Trio Georgia-Moldova-Ukraine holds 'milestone' EU summit

Brussels has pledged an unprecedented investment package worth €2.3bn for the region

Photo: AP In this photo released by Georgian Presidential Press Office: (L-R) Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, Moldova's President Maia Sandu, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili and EU Council President Charles Michel, Batumi, Georgia, 19 July 2021.

The leaders of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine on Monday met European Council chief Charles Michel to push their EU membership bids, with Michel hailing the summit as a "milestone", news wires reported. Seeking to emerge from Moscow's orbit, the eastern European nations set up the Associated Trio diplomatic format in May to jointly advance their bid to join the European Union.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, Moldova's Maia Sandu and Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine held talks with Michel near Georgia's Black Sea city of Batumi, in the ancient clifftop Petra fortress overlooking the sea, AFP reported.

Addressing the three presidents, Michel said: "Our meeting here with you is an important milestone." He said the EU has pledged an "unprecedented investment package" worth 2.3 billion euros with the "potential to mobilise up to 17 billion euros in public and private investments for the region." "This strong EU support clearly shows the strategic importance we give to our partnership with you," Michel said.

At the end of the summit, the three presidents signed a joint declaration pledging to work together for their countries' "European future.""Accession to the European Union is a goal that unites our three states. European integration has no alternative for our countries," it said. "No third party could influence this sovereign choice," the presidents said, in an apparent reference to Russia, which has fiercely opposed the Soviet-era satellites' attempts to forge closer ties with the West.

In an effort to derail former Soviet republics from seeking EU and NATO membership, Moscow has lavished economic and military aid to separatist regimes in Georgia's breakaway enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and in Moldova's Transnistria region.

The refusal of Ukraine's then-president Viktor Yanukovich in 2013 to sign an association agreement with the EU triggered a revolt that toppled his pro-Russian government.

It was followed by Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, sparking an ongoing conflict with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova in June 2014 signed agreements with the European Union on political association and economic integration, including free trade and short-term visa-free travel.

The "association agreements" were designed for the countries' gradual move to the EU's political and economic standards but did not guarantee their membership in the 27-nation bloc.

Under the deal, the countries vowed to introduce sweeping economic and political reforms hoping to prepare them for eventual membership.

In 2019, the foreign ministers of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine adopted a declaration on European integration, affirming their intention to apply for EU membership.

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