Now, when the door of the European Union is open, please use this historic opportunity - with these words, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Latvia to Georgia Edite Medne calls on the authorities and citizens of Georgia to do everything for the integration in the Euro-Atlantic space.
How does the Ambassador evaluate the steps taken by the Georgian authorities to fulfill the 12 recommendations of the European Union, what could be behind the anti-Western propaganda in Georgia and what was the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on Latvia - Latvian Ambassador to Georgia Edith Medne spoke about these and other issues in an exclusive interview to InterPressNews.
On June 23 the European Council granted Ukraine and Moldova the EU candidate status and offered a roadmap for Georgia to qualify for the same status. European Union set out 12 conditions for granting Georgia candidate status. Based on your observations, how is Georgia implementing these recommendations of the European Union? In the last several months, do you see any progress in judicial independence, media reform, political de-polarization and de-oligarchization?
Thank you so much for your interest. We are following very closely the implementation of these twelve recommendations. But at this time, I would not want to rush the assessments because we still have time, because according to our timetable, the assessment of the implementation of recommendations will start only in spring and then an official conclusion from European Commission will be expected in October. And then, at the end of the year, the Council of European Union will make the assessment about achievements made by Georgia. But what I want to say, the Georgian people have expressed a strong will to be part of the European Union, and European Union has recognized Georgian's European perspective. The stakes are high and at this crucial historical moment, it is very important for all political parties, for NGOs, for civil society to come together and to work very closely together on the implementation of those recommendations and if necessary, to agree to compromise. Because at the end of the day, Georgian people will hold them accountable, have they fulfilled their aspirations or have they not.
The health condition of the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili is one of the most discussed topics in the country. After his last public appearance, it is clear that his health has worsened. What is your position towards Mr. Saakashvili, do you think that he should be transferred to a European country for treatment? And if yes - is Latvia ready to accept him?
Of course, we are following very closely all the information about his health condition. But now we have to wait for the court’s decision about the transfer issue. We do not know what the court decision will be. And of course, Georgian authorities are responsible for his human rights to be respected and appropriate medical care to be provided for him. But let's wait for the court's decision. Yes, but at this moment, we do not know the exact medical diagnosis. So we do not know if Latvia will be the best possible place. So again, we have to wait for court decision.
During the last months, the relationship of the ruling party, Georgian Dream, has become unfavorable with EU and US Ambassadors, as well with partners in general; In the country there is a political narrative, according to which the West is trying to involve Georgia into the war. What do you think, what can be behind the anti-Western propaganda in Georgia, and how can this damage Georgia’s integration into EU structures?
On 20 December, Prime Minister of Georgia invited all ambassadors and heads of mission to a Christmas reception. And he stressed that the West, the United States and the EU are the most valuable partners and strategic partners of Georgia. And also he praised the good work of US Ambassador Kelly Degnan. But of course, my colleagues and I have noticed some anti-western propaganda from People's Power political group and we are deeply upset to hear as if the West is trying to involve Georgia in war. Those accusations are so absurd, so I will not comment on them. And what's important is that Georgian people are aware of this because, according to the latest polls, 89% of Georgian people think that the greatest threat to Georgia is Russia, not the West.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, at the summit of Bucharest, said the Alliance would step up its support for Ukraine and other partners facing Russian pressure, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Moldova. According to him, the Alliance remains committed to the decision taken at the Bucharest Summit in 2008, and the door of NATO is open for Georgia. Do you see any chance for Georgia now to become a member of the alliance?
Georgia is a very important NATO partner. And Mr. Stoltenberg also said that if there is one lesson to be learned from Ukraine is that we need to support Georgia more and other countries who are under Russian pressure. But of course, it was also underlined that it's very important to continue to implement all democratic reforms in Georgia. So NATO door is open as well.
You were appointed as the ambassador of Latvia to Georgia a few months ago. How would you assess relations between Georgia and Latvia, what are the main features of relations between the countries, and in which direction should Georgia and Latvia deepen their cooperation? What are your advice to Georgia regarding the Euro-Atlantic integration?
Georgia is a friend and a very important cooperation partner to Latvia. And I see a huge potential in expanding our cooperation in such areas as information and communication technologies, climate change, green technologies, transport, logistics. And I also hope for closer cooperation between Georgian and Latvian higher education institutions and vocational schools as well. And of course, direct flights by the national airlines of Latvia, airBaltic, is yet another factor facilitating close cooperation between the two countries. It also helps to develop tourism and business contacts and people-to-people contact. And Georgia is a very popular tourism destination for Latvian people because Latvians highly appreciate the beauty of Georgia's nature and the kindness of people. And about our experience with EU and NATO, and I have to say that our accession to EU and NATO was a significant milestone in the history of our country because it was a major stimulus not only for our national economy, but also it brought stability and security to Latvia. And my advice is the door of the European Union is open. Please use this historic opportunity.
Russian invasion of Ukraine became one of the biggest challenges of the Western countries. Since the war started, Latvia is supporting Ukraine on international arena and provides the country with military and financial assistance. In August, Latvia declared Russia 'state sponsor of terrorism”, also your country plans to reintroduce compulsory military service and supports imposing stricter sanctions on Russia. How did the Russian-Ukrainian war affect your country, your security and stability, because Latvia has a border with Russia, and before the war, your country was highly dependent on Russian natural resources.
With Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine and Ukrainians fighting not only for their freedom, but also for our freedom, more than ever - international cooperation is extremely important. Per capita, Latvia has sent to Ukraine one of the highest amounts of military equipment and other support. From our own history, we know that freedom, democratic and independent state, all these values are priceless. You are absolutely right, before the war, we have been highly dependent on Russia’s natural resources, but not anymore. From the 1 of January, we will not import Russia’s gas anymore. Of course, it has a price. Prices in the country are rising up. Inflation reached 22%. But we realize that it is a small price to pay for solidarity with Ukraine. It is very important that our government has decided to support our vulnerable groups and help them to pay their bills this winter.
In Georgia arrival of Russian migrants has increased since the military mobilization started in Russia. This became one of the concerns of Georgian society, as the majority sees a threat in ethnic Russians. I want to ask you about your country, where nowadays about 25% of the population are ethnic Russians. Does the government of Latvia see them as threat, and what is the position of Latvia towards ethnic Russians living in the country?
We absolutely do not see them as a threat, because Russian community has lived in Latvia for centuries. For example, the ancestors of my grandmother’s family came to Latvia as refugees in Riga in the 17th century, because they were old believers and were persecuted in Russia. Now we have 24.4% of Russians living in Latvia and the majority of them are well-integrated and very loyal to our state. Of course, we have some problems, especially when it comes to the Latvian language.
Thank you, that was my final question. If you would like, you can address Georgian society at an important moment of our country.
First of all, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you. I want to wish all the best for the next year and to be more united and tolerant to each other.