Overwhelming majority of Georgians favour EU integration, fear Russia

Overwhelming majority of Georgians favour EU integration, fear Russia
By bne IntelliNews May 2, 2018

Some 75% of Georgians would like to see their country join the European Union, a poll by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has shown. 

Given the choice between joining the EU or the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), 65% opted for the EU and 21% for the EEU. 

Looking at the reasons for wishing to join the EU, 63% of respondents thought it would improve the Georgian economy, while other benefits were seen as security, democratic development, the right to visa-free travel in the EU and job creation. The biggest downside was the potential to create conflict with Russia. 

Respondents were also split over the country’s national security, with 59% saying Georgia is a safe country compared to 37% who disagreed; positions have polarised since April 2017, when the split was 52% to 43%. 

Russia was considered the biggest threat to Georgia by 63% of respondents, with just 8% picking Turkey and 5% the US. 

When asked about the top threat to national security, 53% picked factors related to Russia, with 33% saying “Russian military aggression”, 11% the “occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia” — two Georgian breakaway republics backed by Moscow, 7% “Russian propaganda” and 2% “economic dependency on Russia”. 

The top threat not related to Russia was terrorism, picked by 9% of respondents, followed by “Turkey’s interests in Georgia” (5%). 

Meanwhile, 26% of respondents thought membership in Nato would most help ensure Georgia’s national security, with 17% saying Georgia strengthening its defence capacities on its own, and 10% picking EU membership. 

Somewhat surprisingly, given the position of most respondents on Russia, 43% considered the dissolution of the Soviet Union to have been good for Russia, and an extremely close 43% thought it was bad for the country. 

Opinions were more divided over the direction the country is going in, with 39% saying the country is going in the wrong direction, compared to 29% each who said it was going in the right direction or not changing at all. Opinions were also split over the performance of the current government, with more respondents rating it as “average” than either good or bad. 

Data over time shows that a majority consistently thought Georgia was going in the right direction between 2009 and 2013, but since then positions have fluctuated. 

The poll was based on 2,194 interviews carried out between March 20 and April 4. It was funded with UK aid.