catharine Ashton, marking launch of EU-Georgia Association Agreement talks.
At a joint news conference with Aston, which was opened by live performance of EU and Georgia anthems by the orchestra, Saakashvili said that Georgia “is returning back to Europe”, as Georgia thought its history had never lost its “European faith, European orientation and European instinct.” He said that
“We’ve done lots of things, but we still need your assistance,” Saakashvili told European dignitaries present there. “Of course the Europe also is not on its perfect stage and we do not idealize Europe, there are many problems in Europe, but we want to be part of Europe and to take part in resolving these problems.”
Ashton said that she was sure that Association Agreements with Georgia, as well as with Armenian and Azerbaijan, would be “ambitious.”
Saakashvili said that Tbilisi hoped to have deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with EU in two years as a result of Association Agreement talks.
Ashton said talks on Association Agreement usually take from one to four years