Georgia – EU/US/Russia/Ukraine relationship and Georgian domestic politics – Situation update as of 10/11/23.

The files we follow: Karabakh Situation ; Abkhazia and South Ossetia / Georgia Conflict, Georgia – EU/ US/Russia/Ukraine Relations and Georgian Domestic Policy, South Caucasian energy, trade and transport issues, Human Rights in South Caucasus, Various foreign policies Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia.

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The European Commission chaired by Ursula von der Leyen recommended granting EU candidate status to Georgia this week, 8 November 8, provided that a number of measures are taken, Josep Borell declared via X “The Georgian people have repeatedly demonstrated their unwavering attachment to European values.” It is the European Council which must make this decision in December 2023.

Opportunity to recall the troubled and troubling journey of this South Caucasian country on the path to its European integration, particularly since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.

Georgia has been part of the Associated Trio with Ukraine and Moldova since May 2021, an organization created to strengthen cooperation, coordination and dialogue between them and with the EU with a view to their future membership. But the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has given rise to dissension between Ukraine and its Caucasian partner. Despite strong Georgian popular support for Ukraine following Russian aggression, the government’s ambivalent relationship with Russia, in particular the refusal to join economic sanctions against the latter, led to the first Ukrainian accusations of smuggling networks targeting to help Russia circumvent sanctions, and the recall of the Ukrainian ambassador in 2022. Clashes between the two countries have remained frequent since this period. Georgia accuses Ukraine of wanting to make it go directly to war against its Russian neighbour whom it is precisely trying to spare. It should be noted that former Georgian President Bidzina Ivanishvili, the businessman founder of the currently ruling “Georgian Dream” party, who officially withdrew from political life, continues to strongly influence the political orientations of the country, his personal fortune representing almost half of the national GDP. The latter is obviously in the crosshairs of the Ukrainian authorities who criticize him for his connections and his interests in several Russian companies.

The character of Mikhail Saakashvili, founder of the main opposition party “United National Movement”, former Georgian president leader of the “Rose Revolution” in 2003, defeated in the war against Russia in 2008, exiled in 2013 and who acquired Ukrainian nationality in 2015 (lost in 2017 and regained in 2019 thanks to Volodymyr Zelensky who appointed him Minister of Reform) is at the heart of the dispute. He returned to Georgia in 2021 (even though he had been sentenced to 3 years in prison in absentia in January 2018) in the context of the Georgian local elections, and he was immediately detained where he began a hunger strike. He is currently still detained and in very poor health while accusations of poisoning are circulating against him.

Furthermore, internal political life is extremely “polarized” to use the critical terms of the EU which refused on 23 June 23 2022 to grant, like its two other associates, the status of candidate, issuing 12 recommendations which are as many avenues progress on the country’s path to Euro-Atlantic integration. The country’s blatant democratic decline is the subject of Western criticism. President Salome Zourabishvili, who occupies a rather honorary and representative function within the framework of the Georgian parliamentary regime and who regularly puts the government and the opposition back to back, was also the subject of an attempted dismissal by Parliament which failed last month and which followed the execution of government threats targeting her since her working visits abroad and which she had taken the initiative without government approval, which was judged as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.

Despite this announcement designed to satisfy the pro-European orientation of the vast majority of Georgian citizens, between June 2022 and November 2023, only 3 of the 12 EU recommendations were implemented by their government: implementation of a mediator, progress in gender equality and the fight against violence against women, implementation of ECHR judgments.

It is therefore difficult to say whether the recommendations of the European Commission will be followed by the European Council. It is illusory to expect strong actions and commitments from the “Georgian Dream” by next month, and the rivalry between the presidents of the two European bodies, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, is well known, further exacerbated in the context of the events in Gaza.

The decision of the European Council (whose president is leaving his post at the end of the year) could therefore be negative knowing that the hopes of Georgian citizens and civil society are already maintained by the Commission’s decision, which is a important point for the stability of the country and the continuation of the process, and that the interest of the EU and the heads of the Member States also lies in the respect by a future member of the prescribed recommendations. But it could be positive if the heads of state consider that the efforts made for more than a year are substantial enough not to let the country get any closer to Russia and that accession is still a very long road which leaves time to make progress on implementing European recommendations.

A case to be continued, the development of which now lies in the mysteries of the European administration!!!

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