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Obama is warned against accepting Georgia into NATO

By Temuri Kiguradze
Wednesday, March 18
A group of US experts has warned President Barack Obama against encouraging Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO.

A bipartisan commission consisting of 27 former high-level US diplomats and members of Congress has recommended that Obama try to improve relations with Russia by refusing to allow Georgia and Ukraine to join the bloc. The commission is headed by Republican former Senator Chuck Hagel and Democratic former Senator Gary Hart. Georgia and Ukraine should “develop options other than NATO membership to demonstrate a commitment to their sovereignty,” says the statement of the bipartisan panel published on March 16.

The commission mentioned the April 2008 NATO Bucharest summit which stated that Georgia and Ukraine “will become” members of NATO but did not say when or how. “While recognizing the broad commitments made at NATO’s Bucharest Summit, we do not believe that the United States has a compelling security interest in expediting NATO membership for either Ukraine or Georgia at this time,” says the report, adding that despite the strategic location of the two countries, their joining NATO “could decrease rather than increase Europe’s overall security given the realities on the ground in each, especially if it seriously damages relations between NATO, Ukraine, Georgia, and Russia at a time when the United States and NATO face many critical challenges elsewhere.”

Instead of NATO membership the former Senators advise Obama to propose “A special relationship with NATO” for Georgia and Ukraine which could “serve the same function” as membership, and would be a useful way to ensure that “those Ukrainians and Georgians seeking to join NATO do not become discouraged.”

According to the report, rejecting NATO membership for post-Soviet countries could help Washington gain Moscow’s support for the possible creation of missile defence systems in Eastern Europe as protection against the “threat” from Iran. Although acknowledging Russia’s “legitimate interests” in post-Soviet space, the report also notes that it is in the United States’ strategic interest to prevent Russia “from dominating the region bridging Europe, Asia, and the Middle East” and to strongly support the independence and sovereignty of countries there.

“Close U.S.-Russian cooperation in Russia’s neighbourhood is unlikely, but the United States should avoid zero-sum competition for influence there,” the report states. “Such competition is bound to damage American interests, especially because Russia is located in the region and the United States is not. As a result, attempts to pull countries away from Russia or to block legal Russian activities are unlikely to succeed,” it concludes.

The report has been presented to President Obama's National Security Adviser, Jim Jones, and Vice President Joe Biden, Chuck Hagel said at a news conference. A week before publishing the report both Hagel and Hart were received by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow. The Chair of the Georgian Parliament has evaluating the report as “the private opinion” of former US Senators. “Georgia’s aspirations in NATO have already received the support of the key figures in US Government including [President] Obama, [Vice-President] Biden and [Secretary of State] Clinton,” Bakradze told Georgian journalists.

Georgian independent political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze says that the report is one of many such recommendations that Obama will have to read in future. “The George W. Bush course of expanding NATO by accepting Ukraine and Georgia provoked irritation in several European countries who were afraid of confrontation with Russia. In addition they [EU countries] still accuse Georgia, though maybe not out loud, of being a country dangerous for NATO because of the inherent risk of the Alliance being drawn into a war with Russia,” Sakvarelidze considers. He adds that if the new US administration wants to have better relations with the EU it has to take recommendations like this into account.