Georgian Defense Minister Levan Izoria visited Finland, Sweden and Estonia on January 23-28, where he discussed the prospects of bilateral cooperation and introduced to the three countries’ experience on total defense, conscription and reserve system.
On January 23, Minister Izoria met his Finnish counterpart Jussi Niinistö, as well as Finnish Chief of Defense Jarmo Lindberg and Foreign Minister Timo Soini.
During bilateral talks, Izoria and Niinistö spoke on the security situation in Europe and the prospects of cooperation with NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partners initiative, which gathers the Alliance’s five partners - Australia, Jordan, Sweden, Finland and Georgia.
“Colleagues noted that within the format, Georgia and Finland, along with other members, will regularly participate in political consultations and strategic discussions,” the Georgian Defense Ministry wrote.
From Finland, the Defense Minister traveled to Sweden, where he met his Swedish colleague, Peter Hultqvist, on January 24. “The Ministers discussed defense cooperation, total defense and the security policy situation,” the Swedish Defense Ministry reported after the meeting.
Following the bilateral meeting on January 24, Minister Izoria and Minister Hultqvist addressed the seminar at the Society and Defense, Swedish think tank specializing on security and defense issues.
The seminar, titled “Sweden and Georgia – Defense Cooperation in a Turbulent World” explored a number of Georgia-related questions, including the country’s foreign and security priorities, its NATO and EU membership process and the counter-measures to Russian steps in the region.
In his remarks, Peter Hultqvist stated that Georgia is “a victim of the Russian aggression” and that both - the Baltic Sea and Black Sea - regions share common “challenge from more assertive and aggressive Russia.” “Today almost 20 percent of Georgian territory is occupied. Sweden supports Georgia’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” Hultqvist noted.
“We fully support Georgia’s right to decide its own future and foreign policy course free from outside interference. It’s a cornerstone of a European security order and it’s also a cornerstone of international law,” Minister Hultqvist added.
Speaking on NATO-Georgia relations to the audience of around 120 experts and media representatives, Minister Izoria stated that “Russia’s invasion and occupation of Georgia’s territories in 2008, followed by its illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilization of Eastern Ukraine” have “deteriorated” the security environment around the Black Sea.
“In the context of enhancing security environment, we believe it is critical that NATO’s increases its engagement and visibility in the region … We are looking forward to the plans on enhancing Black Sea presence to be finalized in 2017 and look forward to be involved in the Black Sea security developments alongside NATO members,” Izoria noted.
Izoria also spoke on the prospects of Swedish-Georgian cooperation and added that Georgia hopes to share Sweden’s experience in the “effective territorial defense based on [the] total defense approach.”
In Sweden, Minister Izoria also met the Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Micael Bydén and representatives of Swedish Parliament’s Committee on Defense.
From Sweden, the Defense Minister traveled to Tartu, Estonia, where he visited the Baltic Defense College and talked to the Georgian students of the Academy’s Joint Command and General Staff Course.
Today, 26 January 2017 Georgian Minister of Defence paid a visit to the Baltic Defence College pic.twitter.com/hhmlgoib2T— BalticDefenceCollege (@BALTDEFCOL) January 26, 2017
In Estonia, meetings were also held with Margus Tsahkna, defense minister; Hannes Hanso, chairman of the National Defense Committee of the Riigikogu and deputy commander of the Defense Forces, Indrek Sirel.
“We recognize Georgia’s clear policy to resolve the question of territorial integrity through the use of diplomatic means,” Defense Minister Margus Tsahkna was quoted as saying according to the Estonian Defense Ministry statement. “Estonia is a steadfast supporter of Georgia joining NATO. We also support the integration of Georgia with the European Union.”
According to the statement, Levan Izoria spoke on Georgia’s defense reforms and military cooperation with NATO. “According to Defense Minister Izoria, Georgia has learned much from Estonia, Finland and Sweden regarding the structure of conscript service, and by this spring the Georgians will have implemented changes to the organization of their existing conscript service,” the statement added.
Margus Tsahkna also noted that Estonia “will continue close defense-related cooperation with Georgia, the focus of which is the development of Georgia’s cyber defense.”
“We have very successful cooperation with Estonia in cybersecurity. We identified new fields, which will elevate our cooperation to a new level. We also decided to pay more attention to cooperation in the field of education,” Levan Izoria stated after the meeting according to the Georgian Defense Ministry’ statement.
Summing up the tour, Minister Izoria stated that Georgia “is actively considering participation in the existing defense format[s] of the Scandinavian and Baltic countries.” “This issue will be discussed further as well. The visit was very successful and we will follow up with more joint trainings and more concrete cooperation plans,” Izoria added.
Izoria also noted that Georgia will continue “close cooperation” with Scandinavian and Baltic countries in introducing the total defense concept, as well as reforming the conscription and reserve systems from next year.