French President Francois Hollande has completed a visit to Tbilisi, ending a three-day tour of South Caucasus countries aimed at developing relations with the European Union and dealing with security threats related to Ukraine’s crisis.
During his seven-hour visit to Tbilisi on May 13, Hollande met with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.
Georgia’s integration into the EU and NATO topped the agenda, as well as Russia’s role supporting separatists in Ukraine and in Georgia’s own breakaway separatist regions.
Margvelashvili told journalists after his talks with Hollande that Georgia rejects the May 11 regional referendums conducted by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
He said Georgia supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity and also backs Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election as a way to resolve the crisis.
Hollande said after the talks that the EU will increase sanctions against Russia and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine if the country’s May 25 vote is derailed.
Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania last week called upon NATO to position “defensive capabilities” within Georgia, even before it attains NATO membership, amid growing concerns about Russia’s role in the Ukrainian crisis.
During a visit to Paris last week, Georgian parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili also called for Georgia’s “faster” integration into the EU and NATO.
Hollande arrived in Georgia from Yerevan, where he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that he is urging the EU to find a way to enter into an association agreement with Armenia despite Yerevan’s plans to join a Russian-led Customs Union.
Hollande said the EU should seek and accept a “specific model for Armenia.”
“Europe must accept an agreement about an association with Armenia and Armenia can go with a trade-commercial union with Russia,” Hollande told RFE/RL. “It’s not a problem for me."
But he said Brussels and Yerevan must work together, and that it would be “compulsory” to “yield” on issues related to the Russian-led Customs Union -- which currently includes Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.
Earlier, in Baku, Hollande met with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
He said there that his tour of the South Caucasus was aimed at promoting a settlement to ongoing disputes between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh -- as well as territorial disputes over Georgia’s breakaway regions.
He said France supports the "territorial integrity of countries and the resolution of conflicts within their territorial integrity."
"The visit to the Caucasus is not aimed against anyone," he said. "Our purpose is to contribute to developing relations between Europe and independent partners. We don't want to prevent someone from cooperating with anyone."
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Armenian and Azerbaijani services, civil.ge, interpressnews.ge, and Interfax