ONE POSITIVE consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been to invigorate and accelerate efforts by the European Union to deepen its relations with two other former Soviet republics: Georgia and Moldova. The signing of “association agreements,” with Moldova and Georgia removing trade barriers and travel restrictions, has been moved up to June. That should give those governments a powerful political boost with citizens who yearn to travel to or trade with the West.
Moldova and Georgia need the European Union’s help almost as much as Ukraine does. Both have been under mounting pressure from Moscow, which hopes to torpedo E.U. deals and force the two countries to join a “Eurasian Union” under Kremlin control. In Georgia, Russian forces that have occupied 20 percent of the country since a 2008 invasion have been expanding their fortifications. Western officials worry that Russian President Vladimir Putin may send forces to Transnistria, a separatist enclave of Moldova that borders Ukraine, or annex it Crimean-style.
Western governments could be doing still more to help the countries. Tougher sanctions on Russia could deter Mr. Putin from taking further aggressive action. While NATO cannot protect them from Russian incursions, its leaders could at least avoid unhelpful rhetoric. A statement by President Obama during his visit to Brussels last month that there are “no immediate plans” to invite Ukraine or Georgia into NATO may have been intended to reassure Mr. Putin, but pro-Russian politicians in Georgia seized on it as proof that the country could not depend on the West.
Ultimately, of course, the fate of the countries rests most on how their own authorities perform. The results are mixed. Moldova has a crucial election in the fall, and the pro-Western government trails the pro-Moscow Communist Party in polls, thanks in part to the tough reforms it adopted in order to win the E.U. association agreement. Pro-Western leaders must make the case to voters over the next few months that their sacrifices eventually will result in greater prosperity.
More vexing troubles plague Georgia, where a government chosen in a free election in 2012 continues to wage a self-defeating war against its predecessor. During a visit to Washington in February, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili got a meeting with President Obama but also a warning against conducting political prosecutions against the former government of Mikheil Saakashvili. On March 22, Mr. Saakashvili nevertheless was summoned for questioning by the public prosecutor, the usual prelude to prosecution. That followed the prosecution of his former prime minister and the removal from office of the mayor of Tbilisi.
Mr. Saakashvili, who is living in the United States, did not answer the summons, and the Obama administration swiftly issued a statement urging “Georgia’s leaders to focus the nation’s energies on the future.” If Georgia is to move toward the West rather than succumb to Moscow, the government will have to heed that advice.
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