“For countries like Georgia, the question is: Do we decide to go under Russian influence and have its standard of living, where nothing has changed since the 80s, or do we want to build our partnership with Europe and have a successful economic and social system fuelled by European values?”
Despite expectations of the contrary, Georgia did not end up among the countries that Russia imposed its “counter-sanctions” on. However, that didn’t mean that the creeping occupation would stop – on the contrary, signposts marking the “border” were moved forward again, this time in Tamarasheni village.
Georgian Journal invited Elmar Brok, a Member of the European Parliament and the current Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, for an exclusive interview on what Georgia can counter the creeping occupation with and what help can the West provide it in this struggle.
– Last week, it will be seven years since the 2008 war. The West’s focus has now shifted to the Ukraine and in Georgia itself to the government talks about normalization of the relations with Russia. Based on previous NATO and EU experiences and attempts of forming a strategic partnership with the Kremlin, do you see this as a feasible, or even – realistic option?
-I think you have to try. The situation will be quite dangerous, if Russia moves forward with its creeping occupation, seizing strategic positions such as the pipeline. I’m quite alarmed, this makes me nervous.
– You’ve recently visited the so-called administrative boundary line between Georgia and Ossetia. What do you think should be the government’s strategy in countering Russia’s creeping occupation?
– I think Russia’s actions are unacceptable and the Georgian government should defend its legal rights. Especially the Geneva negotiations have to start again in a decisive way and Russia has to live up to its commitments within the framework of the OSCE observation mission. It has to be made clear that the creeping occupation cannot continue.
– Do you get the impression that the West has to step up its game when dealing with the Georgian issue?
– I think you can only do as much as the general situation allows you to. But we have to make clear that everybody must abide by international law. So, for example, we will never accept Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states or as annexed or occupied states. Overall, we have to tell Russia, very clearly, that the European perspective of countries like Georgia is not something directed against Russia. This is a sovereign right of every nation and these countries have the right to decide about their internal order.
– So far, for every step that Georgia has made towards the Europe, where it thinks it rightfully belongs, it has been punished by Russia, sometimes – tenfold. The same rings true for Ukraine and Moldova. Do you think that poses an existential risk for the Eastern partnership initiative?
– I think we should not allow it to happen that way. For countries like Georgia, the question is: Do we decide to go under Russian influence and have its standard of living, where nothing has changed since the 80s, or do we want to build our partnership with Europe and have a successful economic and social system fuelled by European values? Therefore, we have to help such countries to have a successful development for their citizens which includes further reforms of the judicial system, the fight against corruption and selective justice, and economic and social progress.
– Contrary to expectations, Russia left Georgia out of its list of countries that are subject to Russian counter-sanctions. Georgian government, notably its Prime Minister maintains the position that Georgia shouldn’t join Western sanctions on Russia. From your perspective, should Georgia join the full package and what would it gain/lose if it does so?
– First of all, I think we should not forget that there are still sanctions, imposed on Georgia by Russia. Trade, and other matters too. And I think under these conditions, Georgia should make a decision which it thinks is right for Georgia. Only the European Union Member States are legally bound by the sanctions against Russia. However, Georgia should make sure that it does not undermine these efforts and that there is a joint goal.
– The issue of Euroscepticism in Georgia – Your statement, regarding the talks about Georgia’s and Moldova’s NATO membership being “counterproductive”, didn’t exactly help matters in this regard. If not now and in the near future, where Georgia faces an existential danger to its statehood, then when should we join those Western Institutions?
– The EU has to improve the relationship with Russia, while at the same time being clear that Russia has to fulfil the commitments under international law. Russia has no right to prohibit sovereign decisions of nations like Georgia. For the moment, we should strengthen the European perspective of Georgia. At the same time, the implementation of the Minsk agreement has also politically something to do with the development for Georgia and Moldova.