Russia's leadership "can say what it wants", but it's NATO allies which decide on membership and "step-by-step" Georgia is getting closer to the Alliance "regardless of what other parties might say," James Appathurai, NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, said.
The NATO "took a decision in Bucharest [in 2008] that Georgia will become a NATO member if it still wants to and when it meets the standards of course," he said in an interview with the Georgian news magazine Tabula. "[Georgia] still wants to and based on popular support in Georgia I expect that to stay the same and Georgia is working to meet the standards. We have not changed our view. We continue to work towards that step when Georgia will become a NATO member and Georgia is taking the steps as well and in fact, as the Secretary General said, we are getting closer together."
"We've just agreed the package of measures to, as we call it, enhance Georgia's connectivity to NATO. Over the past few years, including since 2008, Georgia has taken steps at bringing closer links, closer ties, closer connections to NATO. We will take a note of that as [Georgia's] National Security Advisor [Giga Bokeria] is here and when President Saakashvili comes in few weeks to meet with North Atlantic Council again," said Appathurai, who is also the Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy.
Appathurai also said, that a better relationship between Russia and NATO in a broader sense "will create a better political climate, including for countries like Georgia."
He said it was still "very much an open topic" how the NATO allies might recognize aspirant countries during upcoming summit in Chicago in late May. He, however, said it would not be "an accession summit" and there would not be invitations to any country to begin accession.
On Georgia's contribution to the NATO-led Afghan operations, Appathurai said that by being part of ISAF Georgia was showing that it was capable of "providing solutions."
Georgia's presence in Afghanistan, he said, "is not a whim by President Saakashvili; he is fully part of a major international mission, which has a sound legal basis."
"Georgia's contribution is part of a bigger team, it's important and it's very valued. Georgia has shown and is showing with this contribution, which is substantial in number and comes without caveat, that it is a contributor to international security," he said.
"I think it is very important for Georgia to show, that it is not just a problem, it's solution, it helps provide solutions and that's exactly what Georgia is doing... So I think political message is very strong and I can assure Georgia that it is heard in NATO capital," Appathurai said.