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NATO-Georgia: Open door but no handle

By Messenger Staff
Monday, December 7
At present NATO-Georgia relations look very strange. Optimists highlight NATO's support for Georgia, sceptics underline its inadequate assistance during the Russian aggression. Both optimists and sceptics have serious evidence to support their arguments.

NATO's doors are open for Georgia, as has been declared, but it is difficult to enter it because there is no handle. NATO upholds Georgia’s territorial integrity one the one hand but then restores relations with Russia while it still occupies the territories the same NATO says are Georgian. NATO thanks Georgia for participating in the Afghanistan operations but at the same time demands democratic reforms and recommends dialogue with Russia.

The beginning of December has seen yet another new stage of NATO-Georgia relations. A NATO Ministerial was held in Brussels on December 3 followed by a NATO-Georgia council session. The next day a NATO-Russian council session was held at which Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov participated. At the NATO Ministerial it was once again confirmed that NATO's doors are open for Georgia and Ukraine. Both countries will become NATO members but only after they reach NATO standards. We have heard all this before, and doubtless will hear it again. But when NATO is facing both ways at once, what can such commitments actually mean?

Of course Albania must have reached NATO standards, likewise Croatia. Some years ago Romania and Bulgaria did too, we are told. Soon after the collapse of Soviet Union the three Baltic Republics immediately became NATO compatible, apparently. But Georgia is not, and it is unlikely that it ever will be on the basis of what we are hearing now. However the phrase 'NATO standards' seems to have such a broad and inconsistent application that there is little point trying to achieve these standards, as nothing is ever good enough if you do not wish it to be.

At the NATO Ministerial alliance members praised Georgia for sending its troops to Afghanistan. However it also advised it to restart dialogue with Russia. So far the Georgian authorities have said that they will not resume official dialogue with Moscow until it withdraws its forces from our territories and renounces its recognition of the separatist regimes and The Kremlin has stressed that it will never do such things. So what does NATO want Tbilisi to talk to Moscow about? In its concluding statement NATO urged Moscow to renounce its recognition of the separatist regimes in Georgia and withdraw its military forces, as Georgia keeps demanding. Presumably these things would be the prerequisite for dialogue, again as Georgia says, as NATO has told Moscow to do them, not talk about doing them. But what can we talk to Russia about if it does not fulfill its commitments under the Sarkozy-Medvedev agreement?

Analyst Tornike Sharashenidze has stated that unless territorial integrity is restored there will be no NATO membership for Georgia. He optimistically suggests that restoring it might take a few dozen years. Therefore NATO accession will also take dozens of years. Some think so. Others give a worse prognosis, saying that we are talking in the hundreds of years before Georgia is reunited.

However there are some optimistic aspects of NATO’s position on Georgia. One is its demand for democratic reforms, not only in defence but the media, the court system and election legislation. The Alliance wants the 2010 local elections to be held in a fair and transparent way, and the current administration is committed to showing the NATO leadership that the country is willing to satisfy its demands. So eventually at least democratic development will be achieved as a result of striving to join NATO, even though actual NATO membership seems a rather far-fetched option.