PM: NATO Enlargement “One of the Main Reasons for Ukraine War”

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who is visiting Bratislava to participate in the Global Security Forum (GLOBSEC) on May 29-31, took part in a thematic discussion where he spoke about the war in Ukraine, granting of candidate status to Georgia, international sanctions against Russia and the draft law on “foreign agents.”

“The war that we are seeing now in Ukraine is catastrophic, of course. Thousands of people are dying every day,” PM Garibashvili said, speaking about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. When asked by the moderator why he thinks Russia started the war with Ukraine in 2022, the Georgian Prime Minister replied: “I think everybody knows the reason. One of the main reasons was NATO, NATO enlargement.”

“I do not want to speculate, and I don’t want to quote the statements of the Russian government, but one of the reasons was Ukraine’s will and determination to become a member of NATO. Therefore, we see the consequences,” he said, adding that he could not see any effort or will on either side to end the war.

“We respect everyone, we support Ukraine, we support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, we want to see that peace is restored and Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored very soon, but I want to talk about my country first,” the PM said, focusing on the 2008 Georgia-Russia war.

“We had very difficult days back in 2008. Today maybe some people forgot that 20% of our territory is occupied by Russia and in 2008, after the war, Russia did not leave our territory; on the contrary, they stayed, they built two military bases on our soil, and this is the result of that devastating war”, PM Garibashvili said, stressing “that time the world did not pay enough attention to that aggression of Russia; no one imposed sanctions on Russia.”

Garibashvili said that although Georgia has a well-trained and well-equipped army, “still it is a small nation.” “Therefore, I think, it is in every government’s interest, especially when you are a small country, when you are not a member of EU or NATO, when you do not have any security guarantees, but that war was devastating for us.” When asked whether 2008 war was an act of an unprovoked aggression, PM said “I don’t want to go into details, because we have our own view”, adding: “If we were in the government, if our government was in power, I think, we would do everything possible to avoid that war,” he added.

EU Makes Démarche to Georgian Government over Resumption of Flights with Russia

On May 29, the European Union Ambassador to Georgia, Paweł Herczyński, together with the Ambassadors of the European Union Member States, met with the Georgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Levan Davitashvili, to deliver a diplomatic démarche on the resumption of direct flights with Russia.

During a recent meeting with the Georgian Deputy Prime Minister, Herczyński expressed the EU’s position on direct flights between Georgia and Russia. He stated: “We just had a very open and very frank conversation with the Minister about the direct flights between Georgia and Russia.” Herczyński stressed that his mission was to convey the EU position, which was agreed upon by all 27 EU capitals in Brussels.

The EU Ambassador conveyed the EU’s regret regarding the Georgian government’s decision to accept direct flights with Russia, noting that it contradicts the position of the 27 member states.

Herczyński stated: “We have conveyed that we regret the decision of the Georgian government to accept direct flights with Russia, we have conveyed that this decision goes against the decisions of 27 member states not to have flights to and from Russia and not to allow overflight of Russian airplanes on the territory of EU member states. We have also expressed our concern that this decision goes against our decision to isolate Russia and to put pressure on Russia in order to change Russia’s behaviour when it comes to the brutal aggressive war that Russia is still continuing in Ukraine”.

He also noted that although it was Russia’s unilateral decision to restore flights to Georgia, it also required the agreement of the Georgian government.

In response to the arguments presented by the Georgian side, Herczyński said: “Georgian side has conveyed all the arguments that we had already heard about the Georgian government making sure that neither sanctioned airplanes nor airplanes manufactured in the West are used, but this, unfortunately, misses the bigger political point.”

“We had a very open and honest dialogue on the issues that are relevant for the EU member states today,” Levan Davitashvili said, explaining that the main issue discussed at the meeting was the restoration of direct flights with Russia. “However, we discussed the current geopolitical situation in general.”

“We discussed that the situation of Georgia cannot be considered in the same context as the situation of other countries. Georgia is in a particularly difficult situation – it has a direct border with the Russian Federation and 20% of its territory is occupied,” he said, adding: “Georgia’s context is different from the context of EU member states” and “for many Ambassadors, this is absolutely understandable and logical”.

According to Levan Davitashvili, the sides also discussed implementing international sanctions imposed on Russia. According to him, in addition to the Larsi checkpoint, with the resumption of flights, Georgia will have three new points of connection with the Russian Federation in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and Batumi airports. “Just as sanctions are enforced at the highest level at the Larsi customs point, there will be additional customs control at these airports,” the vice-premier emphasised.

On Georgia’s Independence Day, Salome Zourabishvili criticised the government

During her speech at the Independence Day ceremony, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili criticised the government for its policy towards Russia, saying that the Georgian government should better control people entering Georgia from Russia, as well as the rhetoric it uses with international partners and Ukraine.

“The government is in charge of defending the territory and managing the border. You must be aware of who is entering and leaving the country. It is difficult to assume that representatives of the occupying country’s elite political circles would enter the country without prior informing and security guarantees. Is this consistent with their calls for peace and caution? No one in charge realised the danger of escalation at the time?! Let us not repeat Gavrilov’s mistake!”  she said. 

The President of Georgia noted that “the “law of occupation” and the sanctions imposed by the partners cannot be ignored, because this, on the one hand, may lead to protests inside the country and disagreements with our closest and strategic partners. It is also incomprehensible and insulting when the ruling power of your own country accuses citizens of Georgia of xenophobia. It is a bigotry to accuse the country of that kind of insult. A country that has built its reputation through decades of tolerance and kindness. Evidence supporting the peaceful coexistence of Georgians and Jews for over 26 centuries, both in the past and present, is undeniable. The fact that we have welcomed an occupier from another country without any conflict, and have successfully accommodated approximately 80,000 immigrants, further validates this claim. It is crucial to recognize that this accusation poses a significant threat to our country’s security, as we are well aware that Russia often uses the protection of Russian-speaking individuals as a pretext for its attacks on neighbouring nations.” 

She said that Georgia chastises and condemns friends and partner nations, “the countries that have assisted us over the past 30 years have assisted us in the development and formation of the state. On the other hand, we continue to defend those who continue to occupy our territory.”

“When we calculate how many millions the “gift of flights” will bring us today, it is inexplicable and disrespectful. Is our dignity being sold for 200 or 300 million dollars?!” Salome Zurabishvili stated.

Speaking on Georgia’s relations with Russia, the president apologised to the families of the Russian occupation regime’s victims, Giorgi Antsukhelidze and Giga Otkhozoria, and added that the insult they feel is an insult to the entire country.

Garibashvili: we would destroy Georgia’s economy if we imposed economic sanctions on Russia

Speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum panel discussion on 24 May, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili spent most of his time speaking about the war in Ukraine and about Georgia’s decision not to impose economic sanctions on Russia, saying that the country’s economy would suffer a significant loss. He also discussed Georgia’s EU integration and the health of Georgia’s imprisoned ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili.

In response to the moderator’s question regarding the imposition of sanctions on Russia and how much government’s stance vis-à-vis Russia hurts Georgia’s EU membership prospects he said: “…We would destroy Georgia’s economy, we would damage the interests of our country and we would damage the interests of our people if we impose some kind of economic sanctions on Russia”,” adding that no one had imposed sanctions on Russia after the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war.

He lamented that after the 2008 war no one in the world had “adequate reaction. “So my question is: where is the logic? Our war is not a war and Ukrainian war is a war?”- he asked, adding: “we were quite disappointed that business as usual continued with Russia after the 2008 war”.

He said: “My dear friends, you continued business as usual with Russia, no one imposed sanctions on Russia. For your information and the information of the audience, the European Union paid 2.5 trillion dollars between 2008-2022 to Russia, no one stopped the business, nothing happened.”

Irakli Garibashvili then pointed out that “Georgia’s trade turnover with Russia is less than $1 billion”, while “the European Union trades with Russia in just four days is what we trade in one year.”

Commenting on the full-scale war launched by Russia in Ukraine, Prime Minister Garibashvili said that “it is indeed a very difficult time” and that Europe had not seen such a challenge since the Second World War. “Therefore this war affects all of us,” -he said. He also noted that ” today approximately 20% of Ukraine’s territory is already occupied by Russia” and “this is the status quo of today”. “What will happen tomorrow, I don’t know, I can’t say, I think nobody knows.”

Noting that “unfortunately we don’t see any signs that this war is going to end soon”, Prime Minister Garibashvili criticized the international community for not doing enough to hold “peace talks”: “We don’t see enough efforts from the international community to take proper measures, to encourage consultations, to encourage peace talks”. Asked who should take these steps, Irakli Garibashvili replied that ” everybody, both sides”.

He also recalled the statements made by the Ukrainian authorities about the opening of the “second front” in Georgia: “They publicly said the want to see a second front in Georgia” adding: “we have had enough wars, after the restoration of independence we had two wars in the 90s, a civil war and then in 2008 with Russia”.

The opposition harshly criticised Gharibashvili’s statements.

The leader of “Strategy Agmashenebeli” party Giorgi Vashadze said: “Irakli Garibashvili dealt a severe blow to Georgia’s EU integration perspective at the Qatar Economic Forum… unfortunately, it was not the Georgian Prime Minister who spoke there, but Putin’s personal representative… In fact, he supported the Russian model for resolving the ongoing hostilities in Ukraine… he echoed the main narrative of Dugin’s ideology that without trade with Russia, Georgia’s economy will collapse…his statements were so shocking.”

Independent MP Khatia Dekanoidze noted that “portraying Georgia as an ally of Russia is a disaster for the statehood of our country – the country that aspires to join the European Union and NATO… these messages are very grave.”

Putin is dissatisfied with the Georgians’ reaction to the resumption of flights and cancellation of visas

Russian President Vladimir Putin has revealed that the opening of direct flights to Georgia was his personal idea and decision. He admitted this in the course of his meeting with the forum Business Russia. A forum participant thanked Putin for the fact that direct flights to Georgia have finally become possible, and the Russian President responded by describing how this initiative was born. He also expressed his dismay at the negative reactions regarding the decision that he has heard from Georgia.

A self-described broker with Georgian surname and “the business Ambassador of Georgia” within Business Russia thanked the Russian president for resuming direct flights and for lifting the visa-free regime between Georgia and Russia.

In response, Putin spoke at length about how the resumption of flights and annulment of visa regime came about.

He in particular said: “I always try, as it were, to distribute everything positive that we have going on among my colleagues, but in this case, it was really my decision and my suggestion. And it was due to a number of circumstances, including the holiday season. I wanted to support people who want to build normal relations with Russia in Georgia itself, our business and simply our citizens who love Georgia and want to come there, to relax and get in touch with Georgian nature, culture, cuisine and so on.”

He then said that the reaction that followed was a complete surprise for him: “I thought everyone would say, thank you, isn’t that swell. There’s been some sort of completely incomprehensible uproar over this issue, very strange, frankly, unexpected.”

He then noted: “When I am looking at this from outside I think they are completely nuts. I do not understand what is going on there.”

He then said that it seemed to him that “the Georgian leadership has repeatedly raised questions about the abolition of visas and resumption of air travel, and we have made this step forward” noting that  “what happens inside the country is not our business, it is up to people there to decide which way Georgia should go, how it should develop, etc.” He stressed: “We are ready to go our part of the way, we are making steps towards it and will continue depending on how our partners react to it”. He added that he never had any doubts that “the decision would benefit business”, and that he was “very pleased to hear this confirmed.”

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has reacted to Putin’s statement today when asked a question by a journalist regarding the Putin’s allegation that the Georgian government had raised the issue of direct flights. Garibashvili said that if anyone requested the restoration of flights and trade, it was Saakashvili and his government. He noted that the current Georgian government has said that it does not have a political dialogue with Russia, only dialogue on economic and trade issues. He said that unlike Saakashvili’s government, the current one has made no such attempts, noting that he knows that representatives of the diaspora have been raising this issue for years, as have business groups and others. “My feeling is that the Russian president was probably referring to the Saakashvili government,” Garibashvili said.

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