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Threats after initialing the EU Association Agreement

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, November 29
High-ranking Georgian politicians have spoken about the threats Georgia might face after initialing the Association Agreement with the European Union.

According to a statement made by Defense Minister Irakli Alasania on November 28th, after initialing the agreement there is less chance of a military threat from Russia. However, Alasania thinks that Russia will do its best to encourage and plant anti-European attitudes inside the country. Alasania stressed that such incidents occurred this year, after several Georgian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.

Alasania worries that an anti-NATO campaign may be launched in the country. “The most dangerous moment concerning the EU will be September 2014, when we plan to sign the Association Agreement and an important NATO summit is scheduled.” Alasania said.

Georgian Dream member Tina Khidasheli feels worried about the period between initialing and actually signing the Association Agreement. She believes that Russia will use all possible means to disrupt the process.

“But signing the agreement has been Georgia’s dream for 25 years. The agreement provides serious benefits to the country and we should ignore Russian provocations, including along the so-called administrative border,” Khidasheli said.

Former Foreign Minister of Georgia Salome Zourabichvili thinks that the current Georgian government's actions might create negative emotions among the public regarding the European Union.

“Initialing the Association Agreement means both much and little. It is much, as the initialing means that Georgia is making a definite step towards Europe. It means little, as the benefits suggested by the document will not be realized soon. Georgia is not ready for either for the free trade regime (as we have nothing to export) or for visa facilitation.” Zourabichvili said. She stresses that the Georgian government’s statements on how beneficial the agreement is might cause irritation and a negative attitude in the public.

“The government has given the public the impression that the Association Agreement will immediately create great benefits for Georgia. When the public sees that no quick positive changes in the country have taken place after signing the agreement, then a negative attitude towards Europe might occur.” Zourabichvili said, noting that the actions of the previous government created a similar attitude towards the United States.

“Saakashvili’s government praised the United States all the time. The public perceived America to be the country's greatest ally. However, during the August war, the public realized the limits of U.S. support and anti-American views increased.” Zourabichvili stated.

Zourabichvili added: “Our main attitude towards Europe should be freedom and independence. We shouldn't imitate Europe; we need our own model for development. We need Europe as an ally so we don't have to stand alone against our neighbor [Russia].”

The founder of Georgian Reform Associates (GRASS), Elene Khoshtaria, believes that Russia is irritated by Georgia’s EU integration process as it a sign of national sovereignty.

“Russia needs Georgia to be dependent on it and that is why Russia is irritated.” Khoshratia said, before noting that Russia will not place an embargo on Georgian products.

“On the contrary, it will attract more and more Georgian businesses. Then next year, when Georgia signs the EU Association Agreement it will enact an embargo that will be very painful for Georgia." Khoshtaria added.

Analyst Giorgi Rukhadze stresses that Georgia should carry out preventive measures.

“Georgia should analyze the recent events in Ukraine so as not to have a repeat incident here.” Rukhadze said.

The analyst believes that now Russia has fewer levers against Georgia but will try to gain more. “Russia might become too friendly towards us. It might suggest a complete opening of the Russian market to Georgian products, cheap energy resources, an end to the visa regime. etc. It will use these "benefits" against us. Georgia should temporarily suspend negotiations with Russia, until signing the Association Agreement." Rukhadze stated.