Georgia tells EU to 'open its eyes' on Russia

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Western politicians need to open their eyes to what is going on around Russia, where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is building a modernised Soviet Union through his 'Eurasian Union' plan, says Giorgi Baramidze, Georgia's vice prime minister.

Because of the passive attitude of the West, Russia thinks it can use methods such as blackmailing to drag countries into the Eurasian Union, Baramidze told EurActiv in an exclusive interview.

In a commentary published by the daily Izvestia, Putin, who is also expected to become his country's president next year, appears to outline his geopolitical ambitions for the years to come.

As a departure point, Putin said the kick-off on 1 January of the Common Economic Space of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan (CES) a 'historic milestone'.

But Putin stressed that this union remains open for other members. "By building the Customs Union and Common Economic Space, we are laying the foundation for a prospective Eurasian economic union. At the same time, the Customs Union and CES will expand by involving Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan," he writes.

"The West should not be silent. What is happening before the eyes of the West is threatening the West’s interests," Baramidze warns, adding that a reaction is needed urgently.

Baramidze linked the short war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008, when his country lost sovereignty of two long-disputed regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as part of the same strategy. The push to build a 'modernised Soviet Union' started before the war in August 2008, he argued.

"Russia has always wanted to punish Georgia for its desire to be independent and to be part of the West and recently, [Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev said openly that what he did in 2008 was important in order to stop Georgia and other countries entering NATO," he said.

"There is a big room for the EU and the US to put pressure diplomatically and politically on Russia to stop the occupation of Georgian territories, because this problem is dragging us behind very, very severely. It is about the general development of the country. You could imagine how big a burden this is for us: 350,000 only internally displaced persons and in total half a million, counting the refugees," the Georgia official said.

Asked if the current trends in the EU toward a two-speed Union would favour his country, he admitted that a relationship of the type Switzerland or Norway could be envisaged, without prejudice to the goal of full membership in the longer term.

"EU membership is not immediate goal for us, although it is our objective," he said.

To read the full text of this interview, please click here.

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