Georgian-NATO Relations: Reading Between the Lines
25 September, 2015
Georgian-NATO Relations: Reading Between the Lines
In every bit of analysis pertaining to Georgia-NATO relations, Russia’s invisible hand must be taken into account. Though politicians and diplomats reiterate that Russia has no veto right on Georgia’s desire to join NATO, thus far Russia was and still is the implicit veto holder.

(Published in Military Technology, July-August 2015)


“If the answer from Warsaw is negative, you can take my word for it, and I hate to say it – there will be immediate implications.” - Tina Khidasheli


Alexander Glushko, Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO, said in February 2015 that NATO’s intention to establish a training center in Georgia was a provocative step. “The emergence of NATO military facilities in Georgia is a step towards escalation of tension and worsening of regional security,” he claimed. Sergei Lavrov, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said on February 18th, 2015, that Russia would take measures to prevent the “negative effects” of “never-ending attempts to drag Tbilisi into NATO.” NATO’s official response about the training center in Georgia not being aimed against Russia was dismissed by Moscow.

In remarks at the recent meeting of NATO officials in Antalya, Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, criticized Russian policy in the region. “Nothing can justify what Russia has been doing in its neighborhood – namely in Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia,” - Cavusoglu said. Responding to Cavusoglu’s remarks, Glushko focused only on the possibility of Georgian membership. He downplayed the possibility, although noting that NATO has been increasingly co-operating with Georgia. Glushko said, “There are many realistic people in NATO and many understand the risks of a thoughtless open door policy. Such development of events could result in serious consequences for European security. I believe that common sense will prevail and such thoughtless attempts will be abandoned.”

Apparently, French and German leaders heeded the advice and as a result, are so far refusing to let Georgia join NATO. Furthermore, in March 2015, Georgia was shocked when French President Francois Hollande said unambiguously that, “France currently opposes admission of any new [NATO] members.”

Public support for Euro-Atlantic integration in Georgia is broad, but is it big enough? According to a survey conducted by the U.S. NDI in late May 2015, 68 percent of Georgians approve of the government’s stated goal of joining NATO, down from 72 percent in August 2014 and a high of 82 percent in November 2013. Does it mean that the support is declining? Although Georgia remains an aspirant country for NATO membership, the process of finally joining the organization has been slowed down. Hollande’s statement reinforces the sense of unease and doubt in Georgia over its aspirations.

“Russia must be engaged, but for the Euro-Atlantic security architecture to retain its integrity, there must be deterrence,” - Davit Usupashvili

Even though Georgian politicians are doing their best to maintain a cheerful demeanor, the reality is a bit different. Mindia Janelidze, former defense minister, when asked about Georgia’s expectations from the next NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016, said that it was too early to talk about specifics, but consultations aimed at receiving “tangible results” from the next year’s summit were already ongoing. Janelidze also said the following: “Naturally, we are already preparing for the Warsaw summit. We are preparing the MoD’s proposals, but this issue goes beyond just the MoD [competence] and so these proposals will be finally outlined as a result of consultations with the MoFA and the government. But we are thinking about it and we have already launched consultations on this issue with some of our partners in order to get tangible results from the Warsaw summit.”

The big question remains: What if tangible results are not achieved? Then what?

Addressing delegates at a NATO Parliamentary Assembly session in Budapest on May 18, Davit Usupashvili, Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, said that NATO should either give a MAP to Georgia or declare that MAP is no longer a precursor to an eventual full membership. Speaking at the same event, Alexander Vershbow, NATO Deputy Secretary General, said that he could not provide any timetable for when the open door will be reached. Usupashvili responded that it was a crucial time for making sure the open door policy does not become a revolving door policy, where aspirant countries are stuck in a rotation. “In 2014 we heard in Wales that Georgia’s relationship with the Alliance ‘contains the tools necessary to continue moving Georgia forward towards eventual membership.’ Many in Georgia interpreted these words as Georgia being given a de facto MAP. After a journey of more than 12 years, I do not want those people to be disappointed with prolonged talks on whether Georgia deserves MAP or not. Russia must be engaged, but for the Euro-Atlantic security architecture to retain its integrity there must be deterrence,” Usupashvili said.

Even though Tina Khidasheli, the current defense minister, clearly reiterates the matter of MAP, she also warns of dire consequences by saying: “If the answer from Warsaw is negative, you can take my word for it, and I hate to say it – there will be immediate implications.” It appears, however, that Georgian demands and warnings are highly likely to fall on deaf ears in the NATO member states.

In the dance of three with an invisible Russia present behind the curtain, the path to NATO’s door remains as tricky and full of IEDs as before. What NATO should do about bringing Georgia into the alliance and what Georgia should do to leave Russia empty-handed is beyond the scope of this letter.

Author: Eugene Kogan
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