- German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck backed the European Union membership bid of Russia's Caucasus neighbor, Georgia.
- Habeck noted that Russia's 2008 invasion of Georgia likely marked a turning point in President Vladimir Putin's rule from politician to "tyrant."
- Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said that his government and the people of Georgia were "doing their best" to be a full EU member.
BERLIN — German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck backed the European Union membership bid of Russia's Caucasus neighbor, Georgia, saying that the country was "very much welcome" in the bloc.
Georgia, a former Soviet state situated to Russia's south-west border, applied for EU membership on March 3, 2022, one week after Russia's full-blown invasion of Ukraine.
The European Council has since said that it is ready to grant the country candidate status once a series of parliamentary, legislative and economic reforms have been met.
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But Habeck, who as Germany's economy minister is a key voice in EU politics, went further Monday, saying: "Europe is very much open for you."
"I know that your country is very much leaning towards Europe and you are very, very much welcome," Habeck said at the opening ceremony of the ITB Berlin conference.
Georgia is one of a number of countries in the region that have hastened their EU membership bids in the wake of Russia's invasion. Ukraine and neighboring Moldova applied for EU membership in February and March 2022, respectively, and were granted candidate status in June.
Tbilisi's bid is of particular note, however, given the country's earlier invasion by Russia in 2008, which resulted in a five-day war with hundreds killed and injured, and tens of thousands more displaced.
Today, Russia continues to occupy 20% of Georgia's internationally recognized territory, and Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to view the country as an integral part of Moscow's sphere of influence in the South Caucasus.
"Georgia also suffered from Russia aggression in the Caucasian war," Habeck said.
"The aggression of Russia on Georgia [in] 2008 was maybe the turning point when Putin became from a politician, a reformer for his country, to a tyrant," he said.
Russia's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.
Habeck was speaking alongside Georgia's Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, who said that his government and the people of Georgia were "doing their best" to become a full EU member.
"Georgia's bid has been recognized by the council of the European Union and we are even closer to our civilization of choice than ever before," Garibashvili said.
"The current efforts of every Georgian are directed toward the day when Georgia will eventually secure its place on the map of Europe," he added.