Shevardnadze Pledges Closer Ties with the European Union, NATO

Georgia, NATO and EU leaders pledge mutual cooperation. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze announces of Georgia’s aspiration to join these organizations.

Speaking in the Brussels, Belgium on March 18-19 Shevardnadze stated that joining both of these international organizations is among the main goals of Georgia’s foreign policy. He held negotiations with Secretary General of NATO Lord Robertson, High representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU Javier Solana and other officials.

Prior to his visit to the Brussels, on March 17 Shevardnadze said in Germany that accession to NATO is Georgia’s long-term goal.

Along with the issues of cooperation between Georgia and the European institutions, main subject of discussions with the leaders of NATO and the EU was the current situation in Georgia, US military assistance to Georgia and the role of the Caucasus in the campaign against terrorism.

After meeting with President Shevardnadze, NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson stated that Georgia was one of the most crucial countries in the Southern Caucasus, which through the modernization of its armed forces would be better able to contribute to combating terrorism.

“Particular NATO countries, as well as NATO itself are helping Georgia with the reshaping of its armed forces, so that Georgia will be in a better position itself to deal with the kind of pressures and problems that it faces today, ” Lord Robertson stated.

Eduard Shevardnadze said, that Georgia’s recent policy of tight cooperation with the antiterrorist coalition facilitates further rapprochement of Georgia to the European structures.

“Assistance of the United States to Georgia aims at upgrade of our armed forces to the NATO standards” – Shevardnadze stated.

A Georgia-EU relation was another aspect of the Georgian President’s visit to the Brussels.

After meeting with Javier Solana, Eduard Shevardnadze said, “Since restoration of our independence, joining the EU became [Georgia’s] goal”.

“I could not make him [Javier Solana] tell when the EU would accept Georgia,” Shevardnadze joked at the joint press conference with Javier Solana. However, he added that Georgia’s accession to the EU “is not too far away either”.

EU is Georgia’s one of the most important donors. During the last 10 years organization granted to Georgia more than 300 million Euros and provided approximately 250 million Euros in credit. EU is also actively involved in the settlement of the South Ossetian conflict.

During the visit Georgian President paid great attention to the recent tensions between Georgia and Russia in his speech at the Committee of the Foreign Policy and Security of the European parliament on March 18. According to Shevardnadze’s words, Georgia’s wish to join the European institutions is not directed against Russia, which “as I believe, aspires to integration into Europe itself”.

President believes that recent tensions between Georgian and Russia are a result of ‘irritation’ of certain politicians in Russia. “Some politicians were disappointed with Georgia’s refusal to let the Russian army [in Pankisi] to fight Chechens or conduct joint military operation,” Eduard Shevardnadze stated.

It seems that in his first visit since the announcement of the U.S. plans for the military cooperation with Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze attempted to balance Russia’s negative stereotypes of a pro-U.S. neighbor with declarations on stronger ties with Europe. The visit could also be viewed as an attempt to recruit closer EU attention to the political stabilization in South Caucasus.

By Giorgi Sepashvili, Civil Georgia