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Moldova and Georgia Celebrate Opened EU Membership Talks

Lawmakers in both the Moldovan and Georgian parliaments waved EU flags and played the bloc’s anthem at Friday’s opening of their parliamentary sessions, following Thursday’s surprise announcement to open membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova and to grant candidacy status to Georgia. The announcement came despite strong opposition from Hungary and the fact that Ukraine and Georgia are partially occupied by Russia which also has troops deployed in Moldova’s Transnistria region.

Thousands of Georgians gathered in the country’s capital Tbilisi to celebrate, while Moldova’s President Maia Sandu invited citizens to a pro-European gathering scheduled for Sunday in the capital Chisinau to herald what she described as a “historic step for the destiny of our country.”

Moldova’s pro-Western Prime Minister Dorin Recean echoed Sandu, saying “Moldova is European” and “our future is in the EU.”

Speaking shortly after the EU leaders’ meeting, Georgian president Salome Zourabichvili said “Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova are the examples of what it means to fight for freedom, to fight for Europe, for those common values that we share with Europe and stay true to them.”

By opening membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova and by offering Georgia candidate status, the EU has sent “a very important message to Russia,” Natia Seskuria, director of the Regional Institute of Security Studies in the Georgian capital Tbilisi said.

Although the path to full membership could take decades, the move “has a lot of symbolism,” she said, because if the countries had been rejected “it would be another sign for Russia that they can basically do whatever they want.”

Both Moldova and Georgia were part of the Soviet Union for decades and both have struggled to emerge from Moscow’s shadow. On Friday, the Kremlin responded with irritation to the news.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the move was “absolutely politicized” and that it was driven by the bloc’s “desire to annoy Russia further and antagonize these countries towards Russia.”

Peskov said membership talks could take “years and decades,” adding “such new members could destabilize the EU.”

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Moldova has faced a long string of crises, including a severe energy shortage after Moscow dramatically reduced gas supplies last winter, skyrocketing inflation, and anti-government protests by a Russia-friendly political party.

In February, Moldovan President Maia Sandu also accused Moscow of plotting to overthrow the government to put the nation “at the disposal of Russia,” and to derail it from its course toward EU membership. Russia denied the accusations.

Debris from rocket fire has also landed several times in Moldova as a result of fighting in neighboring Ukraine. Tensions also soared in the country in April last year after a string of explosions in Transnistria — a Russia-backed separatist region of Moldova where Russia bases about 1,500 troops.

Russia also has forces in Georgia after the two countries fought a short war in 2008 that ended with Georgia losing control of two Russia-friendly separatist regions. In November, Russian troops shot and killed a Georgian civilian in South Ossetia, one of the breakaway regions, prompting condemnation from Georgian authorities.

Seskuria, from the Regional Institute of Security Studies, said EU membership has been a “generational dream for Georgians.” Although it’s Georgia’s “biggest success” so far toward EU membership, Seskuria cautioned that there’s still a “long way ahead” and warned Georgia needs to deliver on the kind of progress the EU is seeking for the country to fulfill strict membership criteria.

That applies for all three countries which need to tackle corruption and organized crime while strengthening the rule of law.

Membership could also heighten tensions in Georgia where Salome Zourabichvili, Georgia’s pro-EU president, has long been a vocal supporter of joining the bloc, putting her at odds with the ruling Georgian Dream party which is widely seen as being pro-Russian by the Georgian opposition.

Zourabichvili led a pro-EU rally in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi Dec. 9 and also criticized a foreign agent registration bill which protesters in Tbilisi earlier this year said was inspired by a similar law in Russia used to silence critics of the Kremlin.

Opponents of Georgian Dream say the party’s founder, former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire who amassed a fortune in Russia, has continued calling the shots in the former Soviet republic of 3.7 million people even though he currently doesn’t hold a government job.

Georgian Dream has repeatedly denied any links to Russia or that it leans toward Moscow.

Source: France24