Interview: Georgian PM Still Aiming For EU, But Doesn't Rule Out Eurasian Union
A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
While pledging to steer his country toward European integration, Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has also called for warmer relations with Moscow. He told Koba Liklikadze from RFE/RL's Georgian Service that he will not exclude the possibility that his country could one day join the Eurasian Union, an economic and political body proposed by Russia that would bring together some former Soviet nations.
RFE/RL: You recently praised Armenia for its measured foreign policies. Earlier this month, Yerevan announced its plans to join the Russia-led [Customs Union, a precursor to the] Eurasian Union. Do you consider the Eurasian Union to be strategically advantageous for Georgia, too?
Bidzina Ivanishvili: At this stage, when the Eurasian Union is being formed, as the head of the cabinet, I say the following: "I am closely monitoring and studying this issue. If it will be advantageous for our country, if it will bring it additional profits, and if, at the same time, it does not counter our strategy, which calls for Georgia's integration into the European Union and NATO, then why not? I will never allow our country to be experimented with! This is why we are watching and studying what the Eurasian Union really means. In the very long term Russia will become a member of the European Union. They are neighbors and they need each other. Russia will also become a NATO member and a close friend of the United States.
RFE/RL: But the European Union is not dominated by one nation. The Eurasian Union, by contrast, is dominated by Moscow, which imposes its rules of the game on other countries.
Ivanishvili: We will not join such a union! We have gotten rid of masters once and for all. We want freedom, the respect of all human rights, equality, democracy, and the formation of democratic institutions. Therefore we are watching what principles the Eurasian Union will choose. If it turns out to be what you describe, then, of course, we will not join it.
RFE/RL: You say that you don't know what the Eurasian Union really is. Do you fully understand what the European Union is, what regulations and challenges await Georgia before it can join the bloc?
Ivanishvili: What we appreciate about the European Union is, first and foremost, European values. Europeans are the most successful and interesting people. Human rights, a competitive market, and the absence of corruption -- this is what Europe is about. People always strive for a better life. The current economic crisis did cast a shadow on the European Union. But the crisis will end. Modern civilization has not created anything better than the European Union.
RFE/RL: You have toned down Georgia's rhetoric on Russia and appointed a special envoy for relations with Moscow. At the same time, you said at a recent a meeting of Georgian ambassadors that Russia responded by fencing off South Ossetia with barbed wire.
Ivanishvili: We have made positive steps with both sides, I want to stress that. Without Russia, our exports would not be able to reach the Russian market so easily. The biggest breakthrough was the resumption of trade and economic relations. At the meeting of ambassadors I noted that this positive development is at odds with the fact that Russian soldiers put up barbed wire. This is baffling. Of course we will try to develop our relations with Russia. But Russia is a huge country and I do not seek to reeducate it. We must be tolerant, principled, and at the same time constructive and diplomatic. We must not scream hysterically and engage in saber rattling, like in the past.