Experts: Georgia is unlikely to join NATO in foreseeable future, including because of the Russian factor

Experts: Georgia is unlikely to join NATO in foreseeable future, including because of the Russian factor

Georgia, Tbilisi, Oct. 1 /Trend, E.Tariverdiyeva/

Despite promises of NATO, in the foreseeable future, Georgia is unlikely to join the alliance, including because of the Russian factor, experts say.

"The Bucharest Summit, in April 2008, resulted in the delay of further enlargements towards Ukraine and Georgia. The reason for this was essentially the will of some states in the West to accommodate the need to cooperate with Russia, said Sandra Fernandes, European expert on NATO activities, as well as the politics of Georgia and Russia. The Moscow opposition was one of the main causes which informed, for instance, German and French caution in this move".

Georgia will surely become NATO member and the Alliance will help the country in this, the Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today during the meeting with the Georgian Parliament Speaker David Bakradze.

According to him, NATO Bucharest summit's this decision "is not questioned." "Our decision is unequivocally and it will be fulfilled," Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen expressed his confidence in the effectiveness of the works carried out under the Georgia-NATO commission. "Within this commission we will help Georgia to achieve NATO standards," he said.

At a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Dec. 2-3, 2008 in Brussels, NATO member countries considered Tbilisi unprepared to receive the status of candidate member of NATO and postponed presenting the Action Plan on NATO membership to an indefinite period. For the first time, Georgia's application for MAP in the alliance had been rejected at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008. Then it was negotiated that the country will become a member of the bloc.

According to observers, despite promises of the representatives of the alliance, Georgia will not be able to become a NATO member for a long time.

Georgian political analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili is skeptical about Georgia's joining NATO.

NATO Secretary General's visit to Georgia will be a kind of dainty for the Georgian authorities," Georgian political analyst Tsiskarishvili told Trend. According to him, thereby NATO is trying to "sweeten the bitter pill" for Georgia, which is unlikely to join the alliance in the foreseeable future.
"We have repeatedly witnessed such visits of high officials, but they all got off with the phrase: "the doors of NATO are open for Georgia, and things there," said the expert.

According to European expert on security Arnold Kammel, it seems that NATO is rather favorable to strengthening the relationship with Georgia but leaving the membership perspective aside.

"Therefore President Saakashvili has quite recently underlined that Georgia is developing relations with its neighbors to the south, in Central Asia, the Caspian region as well as the EU and the United States. So, there are still aspirations to become member of the alliance, but there are already some bilateral negotiations going on in order to develop strategic partnerships with others if a NATO membership will not take place soon," Professor at the Institute for the European Security Policy, Kammel wrote to Trend in an email.

According to Fernandes, the perspectives of membership seem politically even less favourable today than at the time of the 2008 Bucharest summit.

"This is due to the situation created by the war between Russia and Georgia in August of that year. The return to the status quo situation prior to the conflict has not been an option since the conflict in the sense that the loss of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for Georgia seems irreversible," Fernandes, associate researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels wrote in an e-mail to Trend.

In the night of August 8, 2008, large-scale military actions began in the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia. Georgian troops entered Tskhinvali. Later Russian troops occupied the city and drove the Georgian forces to the territory of Georgia. In late August, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In response, Tbilisi broke the diplomatic relations with Moscow and declared two unrecognized republics the occupied territories.

According to Fernandes, nonetheless, as far as NATO enlargement is concerned, in practice, it has been maintained with the offer of annual programs of cooperation instead of the Membership Action Plan (MAP). The issue is how to move beyond these practical steps and, as mentioned above, it does not seem foreseeable

Georgia should not expect membership in NATO in the nearest future, but, probably, still, in a near future once NATO membership conditions are fulfilled, European military expert Beata Kviatek-Simanska said.

"Georgia's membership in NATO is very probable, because the notion for country's membership of the Alliance is supported by nation's population. Some years ago Georgian parliament voted unanimously for Georgia's integration into NATO. Also, the results of the non-binding referendum on Georgia's membership in NATO showed the great support of people, 77 percent of votes, for the notion to join NATO. The support of population for country's integration to NATO is a very important circumstance," she believes.

However, it is not the only criterion for joining the NATO. Among other NATO membership conditions the presence of established democracy and the modern army is necessary, the expert said.

"The development of both, of course, takes several years, but it is achievable, and Georgia is on a good track with a help from various international bodies. The inclusion of Georgia to NATO Membership Action Plan would help Georgia to further in development of democratic institutions and processes as well as in development of a modern army that should be a subject to a democratic control," Kviatek-Simanska, Expert on European Security Groningen University (The Netherlands) told Trend in an e-mail.

According to expert, Georgia should not expect membership in NATO in the nearest future, but, probably, still, in a near future once NATO membership conditions are fulfilled.

However, according to other experts, unlikely Georgia will be able to implement the reforms that are required for accession to NATO soon.

NATO and Secretary General Rasmussen have always reaffirmed their support for Georgia's membership ambitions. However, this support was linked to internal reforms, in particular democratic civilian oversight of defense and security force, Kammel said.

"Georgia has also insisted that NATO membership is still one of their foreign policy goals. In this respect, Georgia's decision to send 750 additional troops to Afghanistan as a contribution to ISAF in April this year was welcomed by NATO," Kammel said.

According to Tsiskarishvili, despite the appreciation of the Georgian military contingent in Afghanistan, NATO will not change its fundamental requirement for strengthening democracy in Georgia. "One of them is a requirement for conversion of ships, which are still held hostage by the prosecutor's office, which is unacceptable for democracy and the principles of the alliance," he said.
According to observers, an important obstacle to Georgia's accession to NATO is the Russian factor.
Of course, Russia is the decisive factor for any decision regarding Georgia's membership to NATO, Kammel believes.

"As President Obama as well as the EU have demonstrated their will to cooperate closer with Russia and to deepen the relations, Georgia would certainly be an obstacle in this respect. That's why some NATO members are still reluctant to push Georgia's membership on the agenda," the expert said.

According to Tsiskarishvili, besides "the lack of radical democratic reforms in the country", there may be other factors, including the "Russian factor", preventing Georgia's accession to the alliance. "I do not exclude that despite support for Georgia, NATO refuses to intensify its contacts with Tbilisi," said the expert. On the other hand, he said, Rasmussen's visit will be a certain message to Moscow.

"With this, the alliance shows that despite the restart of relations with Russia, Georgia remains an important factor for NATO, even though yet there is not a ticket for Georgia for NATO accession," he said.

According to Fernandes, Moscow's unwillingness to see Georgia joining NATO was one of the main reasons which forced the West to prevent this decision of the alliance in 2008. And this situation has not changed, she said.

"For instance, the US still need Russian cooperation in the Afghan theatre and to deter Iranian nuclear ambitions. As far as the EU is concerned, it relies heavily on Russian energy, but they are also tied by close trade relations in general," said Fernandes.

The fact that Georgia aggravated its security situation after the war in August 2008 is not helping to evolve from that position, she said.

However, according to Simanska, the process of Georgia's accession to NATO, which would include democratization of policy process and decision making, also with regard to the defence forces, should be, indeed, welcomed by Russia, because it brings stability, peace, and security to the region.

"Moreover, the accession of Georgia to NATO will considerably improve Georgia's relationship with Russia. The accession of Poland is a good example here," said Simanska.

N. Kirtskhalia (Tbilisi), E.Ostapenko contributed to the article

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