If NATO fails to deliver tangible results on Georgia’s membership path at its summit in Warsaw next year, “it will be a very clear message that all those promises” made by the Alliance “are staying just on the paper,” Georgia’s Defense Minister said in Washington on August 19.
Such an outcome, she said, will also fuel already growing skepticism among Georgians, which in turn will affect parliamentary elections in autumn, 2016.
Khidasheli, who is paying her first visit to Washington in the capacity of the Defense Minister, met U.S Secretary of Defense Ash Carter at the Pentagon on August 18.
Speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a Washington-based think-tank, the Georgian Defense Minister said that she came to the U.S. with two main issues on the agenda – to “strengthen partnership” with the U.S. and to have “more tangible results out of this partnership”, and at the same time to “search for answers, advice and support” on Georgia’s NATO path.
“The Warsaw summit is coming and Georgia has made it clear to all the nations and all the partners that we will be raising issue of membership and enlargement stronger than ever,” she told an audience the U.S. Institute of Peace.
“We believe that Georgia deserves it first of all, but at the same time we believe that NATO needs it even more than Georgia does for its own credibility and for keeping the promises that this organization has been making already for years. We hear arguments that further enlargement of NATO in Russia’s neighborhood might be a triggering factor for Russia to act; we tell to our friends that it is a perception, maybe a valid one, but it’s not a fact. The fact is different and the facts say that when NATO refused to enlarge in 2008 this is exactly when the war happened [in Georgia]. This refusal, no courage from the side of NATO to accept the challenge was understood by Russia as a green light to act in Georgia. Then in 2009 the world said ‘OK, let’s forget what happened’… and we had a ‘reset’ policy… Russia was considered as a partner again, but then Ukraine happened… After the war in Ukraine it has become absolutely clear that there is no partnership to be expected from Russia,” Khidasheli said.
At the summit in Bucharest in 2008 NATO leaders decided that Georgia will become a member of the alliance, but Membership Action Plan (MAP) should be the next stage on country’s path towards eventual membership. Georgia has been denied MAP since then.
“This intermediary step [referring to MAP] should be missing after the Warsaw summit,” Khidasheli said.
She said that in practical terms MAP cannot give Georgia anything new in respect of instruments for cooperation with NATO as the country actually has all the mechanisms that come with MAP for years already.
All that Georgia is now asking for, she said, is to formally give the country “something we already have and to make a political statement that Georgia has passed one step and now it’s on the membership track.”
“If we are told no on that, I think, it will be a very clear message that all those promises made [by NATO] are staying just on the paper,” Khidasheli added.
She also said that the EU Eastern Partnership summit in Riga this May has failed to deliver tangible results and it also prompted Russia to act in Georgia, which was manifested in further borderisation process along the breakaway South Ossetia’s administrative boundary line.
“The Georgian government will be patient; we will not allow the war to happen again… we won’t be provoked,” the Defense Minister said.
She also stressed that recent demarcation activity by the Russian troops in breakaway South Ossetia involves an area, which is just about 500 meters from Georgia’s main east-west highway. Khidasheli said that an “obvious question” here is whether Russia’s target is to block that highway and to cut the country into two or the target is to make Tbilisi preoccupied by thinking constantly about this threat and distracting the country from its development goals, also including Euro-Atlantic integration. No matter what the target might be, she said, how things will develop – “either backwards or forward” – will largely depend on the decisions of the NATO Warsaw summit in early July, 2016.
Khidasheli also pointed out that the Warsaw summit will be held just few months before the parliamentary elections in Georgia, planned for autumn, 2016. She said the failure of the Warsaw summit to deliver on enlargement perspective will fuel skepticism of voters in Georgia.
“The Warsaw summit [results] will [play] a big part in decision the Georgian voters will be making in October, 2016 [parliamentary elections],” said Khidasheli, who is from the Republican Party, a member of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition.
“Skepticism is growing… people start to get disillusioned over Georgia’s prospect for integration to NATO and the EU. Our colleagues and leaders, especially in Europe, very often remind to the rest of the world that there will be no enlargement either of NATO or the EU for next five or ten years,” she said.
Khidasheli said that she expects pro-Russian parties to gain seats, although not in “substantial numbers”, in the Parliament in next year’s elections. She named among those parties Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement-United Georgia.
She argued that by saying no to enlargement at the Warsaw summit, NATO will send a signal that it does “not care” about countries beyond its borders in Russia’s neighborhood. Pro-enlargement decision, she said, will send a message to Russia that for NATO its “partners matter the same way as its members.”
“If there is anything that the history proved to us is that NATO brings power of peace,” Khidasheli said, adding that “the only reason” why the Baltic States are “safe for now” is that they are NATO members, but she also said that if there is no decision at the Warsaw summit in favor of enlargement, it would encourage Russia to act not only against Ukraine and Georgia, but also against those former Soviet states, which are now NATO members.
“I do not see any[thing]… that will deter Russia from doing it if things continue as they are right now,” she said.