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Perspectives of the Eastern Partnership Trio

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Friday, July 30
On July 19, the Presidents of the EU Eastern Partnership Trio (Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia) signed the Batumi Summit Declaration, which can be considered as a new stage of the partnership.

The declaration envisages deepening cooperation between the signatory countries to achieve a common goal - to join the European Union.

The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Moldova Maria Sandu, and the President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili signed a declaration on the territory of the Roman Empire near Petra near Batumi, which is now a museum.

The Eastern Partnership trio summit almost failed. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would have refused to visit Batumi unless the Georgian authorities released two Ukrainian nationals arrested in November 2020.

Their boat was detained in Georgian territorial waters because Mikheil Baturin, a former member of Saakashvili's bodyguard, was on board and someone provided false information to the Georgian authorities - Mikheil Saakashvili was trying to enter Georgia by boat.

Although Saakashvili could not be found, all three people on the boat were arrested and sentenced to four years in prison on July 14, 2021, a few days before the Batumi summit. If Zelenski had not arrived, Moldovan President Maria Sandu would have refused to come.

The disruption of the summit by the Georgian authorities would be a very bad surprise for Charles Michel, who was in Azerbaijan and Armenia before arriving in Georgia and said that the EU intends to become more involved in the affairs of the Caucasus.

The disruption of the summit was considered dangerous by the already criticized Georgian authorities, and Salome Zurabishvili pardoned all three people detained on the boat on July 17.

They were released on July 19. Zelensky is said to have flown in only after learning of the release of the detainees. The history of the Eastern Partnership begins in 2009. The EU then offered a partnership between the EU and the Russian Federation to the six post-Soviet countries. This rather large area can be called New Eastern Europe.

The rapprochement of these countries with the EU has been fiercely opposed by official Moscow. For various reasons, three countries have left the partnership - Belarus and Azerbaijan have problems with the democratic reforms demanded by the European Union, and today Armenia still considers Russia to be the main guarantor of security. Without Russian peacekeepers, Armenians will no longer be able to control the part of Karabakh that has not been occupied by Azerbaijan since the 2020 war.

Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia are the three countries that have signed the partnership agreement and have announced an ambitious goal - to join the European Union. The Eastern Partnership Summit is scheduled for December 2021. According to President Zelensky, the summit should set out a 'specific geopolitical vision' for the EU, ie some new offer from the EU. As if in response to this statement, Charles Michel named the need for reforms, to which special attention should be paid by Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova for EU integration.

"Partner countries must live up to their commitments to implement reforms," said Charles Michel.

Today, it seems that Georgia is in a more difficult situation than Ukraine and Moldova, in the conditions of a protracted political crisis. The closest action plan for the reforms to be implemented in the case of Georgia is given in the April 19 agreement reached through the mediation of the same Charles Michel.

The implementation of the agreement has already been seriously criticized by Western friends. Particularly frustrating was the continuation of the practice of appointing judges before the start of judicial reform.

If we recall the events of July 5-6, the opposition to the LGBT community, and the brutal crackdown on journalists, the opposition expected Charles Michel to be particularly tough on the Georgian Dream and, to a lesser extent, dissatisfied with Michel, in their relatively mild tone. This attitude was most clearly expressed by Giga Bokeria, who stated that "Michelle's vocabulary did not reflect the dramatic situation in the country."

However, Charles Michel clearly and unequivocally stated the position of the EU - the agreement of April 19 must be implemented, otherwise, Georgia will be subject to sanctions and at least will not receive macro-financial assistance from the EU.

It seems that the European Union is going to hold local self-government elections for the Georgian Dream. Prime Minister Gharibashvili said that the elections will be held in a highly democratic manner.

At the same time, it announces a convincing victory in this election. The opposition's expectations are quite different - according to the April 19 agreement, if the Georgian Dream fails to win 43% of the proportional part of the self-government elections, early parliamentary elections will be held in 2022. Georgia is facing a difficult political autumn, with many expected or unexpected political complications.