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NATO Vilnius Summit: Georgia's Rocky Path to NATO Membership Under Scrutiny

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Thursday, August 3, 2023
NATO's Vilnius Summit noted that Georgia's and Ukraine's paths to NATO have diverged. Ukraine will be accepted into NATO without the MAP, while Georgia will also need the MAP and the implementation of reforms. The prospect of Georgia joining the Euro-Atlantic structure remains, but according to experts, under the current government, there will be no progress toward NATO.

The NATO Vilnius summit (July 11-12) was widely discussed in the Georgian media, but they were more interested in how Ukraine would proceed with its way to NATO. As for Georgia, there were no great expectations. It was known that Georgia would be represented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the NATO summit in Vilnius. It has never happened before that the first person from Georgia did not attend the NATO summit.

This was the Russian narrative - the war in Ukraine started because it wanted to join NATO. Besides, this was not a slip, but rather a general and constant message from the government. No one from the Georgian government explained why Gharibashvili did not attend the Vilnius summit. The German publication Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung directly noted that NATO informed the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, that he was not a welcome guest at the Vilnius summit. But why wasn't it possible for President Zourabishvili, who has a positive reputation in the West, to attend the summit? Aleko Elisashvili, the parliamentarian and leader of the Citizens Party, explained that while the Prime Minister was not invited, the president was. However, the "Georgian Dream did not let the president go."

The NATO Vilnius Summit was met with mixed assessments by the leaders of the Georgian Dream:

There were optimistic statements that everything is fine in Georgia-NATO relations. After arriving at the summit, Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili said that "it was once again emphasized that Georgia enjoys strong support from NATO partners".

It was also voiced that neither Georgia nor Ukraine received anything new from the NATO summit. Chairman of the Georgian Dream Irakli Kobakhidze stated that "the status quo remained in force" and both Georgia and Ukraine are in the same position as they were in 2008 at the NATO Bucharest Summit. In Vilnius, they did not specifically tell Ukraine when they will join NATO, and that "without specifics, no statement has any value."

Regarding Georgia-NATO relations, the same was said about Georgia-EU relations. Before the summit, the Speaker of the Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, published an open letter that "there is no longer any argument left, why Georgia should not be accepted into NATO."

According to Papuashvili, in the last decade (that is, during the Georgian Dream government), democratic institutions were fundamentally strengthened and defense capabilities improved, "and NATO only repeats the promise of membership from the summit to summit."

Papuashvili's position is likely to be continued, that Georgia is being 'punished' because it refuses to join the war against Russia.

This statement is aimed at inciting anti-NATO sentiment in Georgia, although 80% of the Georgian population supports Georgia joining NATO. The topic of Georgia's 'punishment' will probably become more active by the end of the year when the EU's response to Georgia's fulfillment of the 12 points and the granting of membership candidate status will become known.

However, the official assertion that Georgia has done everything for further integration with NATO is unconvincing for the opposition. At the July 11 session of the Parliament, the opposition unanimously criticized the Georgian Dream for not doing anything to bring it closer to NATO. According to Salome Samadashvili, a member of the 'Lelo' party, the Georgian government arrived at the Vilnius summit empty-handed and left empty-handed as well. According to him, the reason for this is that today Georgia is ruled by people who believe that joining NATO is dangerous.

According to opposition representatives, there is no progress on Georgia's path to NATO membership, and the policy pursued by the Georgian Dream over the years is to blame, which is especially visible after Russia's attack on Ukraine.

Along with the confirmation of Georgia's Euro-Atlantic perspective in the communique adopted at the Vilnius summit, there was a note that Georgia needs to implement reforms.

"To advance Euro-Atlantic aspirations, Georgia must make progress in reforms, including key democratic reforms," the NATO communique said.

What reforms are needed, it is recorded in the 12 points of the European Union. "Georgia not only didn't get anything but there was a record that there is a need for progress in reforms, which is translated from diplomatic language as the situation is difficult," commented Mikheil Saakashvili, who is in prison. Sabotaging democratic reforms by the current government is sabotaging NATO and EU membership.

The opposition points to the existing reality: on one side is the mood of the people - the desire to join the European Union and NATO, and on the other side is the Georgian dream of Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is in power, and instead of striving for integration into the European Union and NATO, the government intensifies anti-Western and Putinist rhetoric.

Georgia is approaching the parliamentary elections of 2024 in the conditions of increasing polarization, where the Georgian Dream plans to maintain the government for the 4th term, and the opposition plans to defeat it. It is already clear today that the elections will not be easy and will not take place in a peaceful atmosphere.