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Experts: Georgia’s NATO accession remains hazy in foreseeable future

23:38 | 29.04.2017 | Analytic

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29 April 2017. PenzaNews. Georgia’s course to join the European Union and NATO will now be fixed in the constitution of the country. This was stated by Irakli Kobakhidze, Speaker of the Georgian parliament, Chairman of the state commission working on the draft amendments to the country’s basic law.

Experts: Georgia’s NATO accession remains hazy in foreseeable future

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“Both the ruling team and the majority of the political spectrum have formed position concerning foreign policy of the country. The main priority is integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic structures, which was reflected in the resolution passed by the parliament last year, and this course will also be fixed in the Georgian Constitution,” Irakli Kobakhidze said and added that the interim 11th chapter of the Constitution will include the need to “take all measures to ensure full integration of Georgia into the EU and NATO.”

According to the sociological survey by the American International Republican Institute (IRI), Georgia’s NATO membership is fully supported by 56% and partly by 26% of the citizens. Meanwhile, answering a question about when Georgia will become a member of the alliance, 14% of respondents expressed the opinion that this will never happen, and 42% of people found it difficult to answer.

Commenting on Tbilisi foreign policy, Arno Khidirbegishvili, publicist, political scientist, journalist, and head and editor-in-chief of Gruzinform agency, said that officially Georgia is implementing a program of strategic partnership with NATO.

“Georgia is the largest contributor of forces in Afghanistan, it has a joint NATO-Georgia training center and the training center of the alliance will be opened here. In addition, Georgia regularly conducts joint exercises on its territory with the participation of NATO members and states seeking to join the alliance, such as Ukraine. The authorities are actively working with the NATO mission in Georgia. NATO press center operates here and they hold various conferences,” the expert told PenzaNews.

However, according to him, the real possibility of Georgia's joining the alliance is not yet being discussed.

“As for the specifics, the NATO leadership and former US President Barack Obama repeatedly told us that in the near future we need to focus on the conditions for meeting NATO requirements, but should not expect membership in the foreseeable future,” Arno Khidirbegishvili reminded.

In his opinion, Georgia’s NATO accession is complicated by the question of the country’s borders in which it should become a member of the North Atlantic alliance.

“Unlike Tbilisi, Moscow and some other countries consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia independent. The Georgian authorities are certainly not ready to enter NATO within the borders recognized by Russia, since this will also mean recognition of the independence of the republics. No one will take the country into the alliance with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Therefore, I think that in the next few years we will be fed with empty hopes,” the journalist said.

However, in his opinion, NATO is highly interested in cooperation with Georgia.

“It is not so much Georgia entering NATO – no one knows when it becomes a member – as NATO has already ‘entered’ Georgia. There are yet no NATO bases, but there are official structures, training centers. In addition, Tbilisi signed and actively participates in the strategic partnership program on security in the Black Sea region, developed by the NATO countries. If Georgia becomes a member of NATO, then the alliance base may appear in the Black Sea, and NATO members will be able to use the ports of Batumi and Poti for a longer period,” Arno Khidirbegishvili explained.

Grigory Shvedov, editor-in-chief of Kavkazskiy Uzel web-based media, also said that the territorial issue is “a stumbling block for Georgia's accession to the alliance.”

“Such ballast as South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are de jure Georgia’s territories, but de facto are partially recognized regions, does not allow the country to join NATO. Georgia's entry into the alliance in the status of a country that has unsettled territorial conflicts is extremely unlikely. This will immediately lead to a series of commitments that NATO will have to Tbilisi as its member, suffered from aggression, to restore the integrity of the borders,” the expert said.

Besides, in his opinion, we cannot expect an early resolution of the territorial problem.

“It is unlikely that within 10 years Georgian politicians will begin the policy of recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia independence. The country would have very high chances of joining the alliance in case of recognition of self-proclaimed republics, but such a development should not be expected even in the long term. That is, it will not be possible to discard the ballast,” Grigory Shvedov said.

Meanwhile, according to him, Georgia's desire to join NATO and the EU has a significant impact on bilateral ties with Russia.

Georgia's course after [Mikhail] Saakashvili has changed: it became less critical towards Moscow. Nevertheless, the desire of neighboring countries to join the EU and NATO makes Kremlin nervousness and anxious,” editor-in-chief of Kavkazskiy Uzel said.

In turn, Ilgar Velizade, Head of the Baku-based South Caucasus Club of Political Scientists, drew attention to the fact that many Western countries point to the need for NATO reform.

“NATO is the only full-fledged military-political alliance in the world. At the same time, if we evaluate it through a historical prism, there is no doubt that it is a vestigial of the old system of international relations that dominated the world before 1990 and was characterized by a confrontation between the two blocs – NATO and the Warsaw Pact bloc. After 1990, when the Warsaw Pact was disbanded and the inter-bloc confrontation ended, the organization underwent a major transformation and was changed from the deterrence structure into a structure that implements the goals of military and political domination. This is what it is now. Figuratively speaking, NATO is an aircraft carrier in the sea, teeming with torpedo-boat destroyers and cruisers. It is still prestigious, but there are problems of maneuverability and controllability, caused by gradual moral depreciation. Therefore, Western countries’ call for reform of NATO is sounding more often,” the expert said.

He also stressed that the issue of Georgia's membership is in the exclusive competence of NATO.

“According to the reaction from Brussels, the NATO countries do not hurry to see Georgia in their ranks, as this will greatly aggravate relations with Russia. NATO will have not only to reckon with Tbilisi's opinion on issues related to Moscow, but largely build on this opinion. And a lot of the bloc members are not ready for such development. Moreover, there are countries that oppose this. In the face of the already difficult relations between the West and Russia, in the near future Georgia's accession to NATO seems unlikely,” Ilgar Velizade explained.

In his view, full restoration of the bilateral ties between Moscow and Tbilisi may become possible only in the distant future.

“Unfortunately, we cannot expect a successful dialogue between Georgia and Russia under the existing conditions. The restoration of the relations between Moscow and Tbilisi maybe possible only if Moscow withdraws recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Today this looks fantastic, however,” the political scientist added.

Meanwhile, according to Vadim Kozyulin, senior fellow at the Center for Political Studies of Russia, also reminded that NATO was created to contain the USSR and its allies in the middle of the 20th century.

“A couple of decades ago the organization was in crisis: the reason why it was created has vanished and the military made efforts to convince themselves, the leadership and the people of NATO countries in the significance of the alliance. Today, tension has grown, and NATO generals have again become popular media persons,” the expert said.

At the same time, in his opinion, the situation in the world is not as tense as it is presented by NATO.

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“Two facts confirm this. Firstly, the European Union is in no hurry to begin negotiations with Russia on arms limitation. Secondly, even Donald Trump cannot make Europeans spend the declared 2% of GDP on defense. When there is a real threat, military spending immediately increases. But if no one cares about increasing military spending, it means that in reality there is no danger, and politicians understand that this is an information campaign,” Vadim Kozyulin explained.

He also noted that Georgia cannot expect joining the alliance in the foreseeable future.

“In the coming decades, the road to NATO is closed for Georgia. Tbilisi has a territorial conflict, and such luggage cannot be accepted to NATO. However, an unattainable goal, even deceptive, becomes only more tempting,” the analyst added.

At the same time, good relations between Georgia and Russia have a special significance for both countries, he said.

“Georgia has always been a source of cultural attraction for Russia. Georgian culture, cuisine, poetry, cinema, all these became part of Russian culture for the citizens of the Russian Federation. Russia is a great neighbor of Georgia, the peoples of our countries are historically closely connected. So it was, and I guess it will continue in the future. Otherwise, Russians will lose a part of their own history and culture, and Georgia will become a province lost between Europe and Asia,” senior fellow at the Center for Political Studies of Russia said.

In turn, George Hewitt, professor of Caucasian languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies, a fellow of the British Academy and the honorary consul for Abkhazia to the UK, noted that many countries that support Georgia in the territorial issue historically have difficult relations with Moscow.

“In the current irrational climate of anti-Russian hysteria that has swept across the Western world, Georgia can expect ever more visits and voluble statements of support for its ‘territorial integrity’ from representatives of NATO itself and the organisation’s member-states. A good many of the latter have historical reasons of their own to harbour negative feelings towards Russia, and these no doubt contribute to their eagerness to speak in favour of Georgia’s position vis-a-vis both the territories that have seceded – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – and relations with Russia — take, for example, the recent visit to Tbilisi of Estonia’s Foreign Minister Sven Mikser. But such visits, statements or votes in assemblies like the European Parliament, the Council of Europe or the UN have not altered the situation in any meaningful way, nor are they likely to in future,” the analyst explained.

He also reminded that when the USSR disintegrated, Georgia was not one of the former Soviet republics to be recognised immediately, and for very sound reasons.

“Unfortunately, this changed when recognition was given, diplomatic relations were established by most countries, and Georgia was granted membership of the UN and World Bank in the spring of 1992, all at a time when the internal situation in the republic in no way justified such favourable steps being taken by the international community. This utter folly resulted from ignorance of the local state of affairs and total lack of concern for the likely consequences that might follow: for example, war and destruction in Abkhazia,” George Hewitt said.

According to him, Georgians always espoused ever closer ties with Western institutions.

“After the irresponsible President George W. Bush proposed NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine at the Bucharest summit in April 2008 that the aspiration seemed to be remotely realisable. Mercifully, Saner counsels prevailed, but certain East European members insisted that total rejection of the idea was unacceptable, and so a Membership Action Plan (MAP) was virtually promised for the next summit that December. With NATO membership at the very least questionable for aspirational states involved in internal territorial conflict – no ceasefire has ever been signed between Tbilisi and either Sukhum or Tskhinval – Georgia’s mercurial then-president, Mikhail Saakashvili, was minded to try to solve the irritations presented by Abkhazia and South Ossetia before NATO’s December meeting. His first plan had been to attack Abkhazia in early summer, but this was frustrated, and South Ossetia duly became the target for his forces in August. The consequence was defeat for Georgia and Russian recognition of the hitherto de facto, but thereafter de iure, independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. NATO membership was off the agenda. Ukraine at the time sensibly seemed not to be troubled, but the hope never entirely vanished in Tbilisi,” the expert explained his vision of the events happened nearly 10 years ago.

From his point of view, the active course towards joining the alliance will lead to an even greater complication of the situation in the region.

“Post-Maidan Kiev is now desirous of being taken under NATO protection, but I think the best that both states can expect is more talk about the possibility – not probability – of membership at some unspecified date in the future. Anything more would surely inflame the already heightened tensions in both regions,” George Hewitt said.

“In my opinion, neutral status would have been and would still be the best outcome for both Georgia and Ukraine, which would entail no NATO membership but good and as far as possible equal relations with Russia and the West,” he concluded.

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