The president of the country Salom Zourabichvili: We must stop thinking about how Russia will react, great support has arrived from Italy
Salom Zourabichvili first saw Georgia in 1986, when she was 34 and already worked as a diplomat at the French embassy in Washington. Yet she, born in Paris to two Georgian political refugees, had grown up with the myth of her country of origin: When you are in a family that has been forced to emigrate – she says to theCourier
– there’s this kind of addiction to the place you can’t visit. Zourabichvili today the president of Georgia, the first woman to fill this role, and came to Rome on a state visit, something that hadn’t happened for 25 years. All my interlocutors, from Prime Minister Draghi to President Mattarella, underlined that Italy with Georgia, in a moment of war like this, is a precious message that I bring home. There was also clear support for European integration he explained without hiding her satisfaction, a flash of light in her blue eyes.
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You described Ukraine as another s that under attack and we have already had this experience. How do you see the situation today?
tragic because there has been so much destruction and so many lives lost but at the same time I look at the struggle of the Ukrainians with great admiration because no one, especially Russia, expected such a resistance. When you saw miles of tanks marching on Kiev you had to be very strong to resist. This in itself is a victory, we do not know how the war will end but the Russians have already reduced their initial objectives. If you add the compact reaction of the EU, the American involvement, the resurrection of NATO and the opening to the enlargement of the European Union, it seems to me that Putin has lost a lot.
Why did Prime Minister Garibashvili not approve the sanctions at the beginning? Was there a difference of opinion between you?
Our people have had a spontaneous reaction of closeness to the Ukrainians but it is true that the government has been more cautious. However, we must consider that we have Russian troops on our territory and we feared their reaction. This cannot be ruled out yet. I, however, will be because I am older, I think it is time to defend our principles more clearly. And in fact we have approved all the sanctions. We are controlling our borders, because we are the corridor between Armenia and Russia. But the important thing is that we all agree on the issue of European integration. We have European values or rather Europe has Georgian values since we are a country of ancient Christian origins. If Russia tries to change our minds, she makes another mistake.
You said that entry into NATO is no longer a matter of years but will take place in a short time. Are you not afraid of the reaction of the Russian troops stationed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia?
We need to stop thinking about how Russia will react to this or that. We are an independent country and we make our decisions without thinking about whether Moscow will feel hurt or humiliated. No country thinks this way. We also have in our Constitution the objective of European integration which is now closer because we have seen a change in the EU countries on enlargement. The question of NATO is different, as we see with Sweden and Finland. A new package on Georgia will be opened tomorrow at the next summit. So there are also news on that front.
Could the soft reaction of the West to the invasion of Georgia and then of Crimea have encouraged Moscow to act in Ukraine?
I think the West wanted to believe that it could continue to do business with Russia as usual, the invasion of Georgia and Crimea were considered more accidents than actual violations of international law. Now, however, the war in Ukraine has made it clear what Russia’s goals are. We do not even know if, with a change of leadership, Moscow could choose a new strategy, for centuries the country has devoted itself to expansion, instead of seeking good relations with its neighbors.
If you were to give an evaluation of your visit to Italy, what would you say?
It is no coincidence that I came to Rome, I think the Italian authorities wanted to emphasize their support for Georgia at this specific time. Both the president and the prime minister have renewed their support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Italy has not always been very inclined to enlargement but is now one of the countries that supports it the most. And this was clearly stated by Prime Minister Draghi, President Mattarella and all my interlocutors. a precious message that I carry with me in Georgia, before returning to take a stop in Brussels where I will have a final meeting in view of the recommendations of the EU Commission and the decisions of the heads of state.
Do you think the European Union has kept you on standby for too long?
so much so that we are waiting to join the EU, I would say that we have been waiting for centuries, in the last 30 years we have pursued this goal with determination and despite the pressures we have suffered, we have not changed our minds. Russia’s war in Ukraine made it clear to European leaders that it was a mistake to make these countries wait too long. Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia and the Western Balkans need a clear message from the EU because waiting too long paves the way for Russian propaganda and its soft power.