Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his ministerial team wound up a visit to the three Baltic states on October 15. Their tour highlighted both an accelerating process and an incipient one. The first is Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic course, re-energized by the new president and Western-trained cabinet officials. The second is the Baltic states’ emerging role within NATO and the European Union — which they joined this year — as anchors and mentors to countries on the new Euro-Atlantic perimeter.
Tbilisi regards the Baltic experience of post-Soviet transition and Euro-Atlantic integration — and Baltic advice based on that experience — as particularly instructive to Georgia and neighboring countries. The Georgian president and accompanying officials described the Baltic states as role models for having liberated themselves from occupation, successfully implemented democratic and economic reforms, and earned membership in NATO and the EU within 13 years, from a starting point that had been roughly the same as Georgia’s.
Accordingly, the Georgian delegation proposed institutionalized arrangements for sharing relevant Baltic expertise with Georgia and potentially with its neighbors. The Georgians did not ask for a mechanical transfer of reform strategies, but rather for assistance with technical expertise, procedures, principles, and reforms. In particular, Saakashvili hopes the Baltic states can articulate Georgian aspirations in EU and NATO internal debates and help focus NATO and EU interests and policies on the Black Sea-South Caucasus region.
“Now we have close friends to make our voice heard within the EU and NATO,” Saakashvili stated. “We believe firmly in our European destiny.” To emphasize his point, he declared that Georgia should aim for NATO and EU membership within ten years. He recalled that Baltic membership had seemed beyond reach ten years ago; in the West at that time, “hardly anyone believed in that possibility; but despite those preconceived notions the Balts succeeded.” Lithuania’s President Valdas Adamkus replied that a democratic Georgia must be given the chance to join these organizations.
Lithuania agreed to assist Georgia in adapting its national legislation to EU standards, strengthening administrative capacity, and reforming the public administration. Estonia agreed to assist with police training, as well with the use of information technology in governance (Estonia is among Europe’s leading countries in this respect). Latvia offered to support Georgia’s calls for a more active involvement by the EU and other international organizations in South Caucasus security issues and peaceful conflict settlement.
In Vilnius, Defense Ministers Linas Linkevicius and Georgi Baramidze discussed an annual cooperation plan and the start of regular consultations at the expert level. Lithuanians will advise Georgia regarding defense planning, resource management, participation in coalition operations, and implementation of certain aspects of Georgia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO. Lithuania will annually hold military staff talks with Georgia and fund the training of six Georgian officers each year at the Lithuanian military academy and the Baltic Defense College.
A joint declaration on regional cooperation and support for Euro-Atlantic integration, issued in Vilnius, calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops and peaceful resolution of conflicts through international efforts. The declaration envisages the establishment of a 3 + 3 framework for regular consultations among the three Baltic states, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia on reforms, regional security issues, and Euro-Atlantic perspectives.
Georgia’s embassy in Vilnius will serve as focal point in this effort. The multilateral 3 + 3 framework is in essence a bilateral Georgian-Lithuanian initiative. Georgia’s aspirations to join NATO and the EU are farther advanced and more clearly articulated than those of Azerbaijan at this stage. While Georgia and Azerbaijan are Western-oriented, Armenia gravitates to Russia, though recently participating in some NATO Partnership activities. In the Baltic group, Lithuania acts as the lead country in promoting a Western anchoring strategy for the eastern Black Sea region.
On the western Black Sea coast, NATO’s new member and prospective EU member Romania promotes the same vision as a major priority in its foreign policy, confirmed by the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s strategy concept made public last month. For their part, Georgia and, to some extent, Azerbaijan regard Romania as a natural gateway to the West. Romania proposes to function as a strategic link between the enlarged West and the eastern Black Sea region. Bulgaria, another new NATO member, can support Romanian initiatives in this regard.
Two anchoring efforts, led respectively by Lithuania and Romania, are thus emerging in parallel. Each can achieve some limited beneficial results with its own limited means. But to sustain the comprehensive vision they share, they need to pool resources, expert manpower, and political clout. This is a case for synergy of effort and division of labor. To maximize its effectiveness and political resonance, the joint effort can at some stage be placed under the Vilnius-Ten group’s umbrella. Pivotal in preparing the second round of NATO’s enlargement, the Vilnius-Ten group is still in session and open to aspirant countries in the greater Black Sea region.
(BNS, ELTA, LTV2, Imedi TV, 24 Saati, October 14-18).