Georgia, Moldova Formally Apply for EU Membership Amid Russia's Invasion of Ukraine
(Left to right) European Council President Charles Michel, Moldovan President Maia Sandu, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, address a conference during a summit in Georgia's Black Sea city of Batumi in July 2021. Image: President.gov.ge
(RFE/RL) Two former Soviet republics, Georgia and Moldova, have formally applied for European Union membership, after their ambitions were accelerated in the shadow of Russia's full-scale invasion of nearby Ukraine.
The newfound initiative in the two countries -- where Russian troops are positioned in defiance of local and international opposition -- follows Ukraine's decision to press its demands for EU membership since tens of thousands of Russian troops crossed its borders from the east, south, and via Belarus from the north.
The EU accession process usually takes years and requires meeting strict criteria that takes into account such factors as economic stability, the level of corruption, and respect for human rights. Unanimity among the 27-nation bloc is required to allow new members in.
"The application for EU Membership is yet another milestone on the path of European integration of Georgia -- it is a stage, which turns a new page in our history and continues the effort of our ancestors, which is aimed at the accession of Georgia into a common European family," Prime Minister Irakli Garabishvili said in a statement posted on the government's website on March 3.
Hours later, Moldovan President Maia Sandu told reporters that she was "signing a request to join the European Union"
Georgia's and Moldova's efforts to forge closer ties with the West have long angered Russia.
Moldova shares a roughly 1,200-kilometer border with Ukraine, including Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester, which has a heavily Russian-speaking population.
Georgia has a nearly 900-kilometer-long border with southern Russia, including the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whose independence Moscow has backed diplomatically and militarily since a five-day war in 2008.
Tbilisi and Chisinau have each resisted joining EU-wide sanctions against Russia since the Ukraine escalation.But Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, announced his party's decision "to immediately apply for the EU membership" at a news conference on March 2.
Georgia had been planning to submit the application in 2024, but the party decided to apply in an expedited manner due to the changed situation in the world.
Two sources close to the Moldovan government who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak officially suggested to an RFE/RL correspondent that a decision had been made late on March 2 to apply the following day.
But they later said the plans were on hold.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu issued a fresh call in 2020 for Moscow to withdraw its 1,500 or so holdover troops from a post-Soviet separatist dispute in the region.
Separatists in Transdniester, the sliver of land between the Dniester River and the Moldovan–Ukrainian border, have effectively controlled the area since shortly after the Soviet Union's disintegration in the early 1990s.
Both Georgia and Ukraine have signed Association Agreements with the EU "on economic integration and political approximation" and free trade, which are not guarantees for eventual membership.
As Russian troops continued their attacks this week throughout Ukraine, officials in Kyiv suggested they were awaiting signals of an EU willingness to accept an accelerated Ukrainian application for membership.