Various Georgian politicians sharply criticized the statement by the EU special representative for South Caucasus and Geneva talks co-chair, Herbert Salber, who congratulated Tskhinvali leader Anatoly Bibilov on his victory in the presidential election held by Tskhinvali authorities on April 9.
Georgian MP and former foreign minister (2004-2005), Salome Zourabichvili said that the statement revealed Salber’s “ignorance of the subject,” besides being unacceptable. Zourabichvili said that in response Georgia should declare him persona non grata.
Another former foreign minister of Georgia (2008-2012) and the United National Movement (UNM) member Grigol Vashadze called Salber’s statement “extremely ignorant, inappropriate and damaging.”
Vashadze said that Salber distorted Brussel’s and Berlin’s positions on Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, when he congratulated Bibilov while being “in the region that is occupied as a result of the aggression by the Russian Federation, where the Russian Federation and the occupation regime have expelled tenths of thousands of Georgian citizens of various ethnic origins.”
Vashadze added that when talking about non-use of force document issue in Tskhinvali, Salber sounded as if he represented a side, rather than being a co-chair. Vashadze demanded that the Georgian Foreign Ministry achieve “a relevant statement” from Brussels, as well as disavowal by Salber of his Tskhinvali comments.
The UNM also issued a separate statement, expressing “extreme concern” regarding Salber’s statement, and saying it was not the first time he made comments that were detrimental to the national interests of Georgia.
The UNM added that since Salber’s statements disregarded Georgia’s territorial integrity and “radically differed from the official position of the European Union,” his continuation in his position as the EU representative would be damaging for the Georgian interests and Georgia-EU strategic relationship. The UNM demanded from the Georgian government to request Salber’s removal from his position.
The Movement for Liberty – European Georgia party, which had split from the UNM in January 2017, commented through its press service that Salber’s statement contradicted Georgian interests, and that there were “no elections on the occupied territory, since an ethnic cleansing occurred there and thousands of local residents were forcibly expelled.”
The European Georgia added they were sure Salber’s comments were not an official position of the EU, but such statements should not be left without the sharpest diplomatic reaction, including “personnel related changes.”