Ukraine misses Georgia’s and Moldova’s solidarity and strongly expressed its disappointment in The Rīga Conference 2022. Conference coverage from Hype & Hyper.
Eastern Europe might have received more international press coverage in the past eight months than ever. This is, of course, due to the Russo-Ukrainian war, which has determined the region’s perception in 2022. In the plenary session „Room for Manoevur in the Eastern Partnership: Incorporating Various Degrees of Integration with the EU,” unsurprisingly, the Eastern Partnership (EaP), the Association Trio of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, and the three countries’ relations and future were discussed.
At the beginning of the panel, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Chairperson of the Committee of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) on Ukraine’s integration into the European Union, addressed the issue of the session’s name. She believes the conference and its panel discussions take a realpolitik perspective instead of idealpolitik. This means that many people hide behind the nice expression of realpolitik and talk about the Eastern Partnership with such a mindset. But – she argued – the EaP is neither real- nor idealpolitik, as it does not even exist anymore. If something is dead, we must dare to call it dead. And the Eastern Partnership is clearly dead. She believes the future, especially regarding the relationship between the EU and Ukraine, is something to discuss. Kyiv is grateful for the attention the European Union is giving to Ukraine and the war; but deplores that while Ukraine and Moldova got the opportunity to become EU candidates, Georgia did not. Regarding Ukraine's accession to the EU, it must be understood that the process depends on both sides. On the one hand, it depends on Kyiv’s ability to meet the requirements, but on the other, it also depends on the EU institution’s openness and speed to help the integration in some instances. Ukraine will not join the EU soon. Klympush-Tsintsadze does not think Kyiv will achieve EU membership in 2023; nonetheless, she hopes she is wrong. Ukraine is committed to fulfilling all the requirements and will review any further requests or remarks and respond to them adequately.
Regarding the fact that Georgia did not get an official EU candidate status, Dr. Iulian Groza from Moldova, Director of the European Policy and Reform Institute, thinks that the focus should not be on the differences between the three countries. Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia have many similarities, and the Eastern Partnership has given the region new ambitions and goals, such as association agreements and economic integration. These developments led to the establishment of the Association Trio between Tbilisi, Chișinău, and Kyiv, and last year there were several attempts to establish an even larger-scale political cooperation within the framework of the Trio. Groza claimed the Association Trio does exist; nonetheless, he acknowledged that Ukraine is ahead of Moldova and Georgia. But he believes it is more important that the three countries are on the same path than the speed they are going with. The EaP has achieved all its goals, so it is already outdated. What matters for the three countries’ future is to become EU members. The EU needs Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine; Ukraine is the shield of the whole of Europe now and particularly protects Moldova.
Igor Zhovka, Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, also addressed the question of the existence of the Association Trio. „Is the Trio alive or not? The answer is crucial for our war against Russia. One year ago, I was sitting peacefully in Ukraine, discussing the future of the three countries’ cooperation. Then on the 24th of February, the Russian invasion began. The question is not where the Trio is now; the question is, where were our friends and allies in the first days of the war?” – Zhovka contemplated. Kyiv appeals for three main things to its allies: weapons, sanctions, and economic support. And Ukraine also asked the EU for membership. „But where were Georgia and Moldova in the first days? Where are the weapons, sanctions on Russia, and economic assistance from Tbilisi and Chișinău?” – he asked. Zhovka stressed that Ukraine is not only fighting for itself. Ukrainians are fighting for everyone: Georgia, Moldova, France, all European countries, and the world beyond Europe. Therefore, he calls on all countries interested in peace to contribute to Ukraine’s victory in at least one of the three ways mentioned above. Sanctions have also been imposed on Iran, as Tehran is selling drones to Russia to attack Ukraine daily. The sanctions are efficient but not enough; thus, the EU members have started to draft even more sanctions. But what sanctions have Georgia or Moldova imposed on Russia? They have implemented only one or two measures, such as that for alleged Russian tourists, it is harder to get into the countries now. But today, the Russians are hiding in Georgia; they keep their wealth there. The whole world knows now what is happening in Ukraine. Despite the aid, Ukrainians are cold and starving, and Russia is threatening to destroy the country’s energy infrastructure, not to mention a potential nuclear disaster. Ukraine needs the help of all nations; even the smallest assistance is a great help. We can stop and defeat Russia only together.
It is not easy to continue after such remarks, especially if one represents Georgia. But Teimuraz Janjalia, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, prefers to focus on the shared successes. He believes the EaP and the Association Trio proved that they can achieve a lot; the countries have a European perspective. Georgia is doing what it should in order to become an EU candidate country. Janjalia stressed that the EaP is more than the Trio as it concerns the mutual relationship between the Trio and Europe. Its main objectives relate to energy, transport, and building networks and connections. He added that Georgia fully supports Ukraine and acknowledged that the brave Ukrainians are defending not only themselves but the whole of Europe. Moreover, he continued, Georgia has been in the same situation as Ukraine now; they were the first country to be openly and fully attacked by Russia in 2008. Already before 2008, Georgia experienced Russian economic attacks, yet there was hardly any international reaction between 2008 and 2014. The international community did not pay enough attention even in 2014, and what is happening now in Georgia or Ukraine is the result of this omission. The Russo-Georgian war is not completely over; there are 5-6 thousand Russian troops permanently stationed in the country. Both Ukraine and Georgia must win for peace. As a reply to Zhovka, Janjalia said that Georgia cannot give weapons to Ukraine, as they also need them. The international community did not arm Georgia until the annexation of Crimea in 2015. He added that Tbilisi imposed sanctions on Moscow in the very first days, in line with the international community’s decisions. He concluded that Georgians are doing everything they can for Ukrainians.
Groza is asked at the end of the panel how it is possible that Moldova has not joined the EU sanctions, yet Ukraine criticizes it less than it criticizes Georgia. He said that Moldova needs more assistance in defense than other countries in the region. Neutrality is important for Chișinău, but it might not be a good excuse for not helping Ukraine. Moldova has been slow to react to the war but accepted the criticism and the politicians in Chișinău realized that their security also depends on the security of their partners. The country cannot help a lot, but, for example, regarding infrastructure and transport, they do what they can. Moldova is a main partner of Ukraine regarding transport, which is an enormous responsibility, and a giant pressure nowadays, and Chișinău is trying to develop in this respect too. Moldova has been hesitant to align its sanctions policy with the EU but has taken several steps representing the condemnation of Russian aggression. Nonetheless, Groza acknowledged that these steps are not enough. All countries need to help Kyiv because Ukraine is not only defending itself but protecting the whole of Europe, especially Moldova. Moldova has one of the highest inflation rates (35%), but the country is hosting 85 000 Ukrainian refugees. He concluded his speech by saying that „we need to look for ways to strengthen our cooperation so that we can act together against Russia. This is the secret of the friendship between Chișinău and Kyiv; we both have the courage to recognize that we can only win together. Russia is attacking, and Moscow uses its gas to blackmail us. The deliveries dropped by 30-40 %, and there are many challenges ahead as winter is coming. But that is why we must remain strong.”