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3 Dec, 2008 19:41

Moscow-NATO relations warming

Moscow says it is ready to resume dialogue with NATO, as the alliance considers holding an informal meeting of the NATO-Russia council. Meanwhile, NATO has declined to offer Kiev and Tbilisi membership action plans, but will provide support.

Ukraine between joy and despair…
…and Georgia indifferent.
‘Saakashvili to blame’
‘Former Georgian parliament speaker makes gloomy diagnosis’

Russia’s envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin has welcomed the idea of an informal meeting, but added that NATO's reaction to the crisis in the Caucasus did dent Moscow's relations with the organisation.

“Of course we're ready to consider the proposal to hold an informal meeting, but I'd like to say that Russia won't pretend that our relations weren't affected when NATO so unambiguously sided with Saakashvili's regime. So we are happy to meet behind closed doors where we'll voice our serious political objections to the moral and political stance the alliance took during those August days that were so hard for the whole of Europe”.

In Brussels, the councils on Georgia and Ukraine have met to discuss what needs to be done by the two countries before they can join the alliance.

The membership action plan (MAP) for Georgia and Ukraine was postponed due to concerns over political instability in Ukraine, and because of Georgia’s military conflict in South Ossetia in August this year. The MAP, launched in April 1999, assists those countries which want to join the alliance in their preparations by providing advice, assistance and practical support on all aspects of membership.

France, Italy, Germany and some other countries within the organisation say it’s too early for the two former Soviet states to get on the formal path towards NATO membership.

And Russia’s Ambassador to the EU believes the two countries would not bring the alliance any advantages.

“The more one looks into NATO enlargement – the more it becomes obvious that with this process NATO doesn’t get more cohesion and it doesn’t get more strength as a military bloc,” said Vladimir Chizhov.

Kakha Kukava, the leader of Georgia's Conservative Party, says a lack of progress on reforms is the key factor in NATO's refusal to grant the country a membership action plan.

“Issues to be reformed in Georgia were mentioned several times by NATO leaders, during the Riga and Bucharest summits. They are the electoral system reform and freedom for the media,” he said. “We don’t see any progress in this direction because there isn’t any, and NATO foreign ministers can’t see any progress either.”

Kukava said there have been no independent TV stations in the country since the government crackdown last November.

Resuming dialogue with Russia

Also, NATO foreign ministers have agreed to resume dialogue with Russia in “a selective mode,” the alliance’s Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a media conference on Tuesday.

“No business as usual doesn’t mean no business at all. Russia is an important player on many dossiers that are also on the NATO agenda,” he said.

Some member states say NATO's relations with Russia are too important to be sacrificed over Georgia and Ukraine. This view was reinforced when the organisation agreed on a conditional and gradual re-engagement with Moscow within the NATO-Russia Council, whose work was frozen after the August conflict in South Ossetia.

On August 8, Georgia launched a military campaign against South Ossetia. Russia intervened to protect the civilian population. The organisation accused Russia of using disproportionate force and suspended Russia-NATO Council meetings on all levels.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said: “A second major item for discussion among NATO Ministers will be our relations with Russia. After the Caucasus conflict, we decided that there could be no business as usual with Russia, and that we had to seriously review our relationship. Today, we will continue this review and will discuss the parameters for our engagement with Russia.”

The alliance is set to offer Moscow an informal meeting within the NATO Russia Council – to discuss how to proceed. Russia’s envoy to NATO says this was expected in Moscow.

“We didn't think Ukraine or Georgia would get MAPs at this summit – we thought all this would be disguised by very diplomatic words. And of course we predicted that NATO wouldn’t be able to stand alone, and that amid the dry rhetoric we'd hear words on the need for cooperation with Russia as an important partner,” said Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Envoy to NATO.

The two day summit of NATO and partner nations’ foreign ministers will end on Wednesday December 3rd.

On the second day of the summit the NATO-Ukraine and NATO-Georgia commissions are discussing how the alliance can help the two countries advance in their reforms, to bring them closer to joining.

Ukraine between joy and despair…

Ukraine says it’s going to take steps to transform the country and move it closer to NATO standards.

“The Bucharest summit decision that Ukraine will become a member of NATO has opened a clear Euro-Atlantic prospect for my country,” Foreign Minister Vladimir Ogryzko said at the NATO talks.

“Yesterday, dear colleagues, you made an assessment of the progress achieved by Ukraine on its way to membership in NATO. The decision of the North-Atlantic Council is viewed by our side as the next practical step on our way to meet the criteria of membership in the organisation”.

But Ukrainian society is split over joining NATO. Polls consistently show less than a third of the population supports the move with two thirds being strictly against.

More than 80 per cent believe a referendum should be held to decide on the issue.

And though the 'Our Ukraine' party, headed by president Yushchenko, has long supported joining NATO, it is facing a tough battle to win over the Ukrainian public.

At the same time, level of support for joining NATO differs dramatically throughout the country – from 16 per cent in the east to 69 per cent in the west of the country.

Smouldering anti-NATO protests take more acute forms, like during Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer’s visit to Ukraine in June and joint NATO ‘Sea Breeze 2008’ military exercises.

There is also no single attitude among experts towards the prospects of Ukraine one day joining NATO, as social research cited by Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency shows.

Some experts believe the move will help carry out security, defence and political reforms in the country.

They named as advantages getting guarantees of safety as a NATO member state, solving or resuming the problem of territorial solicitation on the part of other countries, building ally ties with the U.S. and a row of countries which refer to America’s ‘zone of influence’.

But experts name as drawbacks exacerbation of relations with Russia, the possibility that Ukraine be used by the U.S. for confrontation with Russia and increasing the risk of global terrorism.

The research says the majority of experts believe that there is a possibility for Ukraine to join NATO but only in a considerable period of time.

…and Georgia indifferent.

Georgia’s Prime Minister played down the disappointment of not getting the membership action plan. Grigol Mgaloblishvili said that deep integration into NATO is currently the main priority for Tbilisi. He pointed out that the “promise by NATO member states given in Bucharest still remains.”
Those views were echoed by Georgia’s Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili:

“We do feel very firmly that we are much closer to the ultimate goal that we have, which is the membership in this organisation, in the way how Bucharest decisions have been reaffirmed and in the way how strengthening of existing mechanisms, with which we feel that the process of change and transformation of our country can be assisted by NATO”.

‘Saakashvili to blame’

Meanwhile, Georgia joining the NATO has been postponed for an indefinite period of time because of the “Georgian leadership’s unreasonable policy” – according to an opposition party leader.

New Rights leader Davis Gamkrelidze said: "Now the Georgian leadership says Georgia wasn’t aiming at getting a MAP for joining NATO. But let them not cheat themselves and us as well.

“Thanks to that manipulation many people believed that Georgia defeated Russia in August, and now they are going to present the events as a decision made in Brussels to speed up the process of Georgia joining the alliance.”

On Wednesday, Georgia’s Deputy Prime Minister Georgy Baramidze said: “After a sharp debate in Brussels on Tuesday, Georgia has made a step towards joining NATO, and though this is not the MAP – but this is an important element bringing Georgia and NATO closer together.”

Former Georgian parliament speaker makes gloomy diagnosis

Meanwhile, the former speaker of the Georgian parliament, and now the leader of the opposition, Nino Burjanadze, says the current government in Tbilisi is unable to conduct the democratic reforms needed for NATO membership.

“I’m sure this government is not able to strengthen democracy in this country,” she believes.

“This government isn’t interested in the democratisation process. Democracy means more information for people, a free media, judiciary independence… this is against their interests.”

“Having more information means Georgian people will ask lots of questions and will put forward the question of responsibility of the government, who were defeated at war and lost territory, and many other problems that we have faced in recent developments,” Burjanadze stated.