Strengthening democracy will be among the key messages NATO delivers to both the Georgian authorities and the opposition, when the alliance’s North Atlantic Council visits Tbilisi on September 15-16, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO secretary-general, said.
He said in an interview with the Financial Times that the message would be: “You are a democracy, act like a democracy, strengthen your democracy, strengthen the rule of law.”
Scheffer pointed out that a final report on the May 21 parliamentary elections in Georgia by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) had found the significant shortcomings.
A NATO-Georgia Commission will be inaugurated during the visit of the NATO secretary-general, who will be accompanied by 26 ambassadors from NATO member-states. The delegation will hold a session of the North Atlantic Council in Tbilisi. The program, which includes meetings with the Georgian leadership and the opposition, also envisages a trip to Gori, a town that suffered a lot from the war and Russian air strikes.
The visit of the North Atlantic Council to Georgia was planned before the August war.
Batu Kutelia, the Georgian deputy defense minister, said the fact that NATO had not canceled the visit in the wake of the war “is a strong signal to Russia.”
Alexandre Lomaia, the secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, told AFP that Tbilisi’s “main expectation of today's visit is that NATO will send a clear message about the irreversibility of Georgia's NATO membership bid.”
“Georgia's passage towards NATO is irrevocable. Russia has failed to achieve the main goal of its aggression against Georgia – to hamper Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration,” he said.
In an interview published on September 15 in a special edition of the Georgian daily 24 Saati (24 Hours), dedicated to NATO-Georgia relations, Deputy Defense Minister Kutelia said that the establishment of the NATO-Georgia Commission was an additional tool for Tbilisi to boost its integration into the alliance. He, however, also said it was in no way a replacement for a Membership Action Plan, which Tbilisi wants to obtain this December, at the foreign ministerial summit of the alliance.
He suggested the August war did not reduced Georgia’s chances of having a MAP this December.
“Questions existing before the war are now removed and the process of extending MAP to Georgia has accelerated,” Kutelia said. “Bringing up old arguments that NATO does not want to import instability is no longer relevant… We hope NATO will have an appropriate reaction to the existing situation and will take the right decision.”
He acknowledged that it had been impossible to hold a North Atlantic Council session in Tbilisi last year because of a lack of consensus among the member states.
“The fact that NAC session will be held against the background of this unstable situation indicates that NATO is no longer afraid to face problems,” Kutelia continued. “Those skeptics [within NATO], who were blocking Georgia’s issue, already share the opinion that Georgia should have a strong signal.”
NATO foreign ministers decided at an emergency session in Brussels on August 19 to set up a NATO-Georgia commission and told Russia there would be “no business as usual.”
The foreign minister also agreed to provide Georgia with assistance in re-establishing air traffic systems; as well as in cyber defense; assessing the state of the armed forces and assessing damage to civilian infrastructure.