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Georgia-NATO: no membership, just action plans and association

Despite Tbilisi’s skepticism about sooner joining NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), Defense Minister of that country Tinatin Khidasheli keeps making “startling” statements on sooner integration into the Alliance. At her latest meeting with journalists, the minister said “MAP is a sort of past for Georgia,” and the country has all the tools for joining NATO. On that path, MAP is not the task of official Tbilisi, she said.

“For me, personally, and this is not only my position, this is the attitude of the Georgian government, MAP is a sort of past for Georgia. At the 2015 December summit it was actually announced that the MAP became part of political processes and has no longer anything in common with practical instruments”, she said. “Georgia has all the tools for joining NATO and MAP is not a task for it. Membership is our task.”

Tinatin Khidasheli and other Georgian politicians have been permanently making such statements after the NATO Wales Summit. Nevertheless, in the defense minister’s statements on “sooner membership,” one can see regular changes of the emphasis. Khidasheli resorts to manipulations and even blackmail saying that “disappointed” at the vague stand of the NATO countries the Georgian citizens may “rush into the arms of Russia.”

What makes the situation even more complicated is that all the parties in the ruling coalition Georgian Dream on the tip from the Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia Party said they will be running for parliament in October 2016 independently and will be competing with each other. Thus, after the NATO Warsaw Summit, the ministers – Republicans can leave their posts in the government. In this light, the stand of the leaving minister is understandable - she believes herself as a driving force of the Euro-Atlantic integration and in the pre-elections period she will have to demonstrate these achievements, and at least an insignificant progress in the cooperation with NATO would be a bonus for her. In fact, the situation is quite different.

The incumbent government of Georgia still expects from the NATO Warsaw Summit either Membership Action Plan or a statement that the Plan is no longer a precondition to the final membership. Yet before the December Ministerial of NATO, it was announced that the meeting would result in positive statements concerning the Open Doors Policy and the prospects of Georgia in the alliance. However, the Ministerial resulted in a very important statement on Georgia saying that before joining NATO, Tbilisi is required to implement the MAP, which was promised to the country yet at the Bucharest Summit in 2008. That statement of the Ministerial reflected the position of Brussels and the separate countries of the alliance.

“We agreed today that these countries [Georgia and Ukraine] will become members of NATO… MAP is the next step for Ukraine and Georgia on their direct way to membership...   We reaffirm all elements of the decisions regarding Ukraine and Georgia taken by our Heads of State and Government in Bucharest.  Both countries have made progress, yet both have significant work left to do.  Therefore, we have decided to provide further assistance to both countries in implementing needed reforms as they progress towards NATO membership,” reads the Final communiqué of the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Ministers held at NATO Headquarters, Brussels.

In addition, the NATO countries welcomed the “significant progress” of Georgia in reforms and democratization, calling Tbilisi to continue using all the existing instruments to prepare for membership. Among those instruments were the ones mentioned by Minister Khidasheli: Georgia-NATO Commission, Annual National Program, Enhanced Opportunities Partner, participation in NATO Defense Capacity Building Initiative, and the Substantial Georgia-NATO Package that was adopted at the Wales Summit in 2014. In addition, the NATO Foreign Ministers welcomed the “significant progress” in the implementation of the Substantial Package, including joint exercises and opening of the NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Centre.

All these facts just prove that Brussels is not ready to grant MAP to Georgia. It will just continue assisting Tbilisi and promising it further Open Doors Policy. Head of the NATO Liaison Office in Georgia William Lahue said at the conference “Georgia’s European Way” on April 19 that “MAP was a politicized issue during the previous government (Mikheil Saakashvili), due to which NATO's 28 member countries found it difficult to achieve a consensus on granting MAP to Georgia.”

Furthermore, it has been widely rumored in the Georgian Mass Media recently that at the Warsaw Summit, Georgia and Ukraine may be offered not a MAP, but a new format, the so-called “associated partnership” like the Association Agreement with the EU, which will not give the given countries more than they have now. Furthermore, such an interim status will not come under Article 5 of the NATO collective self-defense treaty in case of aggression against any of the alliance’s countries.  According to a Tbilisi-based newspaper “Resonansi,” NATO will be reinforcing its flotilla in the Black Sea by recruiting Georgian and Ukrainian naval sailors to recompense the increased influence of Russia in that region after Crimea united it.

“Apparently, NATO is inventing a new format instead of the Membership Action Plan to calm down Georgia and Ukraine,” the newspaper writes adding that NATO Assistant Secretary General Alexander Vershbow has already hinted at possible cooperation with Georgia and Ukraine in such format, on the example of the alliance’s cooperation with Sweden and Finland.

Evidently, nothing good will come of this game of Brussels and Washington in the Black Sea region. The Baltic region will not become safer with the deployment of the NATO troops there. Quite the contrary, it will become more vulnerable to preventive strikes.

Ivane Melikishvili for EADaily

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