European Council president pays tribute to courage of Georgians

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, has paid tribute to the ongoing courage of the Georgian people in the face of Russian provocations.

Speaking at a conference in Batumi on the Black Sea dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership, Mr Tusk called Georgia “a small, but great nation”.

“As president of the European Council and as a Pole, for me Georgia is not only an important partner of the EU. When I say Georgia, I mean freedom, when I say Georgia, I mean pride, when I say Georgia, I mean courage. You are a small country, but a great nation. You have achieved impossible things, because you were, despite all the differences, united around a common goal, that was a free, independent and modern state,” said Mr Tusk.

Mr Tusk also hailed the success of the Eastern Partnership.

“When looking at the Eastern Partnership’s first 10 years, it is evident that thanks to it and through it, our relations have become deeper, more structured and more predictable. We have concluded Association Agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with Armenia, a new framework agreement close to completion with Azerbaijan, and a more transparent engagement with Belarus,” he added.

Mamuka Bakhtadze, Georgia’s prime minister, told the conference that the Eastern Partnership had over the past decade become “an effective political project that has taken the relationship between the EU and the partner countries to a new level.”

The Georgian capital Tbilisi has seen a number of protests in recent weeks, directed primarily at the country’s interior minister, Giorgi Gakharia.

The protesters have accused the minister of ordering the use of excessive force on June 20 to break up a demonstration against Russian influence in Georgia. More than 240 people were injured when police fired rubber bullets and water cannons to turn back an angry crowd that was trying to storm parliament.

The June 20 demonstration had been set off by the visit to Georgia of a Russian MP who was allowed to take the parliamentary speaker’s seat during an assembly of legislators from Orthodox Christian countries being held in Tbilisi.

Russia, which illegally occupies two Georgian regions, Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (South Ossetia), responded with a ban on direct flights to Georgia, whose western allies have rallied with a World Welcome to Georgia Campaign.

Earlier on June 11, Mr Tusk tweeted a firm response to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s claim that the collapse of the Soviet Union had been a “tragedy”.

“The collapse of the Soviet Union was NOT the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. Today in Georgia I want to say loud and clear: the USSR collapse was a blessing to Georgians, Poles, Ukrainians and the whole of Central and Eastern Europe. And also to Russians,” he wrote.