At a joint conference with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, Maia Panjikidze, the foreign ministers of Germany and France, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Laurent Fabius, respectively, stated that the European Union was prepared to sign the Association Agreement with Georgia as early as this June (https://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=27159). Minister Panjikidze called the first ever joint Franco-German ministerial visit to Georgia, a “historic event” and expressed Tbilisi’s readiness to sign “the full text of the agreement on association with Europe,” meaning not only the political, but also the economic part of the document.
At the same time, the Georgian diplomat expressed her hope that progress toward membership would be made during the upcoming summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Wales. “We deeply believe that Georgia will clearly show the progress required from a NATO aspirant country, consequently we expect that our progress will be appropriately assessed at NATO’s next summit in Wales,” Panjikidze said (https://www.interpressnews.ge/en/politicss/56896-maia-panjikidze–we-expect-our-progress-to-be-appropriately-assessed-on-natos-next-summit.html?ar=A). She did not mention the Membership Acting Plan (MAP), which the Georgian leadership has been unsuccessfully seeking from the Alliance over the past several years. She did, however, enumerate some of the key ways Georgia has been cooperating with Western militaries, including dispatching the largest military force among non-NATO countries to Afghanistan, made up of over 1,750 servicemen, and preparing to participate in the EU’s peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic.
And yet, French Foreign Minister Fabius signaled that neither Georgia’s membership in NATO nor granting it a MAP during the September summit were currently being discussed in Western capitals (https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2459639). His statement did not surprise Georgian politicians and experts, however, especially since US President Barack Obama had previously said it directly: “Neither Ukraine nor Georgia are currently on a path to NATO membership” (https://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=27079).
Georgians are convinced that the primary reason for NATO’s reluctance to lay out a clear path toward membership for Georgia is the North Atlantic Alliance’s aversion to becoming involved in the conflicts around Abkhazia and South Ossetia—the Georgian autonomies that were recognized as “independent” by Russia.
According NATO rules, only a successful state that has no territorial issues and conflicts with its neighbors may become a member. Since all NATO countries recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as inalienable parts of Georgia, further convergence with Tbilisi may lead to a deepening of the Alliance members’ disagreements with Moscow.
Long-time parliamentarian and former chief of the Chancellery of the government of Georgia Petre Mamradze told Jamestown that Georgian authorities have recently quietly offered NATO leaders a plan to overcome this contradiction, thus allowing Georgia to be admitted into NATO without the risk of the Alliance potentially becoming embroiled in a war with Russia (Author’s interview, April 25).
According to information he gathered from his conversations with several unnamed Western diplomats, Mamradze revealed that the essence of the proposal is to not extend NATO Article 5 protection to the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, should Georgia be admitted as a full member. According to this proposal, NATO would grant Georgia a MAP during the September 2014 summit and underscore Georgia’s membership process as a legitimate objective, thereby confirming the decision of the Bucharest summit of 2008, which declared that Georgia would be a member of NATO. But the Alliance would openly state that in the case of Georgia, Article 5 of the Washington Treaty would not apply to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Simultaneously, however, these regions will still be considered as “occupied by Russia,” and neither Georgia nor the member states of NATO will recognize them (Author’s interview, April 25).
“Those representatives of the Georgian authorities that voiced this idea in [their] talks with Western partners referred to the German precedent. They pointed out that [during the Cold War] part of Germany was occupied by Soviet forces—a powerful grouping of Soviet military forces was stationed there—but Germany was still allowed to become a NATO member,” Mamradze said (Author’s interview, April 25).
This proposal to revise the fundamental Article 5 protection for Georgia in exchange for admission into the Alliance appears naive at the first glance, Mamradze noted. But in fact, the idea invites even harsher criticism. “This is stupidity and idiocy,” the former Chancellory chief decried, adding, “how can one compare [the situation of the mid-20th century with the present]? Back then the stakes for the West were extremely high, while the current interest of the West in Georgia is hardly comparable to the West’s involvement in the affairs of the great nation in the center of Europe [meaning, Germany]” (Author’s interview, April 25).
The cool reaction of Western partners to such extravagant proposals forces the Georgian authorities to put greater emphasis on integrationist projects with the European Union because it is clear that EU programs such as the Eastern Partnership and Association Agreements are the maximum that the West can afford under the current circumstances of hard competition in the post-Soviet space. In comparison, Russia uses all the resources at its disposal, including military pressure, in order to prevent NATO from further expansion into the East (Author’s interview, April 25).
Georgian society is gradually arriving at a consensus that the EU Association Agreement is the best available choice and most reachable achievement for Tbilisi under the current conditions. This is illuminated in the statement of the most authoritative and influential opinion maker of Georgia, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilia II. Against the backdrop of the Ukrainian events, Georgia’s Patriarch for the first time openly and clearly stated: “Georgia should become a member of European structures. This is necessary for us” (https://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=27170). Until recently, Patriarch Ilia was suspected of sympathies for Moscow. After the five-day Russian-Georgian war of 2008, he met with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin several times (https://dfwatch.net/georgian-patriarch-ilia-ii-visits-moscow-meets-putin-41150).
Thus, in the near future, Georgia will certainly try to emphasize its cooperation with the European Union. But it cannot be ruled out that NATO—even though it is not seriously considering Georgian membership at this time—will likely receive new inventive proposals from Tbilisi that will continue to confirm Georgia’s unwavering interest in moving closer to the Alliance.