How and why the music was chosen is not known. But as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze exchanged kisses and signatures, the melody eventually morphed into the more stately sounds of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the European Union anthem, and the protocol faux-pas faded away.
Nonetheless, a dangerous hopak dance remains underway in Ukraine, a country especially on many people's minds in Georgia now and for several reasons.
The deepening crisis in Ukraine over whether to integrate economically with the European Union or Russia is both sowing worry and sparking anti-Russian defiance in Georgia, arguably the last steadily pro-Western Eurasian country east of Moldova. Yet, according to new Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, the Ukraine situation will only serve to further Georgia's integration with the EU.
This year, Georgia has seen two fellow ex-Soviet republics drop out of the pro-Europe club. First, next-door Armenia made a sudden choice to join the Moscow-led Customs Union; now Ukraine has taken a time-out from plans to sign off on a landmark agreement with the European Union.
The loss of Ukraine, arguably the Slavic country with which Georgian ties are chummiest, leaves some feeling a tad vulnerable.
“Ukraine would have been a very serious partner for us at the Vilnius summit. You stand more steadily on your feet when you have such a large country by your side,” said Tina Khidasheli, a senior parliamentarian for the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, Interpressnews reported.*
With its territory torn apart by separatism and with Russian troops hanging around within a stone/missile-throw away from its capital, you might think Georgia already has too much on its plate as far as security threats go. But Tbilisi, as always, likes to think several moves ahead.
During her visit to Georgia last November, the EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton invited Georgia to chip in some manpower for the bloc’s security projects, the Georgian Ministry of Defense has announced.
“We have received a proposal from [the] EU to consider Georgia’s cooperation with European security and defense institutions and contribution to its missions,” a March 18 ministry statement reads. Georgia said yes and is now working out the kinks, according to the ministry.
The details about the scope and nature of Georgia’s participation in the EU’s 500-men-strong Mali mission are not yet known. The mission will be training Mali's armed forces to deal with Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic militants who took over part of the West African country earlier this year before being repulsed mostly by French and Chadian forces, with help from Canada and the US.
The likely reasons for Georgia's decision to get involved are straightforward: Tbilisi owes a security favor to the EU for negotiating and monitoring the peace between Georgia and Russia, but, more importantly, the Mali job will help Georgia earn some points for its ultimate goal of joining the EU.
Security and energy topped the agenda on the first day of European Union foreign affairs envoy Catherine Ashton’s visit to Central Asia, disappointing campaigners hoping she would make vocal calls for improvements to what they see as the five states’ dismal human rights records.
Following the EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting in Kyrgyzstan on November 27, Ashton cited first security (due to the region’s proximity to Afghanistan) then energy and trade as key to “the growing importance of Central Asia.”
“We face shared security challenges. We have great potential to further develop our energy, trade and economic relations,” she said, only then pointing to the EU’s desire to “support the efforts of the countries of Central Asia as you take that journey of political and economic reforms.”
She listed topics of discussion as education; the rule of law; the environment; and energy and water resources (a particular bone of regional contention). “And we talked about democratization and human rights and the development of civil society,” Ashton then added.
Human rights campaigners had been hoping for stronger language from the EU foreign policy chief, who promised ahead of her visit in an interview with Radio Free Europe to make human rights “a core part of the dialogue.”
Armenian authorities denied entry on March 10 to a European Union-based television documentary crew that is taking an independent look at the Nagorno-Karabkah conflict.
Foreigners routinely obtain visas at Yerevan airport, provided they have appropriate support paperwork. The four-member television crew -- comprising a Lithuanian, Finn and two Estonians – all had valid documentation needed to obtain a visa. Yet, according to an executive producer of the project, Andrius Brokas, border officials denied the crew entry.
A representative of the Armenian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the crew had been barred from entering the country, citing technical reasons. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not grant visas inside the country upon arrival," the ministry representative claimed. "In addition, they did not address us for accreditation according to the set procedure."
Speaking by phone from Helsinki, Finland, Brokas said the documentary crew, is working on the documentary for broadcast by the Finnish National Broadcasting Company YLE. The group had coordinated the project with a local Armenian partner, AZD, a Yerevan-based production company. AZD representatives had assured Brokas that all necessary permissions had been obtained for four days of filming in Karabakh and three in Yerevan.
The television crew may have encountered problems at Yerevan airport because former president and current opposition leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, was among the individuals lined up for interviews. The documentary project also has conducted its own investigation into the Khojaly tragedy of 1992. Azerbaijani officials assert that Armenian forces slaughtered hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians in the incident.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov will visit Belgium on January 24 to meet the President of the European Commission (EC), Jose Manuel Barroso, the Belgian authorities and officials at NATO HQ, a spokesman for the EC has confirmed.
But officials at the EU deemed the sanctions ineffective and they were lifted in 2008, a move which prompted sharp criticism from human rights organizations. A year later an arms embargo was also removed.
Within days of the arms embargo being scrapped, Uzbekneftegaz announced the EU was “ready to develop cooperation on mutually beneficial terms” with the state-owned gas and oil company.
Uzbekistan’s strategic importance continues to grow as US and NATO forces become increasingly reliant on goods delivered via the Northern Distribution Network, a logistics line stretching from Western Europe to the Uzbek-Afghan border.
However, Jose Manuel Barroso, seems to gearing up to meet as many
resource-rich but democracy-poor autocrats as he can in the month of January; by next Monday he’ll be able add Karimov to a list that includes Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly
The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between the European Commission and Turkmenistan is now scheduled for adoption in committee in the first reading on January 25, 2011, and for voting in plenary on March 7, 2011.
The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on December 1, 2009, changed some technical aspects of such trade agreements, including decision-making procedures. A new "consent procedure" has replaced the old "assent procedure". The PCA is classified as an "interinstitutional non-legislative procedure". An absolute majority of MPs is needed to approve the PCA.
These changes are secondary to the main issues being debated by the European Parliament about Turkmenistan, however. There is some disagreement about the extent to which human rights have improved or worsened in Turkmenistan, and there is also some question as to whether or not Turkmenistan will participate in the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline.
Are the days of NATO as we know it doomed? Will Europe, instead of looking to the United states as a partner for its security, need to start looking towards Russia and Turkey, "the maverick guardians of the EU's eastern flank," as the Guardian's Simon Tisdall recently put it?
That seems to be the case put forward by a new report by the European Council on Foreign Relations. From the report's summary:
The report argues that Europe is becoming increasingly multipolar, and in danger of lapsing into separate spheres of influence. It argues that the US is no longer willing to engage in Europe's internal security, and instead, the main actors - the EU, Russia and Turkey - must come together in a trialogue to build a new European security architecture. Turkey's EU accession process must also be strengthened alongside recognition of its recent emergence as a credible regional power.
The move does not jive well with Tbilisi’s hopes for closer ties with the EU and increased European involvement in Georgia’s conflicts and domestic politics. Tbilisi often looks to the EU’s point man for the Caucasus, Peter Semneby, to help mitigate problems with Russian-backed separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. With plans afoot to relegate Semneby’s functions to a lower-ranking functionary in Brussels, Georgians now may have to look elsewhere for intercession.
As RFE/RL writes, the move "signals another lurch toward big-power politics within the EU." And one in which the South Caucasus and Moldova -- with their complicated, long-running separatist conflicts -- look likely to pull significantly lesser weight.
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