Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia have more in common than you think. And it is not only the enemy in the face of Putin. The three states share similar energy security issues and security challenges in the Black Sea region, values and international trade opportunities, and unified perception of the future of our region.
In May 2021, these states set up a new format of their collaboration called the Association Trio. That is, Chișinău, Tbilisi, and Kyiv will coordinate their activities to join the next wave of EU expansion. They will work together on the way to membership in the European Union based on their Association Agreements.
Ukraine’s strategy of small alliances
The Association Trio is one of the three brand new regional alliances under the foreign policy strategy of Ukraine. The other formats are the Lublin Triangle with Warsaw and Vilnius; and Quadriga with Türkiye.
The initiative falls within Kyiv’s realpolitik strategy of small alliances. “Don’t wait until the others, be the first to act. Appreciate your partners but rely on yourself,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba singled out the country’s foreign politics for Lb.ua.
Ukraine remains realistic about EU and NATO membership. Affiliation with these unions will take time; however, Kyiv’s national security and the personal security of its citizens cannot wait. It unites its friends around common goals.
The Lublin Triangle focuses on the economics and practical aspects of NATO and EU affiliation. Both NATO and EU states are its members. The format allows for the collaboration of the governments, parliaments, NGOs, and the military of the three countries. For Ukraine, membership in the Lublin Triangle means being in the EU’s and NATO’s “sitting room,” Mr. Kuleba says.
Quadriga, in its turn, concentrates on security: enhancing Ukraine’s strategic military partnership with Ankara and strengthening Ukraine’s role in the Black Sea.
And at the heart of the Association Trio is first and foremost the political dimension.
One may wonder why these three countries? And how about three other states – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, that together with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova form the Eastern Partnership? The thing is, Yerevan, Baku, and Minsk never declared the plan to join the EU. Neither have they signed Association Agreements. What is more, in summer, Lukashenko announced Belarus’ withdrawal from the Eastern Partnership format.
The Association Trio was established in perfect time: between the triumph of Maia Sandu, a pro-European Union candidate, in Moldova’s 2020 presidential election and Eastern Partnership Summit in late 2021.
Created in May, the alliance saw the approval of Josep Borrelll, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in June when the Trio’s foreign ministers visited Brussels to assure the EU that they do not aim to undermine the European Neighbourhood Policy, explains Mr. Kuleba.
Already in July, the three states drew up the Batumi Declaration, materializing the alliance. In the Georgian capital, the presidents of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova agreed to cooperate on the highest level within the Trio.
How different are Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine in their European integration?
This month, the EU formally recognized the Association Trio in the statement within the Ukraine-EU summit on 12 October. Indeed, this is some great news for Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. United by common values and purposes, these countries are following different paths on their way to Europe. The key question here is whether Ukraine should apply for EU membership or not.
European Pravda spoke to the representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs from the Trio states to find out. Here are the insights.
Tbilisi appears the most ambitious state within the alliance. It plans to apply for EU membership in 2024. Despite the great plans, state officials recognise that Georgia still has not done its homework: it delivered 37% of the Association Agreement, with this number being the lowest among the three states. Meanwhile, Ukraine reports 54%.
According to Teimuraz Janjalia, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for European Integration, the strategy of Georgia here is to create a stimulus to reach a point at which the state is ready to become an EU member.
“This helps the government implement reforms more actively. This pushed the society to become more active when it demands reforms,” explains the diplomat.
Moldova is proceeding otherwise. Both the government and the president steer clear of a precise prognosis. In addition, the state refrains from statements about further European integration.
Andrei Popov, Head of the Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Moldova, says that the task of Chișinău is to show that it is making progress:
“We need to demonstrate that we are completing our homework. And when we have carried out reforms, achieved the result – then we would talk with the EU…”
Regarding Kyiv, it has not applied for membership at the moment nor predicted the year of its becoming part of the EU. Yet, Ukraine actively seeks the support of different states in the form of declarations in relation to its EU affiliation. Kyiv already has four such documents in its pocket and awaits the signature of the other three.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is trying to convince its European allies to grant it an officially recognised European perspective. The Eastern Partnership summit that will be held in November will be a good chance for Ukrainian and foreign leaders and senior officials from Brussels to bring the matter of the Trio to the table.
Approaches to applying to EU membership is not the only thing separating Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. What also differs is progress and priorities. When Kyiv is preparing to update the Association Agreement under which it has already performed a number of obligations, Moldova and Georgia have not started updating the annexes (Ukraine did so back in 2018). As for the priorities, Agreements on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Goods (ACAA) appear vital for Ukraine but uninteresting for Georgia and Moldova.
Despite the differences, there is an aspect Ukraine should take into account. Both Moldova and Georgia have the so-called association agendas, or plans for implementing their Association Agreements, because not only the Trio states but also Brussels is bound by the Association Agreements. Such plans would set out specific obligations of the EU with regards to, for instance, granting support or assistance to Ukraine as its potential member state. Another option to formalize the EU’s promises for Kyiv is to enshrine them in the document dedicated to the updating of the Association Agreement.
How the Association Trio may change the geopolitics of Europe
The Association Trio not only will help Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia on their path to Europe but also may change the current geopolitical reality.
Dmytro Kuleba calls the new format an instrument to change the geopolitics of the region.
First, it is bound to bury the concept of the “post-Soviet space” and Moscow’s ambition to create the new Soviet Union.
Second, the Associated Trio will encourage the states European integration which is much more than the EU membership. It also includes internal changes in each of the three countries, their domestic pains and challenges, the homework they need to complete.
Third, the example of the Trio, as well as the Lublin Triangle, will help Brussels develop the farsighted approach towards Belarus that it never had — as opposed to the Russian Federation. And we now see this in Lukashenka’s stance.