On Monday (8 December), Foreign Minister Frank-Walter-Steinmeier travelled to Tbilisi, where his schedule included a meeting with his new counterpart Tamar Beruchashvili. The topics for his two-day visit to the country in the South Caucasus were Georgia’s closer ties to Europe, bilateral relations and the relationship with Russia in view of the conflict in Ukraine.
The Ukraine crisis was also a major topic of the talks during Steinmeier’s last visit to Georgia in April this year. Once again, the talks during his current visit focused on Georgia’s concerns and the grave alarm arising from Russia’s annexation of Crimea in violation of international law and the dangerous situation in eastern Ukraine.
Steinmeier met interlocutors including President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on Monday (8 December) and Tuesday (9 December). Upon his arrival on Monday afternoon, he met his new counterpart, Tamar Beruchashvili, who only took over as foreign minister in November.
The two foreign ministers gave a joint press conference after their talks. Steinmeier underlined the high quality of German-Georgian relations, which he said had recently seen “a gratifyingly high number of bilateral visits.” As a symbol of the special closeness between the two countries, Steinmeier also pointed out that 2,800 young people from Georgia are currently studying in Germany. In the presence of the two foreign ministers, a further important foundation was then laid for the future of German-Georgian relations with the signing of the contract for a new building for the German School in Tbilisi on the margins of the meeting between Steinmeier and Beruchashvili.
Supporting de-escalation of the conflict in Ukraine
The two foreign ministers also discussed current international topics, with a focus on the conflict in Ukraine. During his political talks with Georgia’s leaders, Steinmeier said that he sympathised with the concerns of Russia’s neighbouring countries. During the NATO and OSCE summits the previous week, he had underlined how important it was to do everything possible to de-escalate the situation. He also said that the implementation of the Minsk Protocol was crucial in bringing about de-escalation.
Looking back on his latest talks with all sides, Steinmeier observed that although there were no grounds for optimism, the situation might possibly calm down if all sides continue to work on establishing the line of disengagement in eastern Ukraine as an element of the Minsk Protocol and if they adhere to the agreed line. Once again, he called on all those involved to be aware of their responsibility. Steinmeier said that helping to de-escalate the conflict is not only important as regards security in Ukraine, but is also crucial as regards not “completely destroying Europe’s security architecture.”
Relations between Georgia and Russia have been strained since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Georgia accuses Russia of supporting the separatist ambitions in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been suspended since the war in August 2008. Commenting on the recent signing of a “partnership treaty” with Abkhazia at Russia’s instigation, Steinmeier said that Germany would not recognise this agreement “in any way” and reiterated that “Germany stands by the principle of territorial integrity based on international law.“
Supporting closer ties between Georgia and the EU
Another important topic was the South Caucasian country’s closer ties with the European Union. Georgia and the European Union signed an Association Agreement in June 2014. Provisional application of the Agreement began on 1 September 2014. Speaking in Tbilisi, Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed that relations between Georgia and the EU were developing positively and promised that Germany would continue to support the country’s reform path.
Die georgische Regierung spricht sich für eine euroatlantische Perspektive des Landes aus: Dafür hatte das georgische Parlament am 7. März 2013 einstimmig eine Erklärung verabschiedet, die die Integration Georgiens in die europäischen und transatlantischen Strukturen als prioritäres Ziel für die nachhaltige demokratische Entwicklung des Landes bestätigt.
During his visit, Foreign Minister Steinmeier also held talks with representatives of civil society who are campaigning for dialogue with the Abkhazian minority and are part of a project by the Berghof Foundation. This project is funded by the Federal Foreign Office.
On to Yekaterinburg
Following his talks in Tbilisi, Steinmeier travelled on to Russia on Tuesday morning (9 December). He gave a lecture on prospects for cooperation to students of Ural Federal University in Yekaterinburg, where he also held talks with the regional governor and members of civil society.
In his speech to the university’s students, among them many future political scientists, the German Foreign Minister addressed the past and future of German-Russian relations, focusing on the latest developments in view of the conflict in Ukraine. In particular, he warned that political alienation must not be followed by the alienation of societies, and called for contacts between civil societies.