Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Searching for regional allies of Ukraine


On July 19, 2021, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy paid a working visit to Georgia to launch the Associated «Trio» of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova at the level of heads of state. During his trip, the President of Ukraine visited the border of occupation with Abkhazia and took part in a conference in the city of Batumi, in which, in particular, President of the European Council Charles Michel took part. The conference and consultations between the heads of state were focused on security and Euro-Atlantic integration of the three countries, as well as the prospect for cooperation in order to achieve these strategic goals. After the conference, the presidents of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine signed the Batumi Declaration, reaffirming the three countries' commitment to European integration.

Before the arrival of Vladimir Zelenskyy, the Georgian side made a gesture of goodwill and released two Ukrainian yachtsmen imprisoned for illegal border crossing. According to the Mtavari TV channel, the sailors were released by an act of pardon signed by Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili. However, according to Mikheil Saakashvili, the pardon came under pressure from Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who refused to participate in the conference until the Ukrainians were released, while Moldovan President Maya Sandu was not going to fly unless there was a Ukrainian president in Georgia. There are still unresolved issues in bilateral relations between Ukraine and Georgia, as well as in relations with Moldova. Despite the rhetoric of official representatives, relations between the three states lack practical content in the form of appropriate actions in the direction of resolving existing contradictions and realizing the existing potential for cooperation, which would correspond to the level of the declared strategic partnership. And this, in turn, requires political will and a readiness to find consensus solutions. Considering this, as well as the internal political problems in the countries of an «Associated Trio», there are doubts about the ability of the three states that became victims of Russian aggression to unite their efforts and effectively develop strategic partnership.

During the years of V. Zelenskyy's presidency and after the election of Sandu in Moldova and Zourabichvili in Georgia, the number of controversial issues in the relations between the states have not decreased. For example, after the appointment of Mikheil Saakashvili as chairman of the executive committee of the National Reform Council in Ukraine in May 2020, Georgia recalled its ambassador for consultations and returned only this spring amid Russian activity on Ukrainian borders. And the fact that the trip to Batumi is the first visit to Georgia since the election of Volodymyr Zelenskyy as President of Ukraine, only confirms rather low level of bilateral relations at the present stage. In relations with Moldova, in addition to unresolved border demarcation issue, construction of hydropower plants on the Dniester and countering smuggling, the story of the abduction in Chisinau of former Ukrainian judge Mykola Chaus, who sought asylum there and is wanted in Ukraine for bribery, has been added. Thus, the inability to overcome the problems of bilateral cooperation leaves the possibility that the «Associated Trio» will repeat the fate of «GUAM», which despite the attempts of each new president to give a new impetus to the organization, did not become a serious regional initiative and did not fulfill its initial objectives.

Nevertheless, the launch of the Associated Trio, following the Lublin Triangle, is a continuation of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's foreign policy strategy aimed at strengthening Ukraine's position in the region through creating regional initiatives. To confront the big powers, the small ones unite in coalitions, as well as seek support from more powerful international players. Close interaction of the Associated Trio with the European Union could significantly enhance the potential of this format. The Batumi summit can be considered a preparation for the Eastern Partnership summit in December. This was confirmed by Zelenskyy himself in his words that the 3 states agreed on approaches to the forthcoming summit and stressed that he expects the geopolitical significance of the «Associated Trio» format to be increased. This rhetoric is in line with the intentions of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to recreate a differentiated approach within the Eastern Partnership program, which, according to the foreign policy leadership, «will expand the horizons of cooperation for the most interested and committed to the European vector of development partner countries, will contribute to their closer political, economic and sectoral rapprochement with the EU».

V. Zelenskyy at the same time emphasizes the need for political content in the framework of the interaction of the European Union with the EaP countries. However, Charles Michel's rhetoric indicates that the EU has a different vision and prioritizes economic and humanitarian cooperation. «We face many other challenges together: economic growth, climate change, digital transitions and promoting fair and inclusive societies. I firmly believe our Eastern Partnership can be a launchpad for greater cooperation in all these areas and more. It serves as a catalyst for democracy, good governance, reforms, the rule of law and reinforcing societies against destabilization», Charles Michel said.

Thus, the President of the European Council outlined three main priorities for future cooperation. Firstly, the acceleration of economic development thanks to an investment package of 2.3 billion euros, which the EU has allocated to the countries of the region. Secondly – the development of a common transport infrastructure, the creation of thousands of kilometers of roads and railways by 2030. Thirdly, the key point of cooperation, according to him, is the implementation of reforms, because a good governance is the key to unlocking the benefits that liberal democracy can bring.[1] Since democracy building requires a significant infusion of money, the European Union's economic initiatives will certainly help to strengthen democratic institutions in the three countries. However, it should be noted that today the European Union declares its readiness to cooperate more actively in almost all areas, except the main one – security area, thus leaving Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova one-on-one with revisionist Russia.

The Batumi conference became a platform where three countries participating in the Eastern Partnership once again emphasized their strategic goal – Euro-Atlantic integration and called on the European partners to define a geopolitical vision for the future of the Eastern Partnership initiative and to fill it with the political content. The countries of the «Associated Trio», in turn, face the task of developing and strengthening relations, as well as resolving the contradictions that exist between states. Only a comprehensive approach to regional cooperation within the framework of the «Associated Trio», as well as more active involvement of the European Union, will allow the Initiative to avoid the fate of GUAM and realize the existing potential of cooperation between Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.