BRUSSELS -- Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze has expressed hope that his country will become a European Union member -- or be in the final stages of joining the union -- in 15 years.
Speaking to RFE/RL ahead of a meeting with EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, Baramidze, who is also Georgia's state minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, said that there were no specific timetables but that he had "some kind of time frame" in his mind.
"We know that neither Georgia is ready today nor [is] the European Union [ready] for Georgia to become a member of the EU," he said. "But in the future -- let's say in 15 years plus, minus, I don't know -- it is quite realistic to speak about Georgia's EU membership."
Baramidze's discussion with Fuele will focus on the possibility for Georgia to start negotiations on a deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement with the EU by the end of this year, following a visa facilitation agreement struck with the EU earlier this year.
Baramidze admitted that the status of the breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia make Georgia's deeper integration into both the EU and NATO harder. At the same time, he warned that Russia would have a direct veto of further enlargement of the two organizations if Georgia's future membership depended on the two regions.
Russia and Georgia fought a brief war over South Ossetia in August 2008, ending in the pro-Moscow region's declaration of independence, which has been recognized only by Russia and three other countries.
Brussels responded by setting up a European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) to oversee the situation on the ground. Despite being denied access to South Ossetia, Baramidze said he hopes that the mandate of the 200 monitors can be extended.
"We would like to see the European Union more engaged in this peaceful conflict resolution with Russia and be presented stronger in the future," he said. "We hope that EUMM can become a peacekeeping or a policing mission in the future."
Georgia -- along with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine -- is part of the EU's Eastern Partnership program. The initiative aims to forge closer ties between the Eastern European countries and the 27-member bloc but without the prospect of EU membership.