Q&A | Why was Georgia absent from President Biden’s Poland Speech?
President Biden, in a surprise and extraordinary gesture of support for Ukraine, visited Kyiv on February 20. He then traveled to Poland and made a historic speech ahead of one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In it, he stressed that US support for Ukraine will not wither and that “Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia.”
Georgia was not mentioned in President Biden’s speech in Poland, where he spoke extensively about the U.S. support for freedom in the region and mentioned Moldova thrice. Does it mean that the U.S. dissociates Georgia from the former “associated trio”?
We asked Georgian international relations experts and former Ambassadors to share their views.
Natalie Sabanadze, Visiting Professor in International Relations, Mount Holyoke College, former Ambassador of Georgia to the European Union
In Poland, President Biden indeed spoke about the region as a whole, but there was no mention of Georgia. Is it surprising? Unfortunately, not.
We often hear the pairing of Ukraine and Moldova, while Georgia is rarely mentioned. Biden`s Poland speech was a confirmation of the trend rather than an exception. If and when Georgia is mentioned, it is in the context of democratic backsliding and its pivot away from the West.
Georgia was a leading member of the Associated Trio because we wanted it, and we did everything for this Trio to happen. We were a frontrunner two years ago. Today we are a laggard. International politics has no time for laggards; it moves fast, and we are falling behind. Nobody will remember to speak about us unless we remind them to do so and unless we back our words with deeds. Yet, the opposite is happening.
In a stark reversal of foreign policy priorities, Georgia is no longer the main Western ally in the region; it is, at best, a fence sitter and, at worst, a tacit Russia backer. We have bad relations with Ukraine. We decided to sacrifice our strategic priorities for domestic, parochial political struggles. This is unforgivable. Georgia is too close to missing out on a historic opportunity. Ukraine`s EU membership is pretty much decided; ours is far from it. The gap between us is growing daily, and we are not doing enough to close it.
Levan Dolidze, Founder of GCSD, Georgia’s former Ambassador to NATO
The emphasis made within such an important speech is always significant in assessing the US political position concerning specific topics or countries; however, I would not draw such a direct parallel between not mentioning Georgia and its distancing from the trio.
Due to the Russia-Ukraine war, Moldova faces much more immediate threats today, which could have also become the basis for President Biden’s strong messages to Moldova. Dynamic positioning within a trio, which is more EU-branded format, is crucial for Georgia and requires much more effort and pragmatic steps from the Georgian government in the international arena. The problems in the current relations between the Georgian and Ukrainian authorities and the confrontational rhetoric of Georgia’s ruling party representatives to strategic partners create severe barriers to achieving this goal.
Georgia needs to be a part of the common integration process of the Black Sea basin countries. No doubt – bringing the candidate status to the agenda was driven by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Also, the history of the enlargement proves that the EU’s interest in this regard is mainly driven toward the regions rather than specific countries. Thus, Georgia’s failure to receive candidate status again creates risks of distancing itself from this regional political context, negatively impacting the country’s EU aspirations. It is vital for the government of Georgia to look at this challenge in a broader strategic picture and to think more about its responsibility towards the history of the country and future generations. This challenge is not only related to one specific step on the integration path; it is about taking advantage of a historic opportunity rarely given to a country.
As for US support to Georgia – the US-Georgia partnership has played a critical role in developing Georgia’s economy and strengthening the country’s state institutions. The negative trajectory that has emerged recently in these relations is hugely harmful to the national interests of our country. The agenda of Georgia-US relations at the political level is heavily burdened by the problems existing in Georgia’s justice and democratic institutions, while topics related to the achievement of Georgia’s strategic goals remain out of focus. Today, Georgia faces many critical challenges. Dealing with them requires both caution and rational, creative, and active steps to ensure that the country achieves the maximum of the opportunities presented. Unfortunately, we see more problems than steps forward.
Kornely Kakachia, Georgian Institute of Politics
It is not a secret for anyone that, against the background of the recent democratic backsliding, Georgia’s relations with our traditional strategic partners, especially with the United States, have worsened considerably. Perhaps at this stage, it is too early to say that Washington D.C. is losing interest in Georgia, but considering the anti-Wester rhetoric of the “Georgian Dream,” its transactional foreign policy, and spoiled relations with Ukraine, our country is losing its traditional place in the associated trio, but also its importance for the west. If these trends continue, Georgia may truly disappear from the Western strategic radars.
But on the other hand, President Biden’s not mentioning Georgia could simply be linked to the current tensions in Moldova. His words were meant to reassure the Moldovan citizens as the crisis looms.