President Zurabishvili speaks about the EU, the Russian occupation, Ukraine – civil Georgia

President Salome Zurabishvili met journalist Zeinab Badawi on BBC’s Hard Talk to discuss, among other things, Georgia’s European aspirations, the Russian occupation and the war in Ukraine.

On the EU candidate status

Asked about Georgia not receive candidate statusUnlike Moldova and Ukraine, President Zurabishvili replied: “I was disappointed, the Georgian people were disappointed, but at the same time I think we understood and they understood that there was a specific situation in Ukraine, Ukraine has us brought to where we are the European perspective […] and it is clear that there is a connection with the political situation, the military situation in Ukraine, […] and from Moldova.”

She also acknowledged that Georgia’s positions on the EU’s recommendations and on the Karl Michel document“He didn’t create all the conditions for that [to be granted].”

Nevertheless, the President emphasized: “[…] It is crucial that Georgia gets candidate status in 2023, which means no membership, we will have different criteria, more things to do, more reforms to do, but from a strategic point of view it is important that the EU says Georgia is part of it is this [Associated] Trio that we created and not something outside that could be an attraction for Russia to play games.”

In a follow-up to criticism of Georgia’s judiciary, as well as other sectors, and whether the Georgian government is “serious” about joining the EU, the President stressed: “I think they’re working on it, I think we’re not perfect. “

Noting that many countries today are struggling with “democratic achievements”, President Zurabishvili reiterated: “I would say that the EU’s decision today and tomorrow must be more strategic than one that is formally based on criteria, in order not to say We should put aside democratic reforms, it is not important, but I think for the moment the strategic issues and the risks of giving the wrong message to Russia about Georgia prevail.”

On the EU’s attitude towards Georgia

Asked whether the EU “really wants” Georgia, given statements by representatives of the Georgian Dream party or its affiliated party that the EU would not grant Georgia the candidacy, President Zurabishvili underlined: “I think I know that EU something more [and] I think they are real.”

In this sense, the President of Georgia pointed out that “distances have been reduced and this is very important for the European Union […] to have a country across the Black Sea that is democratic and pro-European and that is where the new transit routes, the new connectivity, will emerge in the next decade.”

On Russia

When asked if Russia wanted to “absorb” Georgia, the President noted that “Russia always wanted to absorb Georgia”, citing the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union as prominent examples of this fact, as well as Russia’s involvement in the 1992-1992 Abkhazia War. 1993 and later his invasion of Georgia in 2008.

But she emphasized today: “I don’t think so [that Russia will invade Georgia]’, given the resistance it has encountered in Ukraine, and despite the fact that Georgia has ‘neither the army nor the depth of territory, human resources or military resources that Ukraine has’.

President Zurabishvili admitted this “due to the humiliation of Russia and the fact that it is losing this war in many ways […] at some point, for internal reasons, it might be tempted to make a point about Georgia where it is easier to make some points.”

“Therefore I think that we have to be very careful, at the same time I would say that this should in no way determine our actions and our words and our orientation towards Europe,” she underlined. “No one will ever stop Russia from trying something if Russia believes it is in its best interest to do so at the time, but there are things we can do to ensure we don’t.” […] makes it easier for them.”

On the government’s attitude towards Russia

In this regard, the President was also asked if the Georgian government has taken the right path in trying not to anger the Kremlin while using the current opportunity to approach the nation’s European aspirations and help Ukraine.

“Yes but [there cannot be] too much caution,” she stressed. “[We cannot] To give the impression to Russia that we are so scared that we want to give in to any Russian claims that may come up.”

In this context, she reiterated the importance of European partners “consolidating our path to Europe and in that sense I think we need to have a positive response to that [EU] candidate status.”

According to the President, Georgia “cannot afford a second no because that would send the wrong message to Russia that Georgia has suddenly become a gray area…” “So I think we need to be very clear, clarity is our best defense ,” added President Zurabishvili.

About Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/S. Ossetia

When asked if the occupied territories of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali/South Ossetia region were “lost forever to Georgia”, the President replied: “You can ask any Georgian and no Georgian will answer yes to this question.”

“I think that today like never before [before]we are entering another world of geopolitics, and I think that in these enclaves and separatist regions, the attitude towards Russia has changed a lot since the invasion of Ukraine,” she stressed.

Responding to a follow-up highlighting the significant Russian funding of these regions, the number of Russian passport holders and the anti-Georgian statements by the rulers of the occupied regions, President Zurabishvili claimed that given Russian plans, the funding for both regions to be cut, as well as fears triggered by the talks about the resort town of Bichvinta, attitudes towards Russia are changing.

“If Georgia is a path to prosperity, to Europe, to democracy, it could become more attractive to the younger generation of Abkhazia, and I think it is becoming more and more attractive,” she said.

She stressed that those in Abkhazia in particular who want to “own their country” “may not dream of joining Georgia, but they certainly don’t dream – any more – of joining Russia.”

President Zurabishvili stressed that in order for Georgia to work in this direction, Georgia must show, among other things, that the propaganda that Georgia might be tempted to return militarily to these regions given the ongoing geopolitical situation is a “Russian lie because Georgia wants one , it is about reunion with the citizens who are our citizens, and not just reunion with the territories.”

On Ukraine

Asked about the attitude of the Georgian government towards Ukraine, including statements about non-adherence to sanctions or the “Ineffectiveness” of sanctionsPresident Zurabishvili said: “I deviate from the rhetoric, because the facts are completely different, Georgia has joined the international financial sanctions.”

Adding that the Georgian banks have indeed “excessively” complied with the sanctions and that the government has also supported Ukraine in all international resolutions and formats, the President said: “So that’s what I’m saying when I say that there is a question the rhetoric is, I would never say that we are not part of the sanctions…”

In a follow-up on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy being “mad” at Georgia and withdrawing his ambassador from the country, President Zurabishvili pointed out that President Zelenskyy “was sometimes very angry with different countries, not just Georgia.” .

However, she emphasized: “We have a separate problem with Ukraine, which is that we have some Georgians in Ukraine’s elite who play a little more Georgian politics than Ukrainian politics.”

About NATO

In response to the question whether Georgia in the face of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/S. Since Ossetia is occupied, the President underlined: “Don’t say never”, because “things are changing so fast… we are preparing to join NATO, we are conducting exercises with NATO, even after the war in the Ukraine…”

About Mikheil Saakashvili

When asked why she didn’t use her power to pardon the imprisoned ex-president Mikhail Saakashviliwhose deteriorating health has been a concern for months, President Zurabishvili replied that according to Georgian legislation, “she doesn’t have the power for a very simple reason, which is that the sentencing is ongoing, it’s still being judged, and that.” is Georgia law that a clemency cannot intervene until everything is settled.”

When asked if she would pardon him after sentencing, she explained, “That’s another issue, I explained at length in Georgia why I wouldn’t do it because it’s a factor in a lot of polarization.”

In this sense, she emphasized that “there is practically no family in Georgia that has not experienced what it means to have such an autocratic regime”, noting: “I do not feel that I will become an instrument for more must polarization…”

Still, she stressed that she “didn’t want an ex-president to die in prison or suffer irreversible consequences, so I was very close to overseeing all the medical checks.” [facts]…”

The president added that she had publicly requested that Saakashvili be transferred abroad to receive additional treatment, “but that is a decision to be made by the court.”

Also read: