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NATO postpones MAPs for Georgia and Ukraine

By Temuri Kiguradze
Friday, April 4
NATO pushed back the membership bids of Tbilisi and Kiev yesterday, assuring them of eventual entry into the alliance but withholding politically key invitations to the next step in the accession processs.

Despite a strong push from US President George W. Bush at this week’s Bucharest summit to issue Georgia and Ukraine a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a roadmap for eventual membership, a bloc of European member states led by Germany and France ultimately decided against inviting the two countries closer to the alliance.

“We are opposed to the entry of Georgia and Ukraine because we think that it is not a good answer to the balance of power within Europe and between Europe and Russia,” said French Prime Minister Francois Fillon in an interview before the summit.

Georgian Foreign Minister Davit Bakradze said Russian aggression would be encouraged by NATO withholding a MAP from Georgia.

“A ‘no’ for Georgia will show those people in the Kremlin, who think that by a policy of blackmail, by arrogance and aggression they can influence NATO's decisions, that they are right. A ‘no’ will be seen by those people as a victory,” Bakradze said.

There was no last-minute consensus in Bucharest. Tbilisi and Kiev were instead offered a NATO statement supporting eventual membership.

NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said a summit of foreign ministers, which can also issue MAPs, will review Georgia’s and Ukraine’s reforms progress in December.

“We agree today that these countries will become members of NATO,” de Hoop Scheffer said yesterday.

He said the alliance is watching for progress on democratic reforms in Ukraine and Georgia including “free and fair parliamentary elections in Georgia.”

Georgia holds parliamentary elections on May 21.

Despite Georgian officials’ earlier insistence that only a MAP would be satisfactory, Tbilisi now says it is pleased with NATO’s decision.

Georgia’s foreign minister described the moment as “historic,” and the president said Georgia came out on top in a “life and death battle.”

“I think we got more than we had hoped for in Bucharest,” a sanguine President Mikheil Saakashvili told reporters. “This is a direct commitment on the alliance’s part that Georgia and Ukraine will become members of the alliance. In short, the Rubicon has been crossed.”

Chair of the parliamentary foreign affars committee Kote Gabashvili said that the NATO promise of eventual membership was worth more than a MAP.

“NATO has officially stated that Georgia will become a member of NATO—not a candidate, but a member. A MAP is just a technical question now. The political decision has been made already,” Gabashvili told the newspaper.

Moscow also welcomed the news.

“The fact that [a MAP was not given] today proves there are healthy forces within NATO which give sensible assessments to the relations between Russia and the alliance,” said the head of the Duma’s committee for international affairs, Konstantin Kosachev.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to NATO, said the decision to postpone a MAP was an acknowledgement that “some of Ukraine’s population doesn’t want to join NATO and Georgia has problems with control of its borders.”

Within Georgia, where almost all of the political spectrum publicly supports NATO membership, opposition politicians said the Saakashvili administration had fallen short.

Levan Berdzenishvili, a leader of the moderate oppositional Republicans, said NATO’s decision is a clear failure which the Georgian government will try to pass off as a triumph.

“We all wanted a MAP, but I don’t think that this government will be able to fulfill all the demands even by December. The only thing that they can do now, to somehow improve the situation, is to conduct fair elections in May and honestly lose them,” Berdzenishvili said.

Alongside the decision on Georgia and Ukraine, NATO accepted two new member countries—Croatia and Albania. Macedonia’s membership bid was postponed over Greek objections to the republic’s name, the same as that of a northern Greek region.