Britain says Georgia 'key' security ally, bashes Russia
(TBILISI) - Britain's top diplomat on Wednesday praised Georgia, which is seeking to join NATO and the EU, as a "key security partner" and blasted Russia for bullying its eastern European neighbours.
"The UK sees Georgia as key international security partner and regional democratic role model," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond wrote on Twitter after meeting the pro-Western leadership of the tiny Caucasus nation.
Speaking at a meeting with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili in Tbilisi, Hammond praised the country's democratic and anti-corruption reforms.
But he urged it to work harder on ensuring media freedom, the independence of judiciary, and the democratic conduct of the upcoming parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for October.
Georgia's bid to join the European Union and NATO have infuriated its former master Russia, which opposes any NATO enlargement that includes former Soviet republics as a perceived security threat.
In August 2008, Georgia fought and lost a brief but bloody war with Russia over its separatist South Ossetia region.
The West and Russia are currently locked in a bitter feud over Moscow's meddling in Ukraine and Hammond criticised Russia for breaking "the rules of the international system".
"That represents a challenge and a threat to all of us," he said.
Just before the 2008 war, NATO member countries ruled that Georgia would one day join the alliance, but have so far refused to put it on a formal membership path.
In 2014, Georgia and the EU signed an "association agreement" aimed at bringing Tbilisi closer to Europe politically and granting Tbilisi a free trade regime on European markets.
On March 9, the European Commission put forward a legislative proposal offering visa-free short-stay travel to the bloc for Georgian citizens.