Georgia's President Salome Zourabichvili says she continues supporting Ukraine NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with the president of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, who the Georgian government is threatening to sue over her support for Ukraine.

Georgia's president wants to stand up for Ukraine despite government pressure

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1088331723/1088331724" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Tbilisi, Georgia, where so many people we have met have told us they feel like the war in Ukraine is their war, their fight. Now, this is because Georgia has also fought Russia, most recently in 2008, when Russia attacked this small country on the southeast edge of Europe. Polls show that people here want their leaders to do more, to stand with Ukraine, to support Ukraine, and their president, Salome Zourabichvili, agrees, which has actually landed her in quite a bit of trouble. We're going to ask her about that. We're headed to her residence to meet her.

The presidential palace is all lit up at night - Georgian and Ukrainian flags side by side, framing the front steps. Inside, we're shown to her office.

Hi - Mary Louise Kelly, NPR - very nice to meet you.

We sit and note that tomorrow will mark one month since the invasion, and I ask President Zourabichvili her impression of how it's going.

SALOME ZOURABICHVILI: I think the first surprise is probably for the Russian leadership, for Vladimir Putin himself, who probably did not think that it would last that long, that was expecting something very different. And, in fact, he has gotten a completely different picture. He has really united Ukrainian population in a way that probably didn't expect. He has united Europeans in a way you didn't expect. And he has not been able, by the show of force, by this aggression, to obtain the rejection (ph) of the Ukrainian leadership.

KELLY: You have been speaking out very forcefully about the need to stand in solidarity with Ukraine. Many people worldwide have been speaking up about the need to stand in solidarity with Ukraine. Not very many people are getting sued for that. But that is the prospect facing you. What is going on?

ZOURABICHVILI: Well, that's internal Georgian politics...

KELLY: Yes.

ZOURABICHVILI: ...Which is very difficult to explain it. So I'm not being sued.

KELLY: But this is about - just to give a little bit of background to people listening in America who haven't followed every twist and turn of Georgian politics - right after the invasion, you traveled to Paris and Brussels to say, we need to stand with Ukraine. And a couple of weeks later, the government here, the ruling party, said that trip was unauthorized and unconstitutional. Was it?

ZOURABICHVILI: Well, one can always discuss the interpretation. The Georgian Constitution limits quite a lot of the powers of the president, but at the same time, it also includes a duty for the president and for everyone to do the utmost and whatever is possible to facilitate and promote and accelerate the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia. So it depends which one you look at it. And again, I'm not very concerned.

KELLY: I was going to ask if this lawsuit, prospect of a lawsuit, was an effort to silence you, and it sounds...

ZOURABICHVILI: Well, that would not work (laughter).

KELLY: ...Like, A - you're not that concerned, and B - the fact that I'm asking you about it in a nationally broadcast interview suggests that if that was the effort, it didn't work.

ZOURABICHVILI: No. It didn't work. And it doesn't work. And I'm giving very many interviews because I think it's very important at this stage that Georgia be on the map for two reasons. One is that we should have the whole attention because, clearly, there are also risks for Georgia, although not immediate, I would say. But we are in a place, geostrategically in a place, which is under constant - and you have been seeing that - under constant pressure from Russia. But also on the positive side, because there are these new windows of opportunities that are opening up and we are going to live in a different world, I think it's important that Georgia be present to seize all the opportunities that will be possible.

KELLY: Explain why not every political leader in Georgia might be so outspoken, why some might be wary of antagonizing Russia?

ZOURABICHVILI: Well, actually, I think it's a question of, maybe, personality also. Clearly...

KELLY: I mean, the central dilemma for Georgia, which is the risk of antagonizing a much...

ZOURABICHVILI: Yeah.

KELLY: ...Bigger neighbor...

ZOURABICHVILI: And I do not disagree. I mean, there is a question of presentation also. I do not fundamentally disagree with the fact that being in Georgia, being a country that is occupied - and you have seen how close this is to the capital - that we have to be more cautious in our statements and our positions than, let's say, the Baltic states that are now covered by Article 5 of NATO. So we are in this dilemma of not confronting Russia, not provoking, at least, Russian reactions but, at the same time, keeping our principles, which is solidarity with Ukraine, which is our closeness with European Union and NATO.

KELLY: But it's interesting hearing you talk about this moment as an opportunity for Georgia. I mean, it's an awful moment, obviously. Nobody wants to see...

ZOURABICHVILI: Yeah. Nobody's...

KELLY: ...The suffering we're seeing in Ukraine. But what is the opportunity you see for your country in this moment?

ZOURABICHVILI: Well, Ukraine has opened, in fact, a window of opportunity with the European Union in the most visible manner. And, in fact, Ukraine has presented the first - its candidature to the European Union, which was not expected in the near future, followed by Moldova and Georgia.

KELLY: You just applied this month...

ZOURABICHVILI: Yes...

KELLY: ...To join the EU.

ZOURABICHVILI: ...Right after Ukraine. And there is a serious rethinking of what should be the treatment reserved to these countries that are so close, that are, in terms of security, under serious pressure. But that will be the case for after the war, this discussion. And that's where everybody has to be ready. And it means that we'll have to do our part of the work, of course, for the reforms that will still be necessary. It's not a question of the door being open without any demands and any objectives...

KELLY: Right.

ZOURABICHVILI: ...For those to be met.

KELLY: But it sounds like you're saying events in Ukraine, totally not within your control, but - one way or the other, they're going to very much alter the course of events here in Georgia, in the country.

ZOURABICHVILI: They're going to alter the course of events for everyone. Nobody will be the same after this war, whenever that will be and whatever the circumstances of the end of the war, neither the United States nor Europe. Most of the countries will be changed after this war. We all know that there will be economic consequences for everyone, and the decisions that are going to be made afterwards will also affect all the countries in different manners.

KELLY: Salome Zourabichvili is the president of Georgia. Madam President, thank you.

ZOURABICHVILI: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.