.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili.

Salome Zourabichvili was inaugurated as the first female President of Georgia on December 16, 2018. She was born in 1952 and went to the Institute of Political Studies (1969-1972, Paris, France) and then onto a master's program at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs (1972-1973, New York, USA). From 1974 to 2004, Zourabichvili worked in the diplomatic service for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France in several embassies (including Italy, the United States, and Chad) and with French representations to international organizations (UN, NATO, Western European Union, and OSCE). In 2003, she was appointed Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of France to Georgia. From 2004 to 2005, she served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. After leaving the post, she founded the political party “The Way of Georgia” on March 11, 2006. Zourabichvili was an Associate Professor of International Relations at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, France (2006-2015). At the same time, she led the United Nations Security Council monitoring group on sanctions against Iran (2010-2015). Then in 2016, she won her election as an Independent Deputy in the Parliament of Georgia

Nash: President Zourabichvili, you have just concluded your visit with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels concerning Georgia-NATO relations. How would you characterize your meeting?

Zourabichvili: Very positively. This meeting was very important in that this was my first visit abroad since the beginning of the pandemic. To hold this visit in Brussels was a message to our NATO and European partners that Georgia is still firmly committed to its Euro-Atlantic path and that they should not forget that we are here, the strongest and most stable ally of the West in a very complex region.

Of course, we see this same commitment on the other side. Secretary General Stoltenberg, as I’m sure you heard during our press statement, was clear about Georgia’s progress and the level of our partnership. We had the chance to talk about the recently approved renewed Substantial NATO-Georgia Package that will allow Georgia to boost its resilience and preparedness by making our Defense Forces more sustainable.

An important part of our conversation was about the conflict we saw between Georgia’s two neighbors last year. Beyond being a real tragedy for the entire Caucasus, the war showed how important peace and stability are, not only for our region but for Europe as well. It’s in the interest of Brussels that every major actor be involved in long-term peace-building in the Caucasus, particularly the European Union, whether it is by strengthening the Minsk Group or by investing in crucial infrastructure across the region.

Nash: Can you comment on the reforms that Georgia is undertaking to enhance its ability to operate with NATO Allies and continue to contribute to shared security?

Zourabichvili: Indeed, a large part of our integration process goes through reforms. Our ambitions are implemented with the steps we keep taking to improve the interoperability of the Georgian Defense Forces with NATO. Georgia is moving from short- to long-term defense planning with its National Defense Strategy of 2020-2030. We’ve just completed the 12th cycle of the Annual National Program that sets annual reform goals with the help of NATO. And, of course, we maintain our defense spending at around 2% of GDP as the Alliance requires, a large part of which is for infrastructure modernization and major systems acquisition. I believe it was a recent Transparency International report that named Georgia one of the countries with the strongest and most transparent defense procurement systems in Central and Eastern Europe.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have switched priorities and diplomatic activity around the world, but Georgia is a great example of how we can use cooperation to our advantage. I think we should all recognize the great work that was accomplished by the Richard Lugar Lab during the early stages of the pandemic. The laboratory is an accomplished American investment in Georgia’s health preparedness. We can measure its success by the level of coordinated attacks and disinformation campaigns that were launched from abroad in the early stages of the pandemic.

Nash: Did you discuss other possibilities for cooperation?

Zourabichvili: It’s very important that Georgia is an active and one of the highest contributors to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, first in ISAF and then in today’s Resolute Support Mission. This shows that Georgia is part of the global effort for international security. We continue to help finance the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, along with our NATO partners, to ensure Afghanistan’s own sustainability and resilience.

But what’s the most pressing for our cooperation right now is the need for NATO and the European Union to focus their efforts on preserving security in the Black Sea. It is crucial that the Black Sea remain a sea of connectivity, of trade and of stability between East and West. The reinforced presence of our partners in the sea and the high number of port calls done by NATO members in recent years show that the Alliance is paying attention, but we need more security guarantees and more investment toward crucial infrastructure.

Nash: Do you feel confident that Georgia is making significant progress towards NATO membership?

Zourabichvili: Georgia’s progress is unquestioned. This is evident with the level of military exercises held by NATO on our territory every year. If it were not for the pandemic, Georgian and NATO forces would have participated together in the Defender Europe 2020 exercises, one of the largest NATO-led exercises in Europe since the Cold War.

What we see is a constant and consistent series of vocal statements, declarations, resolutions and decisions made in favor of Georgia’s integration from our partners. We witnessed this when we welcomed in Tbilisi the Secretary General, the Deputy Secretary General, the North Atlantic Council, the Chair of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, when I sat down with the NATO-Georgia Commission in 2019, 2020 and again this year during my Brussels visit.

Now is the time for the Alliance to provide for further solidarity and to show more audacity. Our integration is not only the path chosen by the Georgian people – a great majority of our population has supported NATO integration consistently for years now – but also a positive effect on the Black Sea region and on Euro-Atlantic security as a whole.

Even if the Alliance isn’t ready yet for a political decision on our membership, we will continue to advance toward NATO through sectoral integration and more cooperation and partnership both at home and abroad. What we want right now is more NATO in Georgia and more Georgia in NATO.

Nash: Did you discuss the security situation in the Black Sea region and Russia’s continued military build-up?

Zourabichvili: Georgia, and the Black Sea region as a whole, is a hub of trade, connectivity, communication and energy. The Russian military presence cannot be allowed to threaten the stability that is so important for Europe. We need a concrete and comprehensive NATO strategy on the Black Sea that will be based on securing its security.

The “United for a New Era” concept recognizes the security challenges of the Black Sea and even more, views them in the context of Georgian security. What I emphasized with the Secretary General during our meeting was that we hope to see more NATO and more Europe in the Black Sea in the coming years.

Nash: Do you feel confident that NATO will continue to support Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty?

Zourabichvili: Absolutely and totally. Statements supporting Georgia’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity have become more frequent with time, taking an almost daily form. This shows that Georgia’s conflicts are not being forgotten and that NATO is committed to keeping us high on its working agenda. The public support we receive is not just from NATO officials but from every member state of the Alliance.

The situation in the occupied territories today is dire. We continue to see kidnappings, an intensified borderization process on the occupation line and a grave humanitarian crisis that has worsened since the occupation regime closed the crossing points. This happens all while the Geneva International Discussions have been kept at a technical level, Russian representatives not being ready to engage in a discussion of the substantial issues in conflict resolution. That’s why we need to go back to the high political level format to give substance to the discussions and bring results.

About
Paul Nash
:
Toronto-based Correspondent Paul Nash is a frequent China commentator and serves as a Senior Contributing Editor at Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

a global affairs media network

www.diplomaticourier.com

Interview with Salome Zourabichvili, President of Georgia

January 28, 2021

On January 22, 2021, Salome Zourabichvili, President of Georgia, visited Brussels to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about the future of Georgia-EU-NATO relations. Our Senior Editor Paul Nash was able to discuss that visit with President Zourabichvili.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili.

Salome Zourabichvili was inaugurated as the first female President of Georgia on December 16, 2018. She was born in 1952 and went to the Institute of Political Studies (1969-1972, Paris, France) and then onto a master's program at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs (1972-1973, New York, USA). From 1974 to 2004, Zourabichvili worked in the diplomatic service for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France in several embassies (including Italy, the United States, and Chad) and with French representations to international organizations (UN, NATO, Western European Union, and OSCE). In 2003, she was appointed Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of France to Georgia. From 2004 to 2005, she served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. After leaving the post, she founded the political party “The Way of Georgia” on March 11, 2006. Zourabichvili was an Associate Professor of International Relations at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, France (2006-2015). At the same time, she led the United Nations Security Council monitoring group on sanctions against Iran (2010-2015). Then in 2016, she won her election as an Independent Deputy in the Parliament of Georgia

Nash: President Zourabichvili, you have just concluded your visit with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels concerning Georgia-NATO relations. How would you characterize your meeting?

Zourabichvili: Very positively. This meeting was very important in that this was my first visit abroad since the beginning of the pandemic. To hold this visit in Brussels was a message to our NATO and European partners that Georgia is still firmly committed to its Euro-Atlantic path and that they should not forget that we are here, the strongest and most stable ally of the West in a very complex region.

Of course, we see this same commitment on the other side. Secretary General Stoltenberg, as I’m sure you heard during our press statement, was clear about Georgia’s progress and the level of our partnership. We had the chance to talk about the recently approved renewed Substantial NATO-Georgia Package that will allow Georgia to boost its resilience and preparedness by making our Defense Forces more sustainable.

An important part of our conversation was about the conflict we saw between Georgia’s two neighbors last year. Beyond being a real tragedy for the entire Caucasus, the war showed how important peace and stability are, not only for our region but for Europe as well. It’s in the interest of Brussels that every major actor be involved in long-term peace-building in the Caucasus, particularly the European Union, whether it is by strengthening the Minsk Group or by investing in crucial infrastructure across the region.

Nash: Can you comment on the reforms that Georgia is undertaking to enhance its ability to operate with NATO Allies and continue to contribute to shared security?

Zourabichvili: Indeed, a large part of our integration process goes through reforms. Our ambitions are implemented with the steps we keep taking to improve the interoperability of the Georgian Defense Forces with NATO. Georgia is moving from short- to long-term defense planning with its National Defense Strategy of 2020-2030. We’ve just completed the 12th cycle of the Annual National Program that sets annual reform goals with the help of NATO. And, of course, we maintain our defense spending at around 2% of GDP as the Alliance requires, a large part of which is for infrastructure modernization and major systems acquisition. I believe it was a recent Transparency International report that named Georgia one of the countries with the strongest and most transparent defense procurement systems in Central and Eastern Europe.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have switched priorities and diplomatic activity around the world, but Georgia is a great example of how we can use cooperation to our advantage. I think we should all recognize the great work that was accomplished by the Richard Lugar Lab during the early stages of the pandemic. The laboratory is an accomplished American investment in Georgia’s health preparedness. We can measure its success by the level of coordinated attacks and disinformation campaigns that were launched from abroad in the early stages of the pandemic.

Nash: Did you discuss other possibilities for cooperation?

Zourabichvili: It’s very important that Georgia is an active and one of the highest contributors to the NATO mission in Afghanistan, first in ISAF and then in today’s Resolute Support Mission. This shows that Georgia is part of the global effort for international security. We continue to help finance the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, along with our NATO partners, to ensure Afghanistan’s own sustainability and resilience.

But what’s the most pressing for our cooperation right now is the need for NATO and the European Union to focus their efforts on preserving security in the Black Sea. It is crucial that the Black Sea remain a sea of connectivity, of trade and of stability between East and West. The reinforced presence of our partners in the sea and the high number of port calls done by NATO members in recent years show that the Alliance is paying attention, but we need more security guarantees and more investment toward crucial infrastructure.

Nash: Do you feel confident that Georgia is making significant progress towards NATO membership?

Zourabichvili: Georgia’s progress is unquestioned. This is evident with the level of military exercises held by NATO on our territory every year. If it were not for the pandemic, Georgian and NATO forces would have participated together in the Defender Europe 2020 exercises, one of the largest NATO-led exercises in Europe since the Cold War.

What we see is a constant and consistent series of vocal statements, declarations, resolutions and decisions made in favor of Georgia’s integration from our partners. We witnessed this when we welcomed in Tbilisi the Secretary General, the Deputy Secretary General, the North Atlantic Council, the Chair of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, when I sat down with the NATO-Georgia Commission in 2019, 2020 and again this year during my Brussels visit.

Now is the time for the Alliance to provide for further solidarity and to show more audacity. Our integration is not only the path chosen by the Georgian people – a great majority of our population has supported NATO integration consistently for years now – but also a positive effect on the Black Sea region and on Euro-Atlantic security as a whole.

Even if the Alliance isn’t ready yet for a political decision on our membership, we will continue to advance toward NATO through sectoral integration and more cooperation and partnership both at home and abroad. What we want right now is more NATO in Georgia and more Georgia in NATO.

Nash: Did you discuss the security situation in the Black Sea region and Russia’s continued military build-up?

Zourabichvili: Georgia, and the Black Sea region as a whole, is a hub of trade, connectivity, communication and energy. The Russian military presence cannot be allowed to threaten the stability that is so important for Europe. We need a concrete and comprehensive NATO strategy on the Black Sea that will be based on securing its security.

The “United for a New Era” concept recognizes the security challenges of the Black Sea and even more, views them in the context of Georgian security. What I emphasized with the Secretary General during our meeting was that we hope to see more NATO and more Europe in the Black Sea in the coming years.

Nash: Do you feel confident that NATO will continue to support Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty?

Zourabichvili: Absolutely and totally. Statements supporting Georgia’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity have become more frequent with time, taking an almost daily form. This shows that Georgia’s conflicts are not being forgotten and that NATO is committed to keeping us high on its working agenda. The public support we receive is not just from NATO officials but from every member state of the Alliance.

The situation in the occupied territories today is dire. We continue to see kidnappings, an intensified borderization process on the occupation line and a grave humanitarian crisis that has worsened since the occupation regime closed the crossing points. This happens all while the Geneva International Discussions have been kept at a technical level, Russian representatives not being ready to engage in a discussion of the substantial issues in conflict resolution. That’s why we need to go back to the high political level format to give substance to the discussions and bring results.

About
Paul Nash
:
Toronto-based Correspondent Paul Nash is a frequent China commentator and serves as a Senior Contributing Editor at Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.