The Cable

Georgia and Ukraine Come Closer to ‘European Family’ With Visa-Free EU Travel

For Georgia and Ukraine, it's not just about freer movement. It's also about being freer societies.

giorgi

The European Parliament cheered millions of Georgians and Ukrainians on Thursday, announcing that their long-awaited visa-free travel within the European Union is nearly a reality.

The deal still needs to be officially approved by European Parliament as a whole, which should happen next week, and by the national governments of Georgia and Ukraine. But it’s already being hailed as a victory for the nearly 50 million nationals in those two countries. With the new rules, Ukrainians and Georgians will be able to travel freely to and within the European Union — just like people from the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Israel, and Japan.

Visa-free travel is a “major, historic step for Georgia,” Giorgi Kandelaki, Georgia’s Deputy Chairman of European Integration Committee from the UNM opposition, told Foreign Policy. He outlined an Odyssey-like journey for his country, a “journey that was interrupted by the Soviet occupation of Georgia, [a] journey that was reinvigorated with the [2003] Rose Revolution… this road has to lead to full-fledged return of Georgia to that democratic family.”

Frederica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, tweeted, “Visa suspension mechanism agreed. Fully committed on the last mile towards visa free for #Georgia and #Ukraine citizens.”

For Ukraine and Georgia, any moves toward closer ties with Europe or the wider West can be perilous. In 2008, mere months after NATO said that Georgia would join the defense alliance in the future, Russia invaded. In 2014, after Ukraine and the European Union came close to finalizing an “association agreement” that would have moved Kiev closer politically to Brussels, Russia invaded and later annexed Crimea.

But moving closer to the West and the European Union, despite the risks, is what plenty of Ukrainians and Georgians still want — even though enthusiasm for the European project in the EU itself is wilting.

In a statement, the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington said that this deal is a recognition that Ukraine is part of the European family. “Having stood up for the European ideals in Maidan in 2013-14,” the statement read, “and continuing to defend the eastern European frontier, the Ukrainians have deserved a right to travel freely to the European and develop more people-to-people contacts.”

The agreement on visa-free travel, said Giorgi Tsikolia, Charge d’Affaires at the Embassy of Georgia in Washington, is not just about the free movement of people, but also about the overall process of European integration. He said the program would help Georgia get closer to enjoying “the advantages of European democracy.”

He even hinted that the travel pact might help put together a sundered Georgia again. Georgia seeks to integrate into Europe as a unified nation, Tsikolia said. The bits of Georgia that are currently occupied territories — South Ossetia and Abkhazia are both underwritten by Russia, and Moscow recognizes them as “independent republics” — might see that “Europe and the developed world is opened for Georgia,” and that “being part of Georgian society allows that.”

Photo credit: VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images

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