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1 Oct, 2010 11:03

NATO door open for Georgia – Rasmussen

NATO door open for Georgia – Rasmussen

Georgia will become a NATO member and the alliance will help the country to achieve standards required for admission, the organization’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has assured.

Rasmussen, who is currently in Tbilisi, said that the North Atlantic Alliance is going to expand its cooperation with the former Soviet republic. Addressing Georgian MPs, the organization’s chief stated that “the 2008 Bucharest summit decision still holds good today, and Georgia will become a NATO member,” reports RIA Novosti.

Two years ago, at the alliance’s gathering in the Romanian capital, it was announced that Ukraine and Georgia would join the organization. However, back then the two were not granted the Membership Action Plans (MAPs). Kiev has later dropped its plans to join the military alliance while Tbilisi remains devoted to the idea and, as Rasmussen’s visit shows, is making steps forwards on the path to the desired goal.

President Mikhail Saakashvili, speaking Friday at a joint media conference with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, reiterated that Euro-Atlantic integration remains a priority for Georgia.

“Naturally, we will never renounce our position [which stands for] independence, freedom and sovereignty. There can be no compromise when it comes to these issues. We are flexible in our relations with Russia, and we have good relations with our neighbors. But there is an issue where compromise is unacceptable – it is freedom,” he stated. “In its attitude to this value, NATO is an embodiment of this idea for us.”

Rasmussen praised Georgia’s contribution to the NATO-led peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan and expressed deep sorrow over the death of four Georgian servicemen who were killed on Thursday in a mine explosion.

Saakashvili, for his part, assured the alliance’s chief that NATO can count on Georgia’s support. “And we count on your political support to our territorial integrity…and independent future of our country,” he added.

NATO opens “embassy” in Tbilisi

On Friday, the alliance’s chief Rasmussen and Georgian vice Prime Minister Georgi Baramidze took part in the opening ceremony of the NATO Liaison office in the center of Tbilisi. The liaison office will be headed by Polish diplomat Zbigniew Rybacki.

Speaking at the event, Rasmussen said that the office will further “practical cooperation between Georgia and NATO,” reports Interfax. The NATO head also expressed hope that Tbilisi will make maximum use of the experience of experts who will work at the body and carry on with democratic and defense reforms. He dubbed the move yet another important step in the development of relations between Georgia and NATO.

Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria said the office is practically “a NATO embassy in Georgia,” GHN news agency cites.

Vice premier Baramidze, for his part, pointed out that the opening “reflects [the alliance’s] political support to Georgia and its wish to join the organization”, cited Georgia On-line.

“After the Bucharest summit, Georgia’s NATO membership has been unquestionable; it is now about how and where the joining will take place,” he stated.

Earlier, in an interview with Russian newspaper Vremya Novostey, the Georgian official explained why he is confident the membership issue is almost settled. Following the Caucasus conflict in August 2008, he said, “Brussels created special mechanisms for Georgia to deepen cooperation.”

“NATO-Georgia commission works effectively and is a format where we can hold political consultations on any topics. There are annual programs which bring Georgia closer to NATO standards. Finally, NATO supports Georgia in [important issues] related to [our] sovereignty and territorial integrity which, unfortunately, is being argued by Russia,” Baramidze said. According to the minister of European and Euro-Atlantic integration, Tbilisi has “unprecedented guarantees” for joining the alliance.

“We have no illusions since, for understandable reasons, the bar for Georgia is set higher than for many other countries. But still, it is a bar but not an insuperable wall. And we will overcome it,” he assured.

Russia-Georgia-NATO triangle

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, as well as the alliance’s own relations with Russia, remain an important issue for Brussels, which was also raised during the NATO head’s visit to Georgia.

Speaking at the joint media conference with Saakashvili, Rasmussen said that “Russia’s future lies in positive cooperation with NATO and the EU.” Clarifying his view, he said that it stands for the creation of such architecture of Euro-Atlantic security, where “Georgia and Russia would live in harmony with each other,” cites RIA Novosti. According to Rasmussen, Moscow and Brussels should cooperate in missile defense, countering terrorism, piracy, drug-trafficking and Afghanistan.

At the same time, the military alliance’s chief reiterated that the organization supports Georgia’s territorial integrity.

While speaking after his meeting with Rasmussen, Georgian vice premier Baramidze said that the alliance is “certainly interested in improving NATO-Russia relations.” However, he went on, the secretary general was very accurate in voicing his position, which stands for the following: “an improvement of relations will not happen at the expense of Georgian interests as well as basic principles and values of the international law,” Georgia On-line quotes.

The main stumbling block in the relations between all the three players has been the August 2008 war in South Ossetia and its consequences. While Russia-NATO ties – which were almost completely frozen following the events – are now reviving, the relations between Moscow and official Tbilisi remain dire.

Back in August 2008, Georgia attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinval, which made Moscow intervene and bring its troops in to protect civilians, many of whom held Russian passports. The fact that it was Tbilisi who started the war was later confirmed by the investigative report commissioned by the Council of the European Union.

Shortly after the conflict, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Georgia still sees the republics as part its own territory and refers to Russian peacekeepers as “occupants”. The unsolved border issue is one of the main barriers now on Georgia’s way to NATO since, quite understandably, the alliance is reluctant to add a new member with an existing border dispute.

“This is the question NATO cannot answer: if to admit Georgia, then according to what borders?” Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's representative to NATO said in an interview with Itar-Tass. “The admittance to NATO without South Ossetia and Abkhazia would be unacceptable for Georgia and would be at variance with NATO's stance. If Georgia is admitted to NATO together with South Ossetia and Georgia, all the legal conditions will be created for the beginning of an armed conflict between NATO and Russia, because the situation will be absurd: the Russian troops will be deployed on the territory of a NATO member country, while, in the opinion of Russia, they will be deployed on the territory of absolutely independent countries,” he explained.

Natalia Makarova, RT