TBILISI, DFWatch–French President Francois Hollande arrived in Tbilisi Tuesday at midday.
Hollande’s visit is the last stop of a tour of the South Caucasus. He was arriving from Armenia where he spent Monday, and before that Azerbaijan on Sunday.
Arriving at Tbilisi airport, the French leader was greeted by Georgia’s Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze, representatives of the president’s administration and other officials.
Panjikidze said it is an honor for Georgia to host the French president and that the visit is an expression of strong support from one of the most important members of the EU.
“Especially now when we are closer to signing date of the Association Agreement,” she said. “The French president’s visit is a special event in Georgia’s foreign policy history.”
German news agency DPA reported that Hollande’s stopover in Georgia will be the most closely-watched leg of his tour. Analysts draw a parallel between the Russia-Georgia war in 2008 and Russia’s current actions in Ukraine. The stated reason Russia invaded Georgia six years ago was to protect Russian citizens.
The crisis in Ukraine was sparked by deposed President Viktor Yanukovich’ failure to sign a similar agreement, after pressure from Russia. Georgia is to sign an Association Agreement with the EU by the end of next month, and some have worried that there would be some kind of pressure from the north to prevent the signing.
The French leader’s first meeting after landing was with Foreign Minister Panjikidze at the VIP part of Tbilisi International airport. Their meeting lasted 10 minutes, according to Interpressnews. Beforehand, Panjikidze said that they would discuss cooperation in defense and EU and NATO integration.
Hollande said afterward that his goal with coming to Georgia is to express support for Georgia’s signing of the Association Agreement with the EU and for its territorial integrity.
In his opinion signing the AA with EU will develop economic relations and that is why he said he is participating in a Georgian-French business forum later today.
Earlier, Hollande has emphasized that he does not want Georgia to be forced to choose between having good relations with either the EU or Russia.
“We don’t see the effort to develop closer ties with the European Union as being against Russia,” one of Hollande’s advisors told DPA, adding that the worst thing would be to force countries to choose between the EU and Russia.
Speaking to Georgian media today, he also welcomed Georgia’s decision to participate in military operations in the Central African Republic, adding that the decision is a good example of what Georgia can do as a partner now and as a member in the future. Panjikidze thanked him for his support.
Later, Hollande met with Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili in government administration office and thanked him for visit.
Finally, President Giorgi Margvelashvili is to host his French counterpart and there will be a bilateral meeting, followed by a joint press conference.
Hollande leaves Tbilisi by plane at 21:45 Tuesday evening.