UPDATE: President Zurabishvili’s Interviews to Bloomberg, Euractiv, DW

While in Munich to attend the Munich Security Conference, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili gave interviews to Bloomberg and Euractiv on February 17. On February 18, she also gave interview to Deutsche Welle (DW). In the interviews she covered, among other topics, Georgia’s integration into the EU and NATO, the war in Ukraine, Alexei Navalny’s death, the Black Sea security, the threats of Russian interference.

President’s Interview with Bloomberg

Georgia’s EU Integration

Answering a question about Georgia’s EU candidacy, how soon can Georgia move ahead, and what can jeopardize this process for Georgia President Zurabishvili stressed that “Ukraine has changed the approach towards enlargement” and that the acceleration of the EU integration process would not have happened if not for its resistance, “which has shown the whole Europe that their security is linked to [that of] Europe’s.”

She also said that “the Georgian population has done everything we could over the past yours to move towards Europe, we’ve had our share of struggle and battle”. She emphasized that Georgia has also resisted, although its resilience is “of different character due to the dimensions” but “not less… than that of Ukraine’s.”

She said: “And each time there is a doubt where Georgia wants to go, the Georgian population shows where it wants to go” adding that this is one of the reasons why she is “very optimistic.”

She also mentioned the Parliamentary elections in Georgia in October saying that she is “sure that one of the results of the main result of the elections, whoever is elected, will be the support for our European way, European orientation and that’s what will get us further down the road, towards the candidacy, enlargement and hopefully opening up the accession negotiations as soon as possible.” She pledged to support that process as much as possible.

NATO Enlargement

Asked about NATO enlargement and whether becoming closer to it is more or less safe for Georgia, taking into account Ukraine’s experience, Salome Zurabishvili dismissed the connection between Ukraine’s NATO aspiration and the invasion by Russia stressing that “decision of Russian to invade Ukraine, was an action Russia took by itself and was not a reaction to something, but an act of aggression.” She noted that Russian President Putin does not dare to cross a red line and attack NATO members and “this has been proven over and over again.” She added that for the countries of the former Soviet space it is clear that being within NATO “is the way to be defended and we don’t yet know any other way.” She also noted that for Georgia, “EU enlargement goes hand in hand with NATO enlargement”, and this is enshrined in the country’s constitution.

President Zurabishvili declined to comment whether possible victory of Donald Trump in U.S. presidential elections will weaken NATO, only noting that just as Georgia has no alternative to the EU and NATO integration she believes that “the U.S. has no alternative to remaining the biggest Ally in the very strong Alliance in the future.”

Asked whether Georgia could follow Ukraine’s example of signing bilateral security agreements with some NATO members before joining NATO, the Georgian President said that in general it is a “very interesting example” and “a very good way” in the intermediary period to get the Allies’ support, noting that this decision would be up to the Georgian government to take and would depend on “the willingness of the European partners.” She also stressed that this “should not change the ultimate objective” “or weaken and slow down” the process of the NATO integration.

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Asked whether she is concerned that Vladimir Putin will step up his war efforts in Ukraine, after his reelection in March Salome Zurabishvili claimed that Putin “is stepping up and not waiting for re-election.” She also said that Putin has already lost in many ways and that the war “can last and drag, but that’s all he is able to do.” She expressed confidence that “after the decision of the EU and of U.S. Senate we are going to see the stepping up of the efforts of the allies to support Ukraine, because doing so is really supporting themselves.” She concluded by saying: “That’s what the Vice President of the United States just said today, and … that’s something that should be remembered by each and every European country.”

Alexey Navalny’s Death

Answering a question about the death of the prominent Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny the Georgian President said that if the news of his death is confirmed “it will be disastrous and a tragedy for the human rights and democracy around the globe” and “this will confirm what is the regime today in Russia”. She also dismissed drawing a parallel between Navalny and jailed ex-President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, saying: “No comparison. Georgia is not Russia.”

President’s Interview with Euractiv

On the same day, President Salome Zurabishvili of Georgia was interviewed by Euractiv. She answered questions about various topics, including Georgia’s EU candidacy, future actions, adherence to EU conditions, de-oligarchisation, the Russian threat perception, and the U.S. engagement.

President Zurabishvili noted that granting to Georgia of the EU candidacy has provided fresh momentum for the Georgian population’s support for EU integration and that “all the political parties have started to reunite on the European rhetoric, which was not always the case in the past months.” 

She also stressed the significance of the October elections in Georgia for advancing towards the EU accession talks. “The game plan is to catch up with two partners of the [Associated] Trio, Ukraine and Moldova.”

Regarding concerns that Georgia’s candidacy could bolster the ”pro-Russian government”, President Zurabishvili dismissed this “perception”, asserting that the population knows what it wants and “the government has to follow and for the immediate time being, they’re following that.”

Regarding polarization, President Zurabishvili stated that in a way, it will “depend on the [outcome] of the elections,” and if the country has a coalition government, “we will have to learn to govern with one another,” effectively ending polarization.

Regarding the question about concerns about the return of Georgian Dream founder Ivanishvili to politics, President Zurabishvili stated that “he [Ivanishvili] is no longer outside of the spectrum because he is back in the political party, so at least these things are clear. In a way, by coming back, he is taking responsibility for previous policies, and taking responsibility for whatever will happen in the coming months.”

Praising the West’s solidarity with Ukraine, the President acknowledged the need for more arms but stressed that the primary issue is production, not the willingness to provide support. 

Regarding the perceived change in the Russian threat, President Zurabishvili stated that the threat remains consistent and reaffirmed Georgia’s desire for EU and NATO integration to ensure protection.

When asked about the potential US disengagement in Europe, President Zurabishvili expressed optimism, believing that “there are constants in foreign policy. America cannot cease to be engaged, especially at a moment in time when things are getting more dangerous.”

President’s interview with DW

On February 18, the President also gave interview to Deutsche Welle (DW). Among other topics, she discussed EU enlargement prospects, Black Sea security, and threats of Russian interference in Georgia and beyond.

The President hailed the European Union’s decision to allocate EUR 50 billion in assistance to Ukraine and expressed her expectation of similar support from the US. However, she also noted that “there is still not   the massive support that should be the main solidarity expressed by all the partners, NATO, EU, for Ukraine.” She emphasized that without a strong reaction from the West, Russia will continue its aggression.

The President emphasized the importance of Black Sea security, stating that it is “our vital connection to Europe.” She pointed out that “the security of the Black Sea is the security of Europe. And that’s what is at stake with Crimea, with Ukraine, with Georgia, with now the plans of Russia to build military base on the Black Sea.”

When asked about the domestic political developments in the US and their impact on Georgia-Russia relations, the President said she doesn’t think anything can change in the bilateral Russia-Georgia relations. “The only thing that can change that is Russia withdrawing from all the territories it occupies, be it in Ukraine or be it in Georgia. That is the future of European security.”

As for her expectations of the EU, she said they were “enlargement, enlargement and enlargement”. She stressed the “full consensus” of the Georgian people on EU integration.

Asked about the threat of Russian interference in Georgia, the President noted that “it’s easier for them [Russian special services] to interfere in Georgia because it’s known ground for them”. However, she stressed that Georgians have experience of Soviet propaganda, which is not very different from current Russian tactics.

The president also mentioned that the country was still vulnerable to interference, especially with parliamentary elections approaching in October. She said she expected more interference during this period, as the hybrid war is being waged against Georgia. Finally, the President reiterated that she was at the Munich Security Conference to express her and the Georgian people’s solidarity with Ukraine. In her view, the best-case scenario in the coming years would be for Russia to withdraw from the occupied territories and for the Associated trio to join EU.

This article was updated on 18.02.2024 at 13:24 to reflect President Zurabishvili’s interview with Euractiv, and on 19.02.2024 at 11:40 to reflect her interview with DW.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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