“Strategic Patience” – this phrase I heard most often in Brussels, when I spoke to several EU diplomats about the bloc’s relations with Georgia before the elections.
However, beyond this phrase, I could see the sadness on my face. A little searching, and more open and sincere assessments, you will hear: “Of course we are disappointed,” said one. Another added: “At least we seem to be naive.”
This was followed by heavy shelling: “It is absolutely clear that Georgia has completely derailed.” And, most painfully: “Russia once again played a very smart long-term game in our yard. Now they are probably explaining champagne. “
The EU is really annoyed with Georgia, but they are not happy with themselves either. How could they not influence a country with such Euro-Atlantic aspirations? How could they not change the way? Everyone I speak to realizes that the vast majority of the Georgian population, like the Ukrainians, is fundamentally looking to the West and not anywhere else.
This year, representatives of the Alliance and its member states have repeatedly pushed Silas into this geopolitical region, but the case of Georgia has been particularly painful. Even when Brussels does not publicly express it.
Most recently, Georgia was the leader of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership program. The goal of this program is to bring the 6 former Soviet republics, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine closer to the Alliance, without explicit membership conditions. Representatives of the last three countries have been asking questions about this partnership for years. They did not want to be in a group with the top three countries and wanted to accelerate integration and take a different approach.
The next Eastern Partnership summit, to be held in Brussels in December, already looks like a person who could turn into a real nightmare. Belarus has already been ousted, the confrontation between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan is likely to be in the media spotlight, Ukraine is difficult to predict, Moldova is giving up hope, but it is overwhelmed with problems. Georgia should have been an example – the most truly transatlantic participant. In return, it creates even more problems.
It is not just a matter of reducing the damage. The European Union has really tried to reach out to Tbilisi. European Council President Charles Michel was personally involved in the issue after all parties said it was necessary to involve the highest echelons of the EU. The April 19 agreement reached as a result of his mediation is still in force, according to Brussels. They will not change it or send a new mediator, despite the fact that this agreement no longer exists in the eyes of the most important parties in Georgia.
In response to all these efforts, Brussels received another slap in the face. There were times when the Georgian government refused the second tranche of EU macro-financial assistance – 75 million euros, which was allocated by Brussels to fight the coronavirus pandemic in Georgia. It was later reported that the Georgian Security Service may have been listening to EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzel, and the recordings were later leaked to the press. The wiretapping scandal in Brussels caused outrage, but the refusal to help was met with even more astonishment: “What a perversion,” a senior EU official told me. “They are in the center of a pandemic, how can the population be prevented from this money?”
Clearly, this money would be accompanied by conditions – namely, obligations regarding the rule of law and judicial reform. Money is the best way for the EU to persuade Tbilisi. The new, multi-year budget of the European Union can offer billions to Georgia. Now, the question is how the EU will approach this issue. They can be tightened and block the source of money. But who will Tbilisi visit then? China? Or the growing Russia that surrounds the country and European diplomats know this very well?
The point is that Georgia has reasons why it may be disappointed with the EU. The Alliance often dragged its feet and had no clear strategy in the region. Membership is out of the question at this stage, and there are no new, big ideas about how Brussels can bring Tbilisi closer to its orbit – many member states, especially in the West, do not even want to hear something like enlargement to the east, as they see it as a potential provocation to Moscow.
That is why we are left with meaningless phrases such as “strategic patience”. Waiting for Tbilisi to take a different path at some point. And the expectation that the EU will once again offer a decent strategy to the Eastern Neighborhood.