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

Georgia's President Salome Zourabichvili has been outspoken in her support of Ukraine as the country defends itself against Russia's invasion.
Claire Harbage
Georgia's President Salome Zourabichvili has been outspoken in her support of Ukraine as the country defends itself against Russia's invasion.

Updated March 29, 2022 at 8:06 AM ET

TBILISI, Georgia — In this country on the southeastern edge of Europe, many people feel that the war in Ukraine is also their fight.

Part of this stems from the fact that Russia has invaded its neighbor Georgia, too, most recently in 2008.

Polls suggest the Georgian people want their leaders to do more to support Ukraine. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili agrees — even if her outspoken position puts her at odds with members of her country's governing political party.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Zourabichvili traveled to Paris and Brussels to share her message about the need to stand with Ukraine.

A couple of weeks later, Georgia's governing political party warned her that the trip went beyond her role as president.

In an interview last week with NPR's All Things Considered, Zourabichvili said she is not too concerned and that efforts to silence her won't work.

A former French diplomat and ex-Georgian foreign minister, Zourabichvili won the presidency of Georgia in 2018 with the backing of the governing Georgian Dream party.

Zourabichvili acknowledged that the Georgian constitution puts limits on presidential powers. But, she said, "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."

Side-by-side Georgian and Ukrainian flags framed the front steps of the presidential palace when NPR visited her office last week, just as the Russia-Ukraine war was about to pass the one-month mark.

Zourabichvili spoke about the war, why other politicians in Georgia might not be so outspoken and Georgia's application to join the European Union that it submitted early this March.

This excerpt of the interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

On why other political leaders in Georgia might not be so outspoken against what's happening in Ukraine

I think it's a question of, maybe, personality. 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, 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 [the] European Union and NATO.

On the opportunities this moment presents for Georgia

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. 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.

On how the war in Ukraine will alter events in Georgia

They're going to alter the course of events for everyone. Nobody will be the same after this war, whatever 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.

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Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.