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Supporters of normalization of relations with Russia get more vocal in Georgia

September 25, 2015, 20:03 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
©  ITAR-TASS/David Urbani

MOSCOW, September 25. /TASS/. Opponents of a pro-Western political course who support normalization of relations with Russia are becoming more and more vocal in Georgia. Experts say many people are disillusioned by the politicies of the country’s political leadership which promised to restore relations with Moscow but never did it.

In the light of it, one can hear more and more often the opinion that the country will not benefit in any way from a hypothetical accession to NATO, analysts indicate.

A manifestation waving the demands to restore diplomatic relations with Russia and to mothball the plans for integration in NATO took place in the capital Tbilisi on Thursday. It was organized by a nongovernmental organization ‘Irakly II Society’. Although it was not very populous, it marked the first-ever open and sharply-worded public protest against the authorities’ pro-Western and pro-NATO course.

"Our main objective is to make Georgia a neutral state, to ensure that it declares military neutrality, to guarantee the absence of (foreign military) bases on its territory," said the president of Irakly II Society, Archil Chkoidze. "Our second major objective is to re-establish diplomatic relations with Russia".

Chkoidze, who is also a leader of Georgia’s Eurasian Choice coalition said 90% voters who supported the Georgian Dream coalition in the last election did so exclusively out of the desire to restore relations with Russia.

The Voice of America has cited the returns from a recent opinion poll taken by the National Democratic Institute, a US-based nonprofit organization, which displayed an increase in the percentage of Georgians willing to see their country as a member of the Eurasian Union. A total of 31% of those polled supported the proposal in April 2015 versus 16% in April 2014 and 11% in November 2013.

Georgia hopes to get NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP) next year. The MAPs are official programmes of "advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance." Involvement in them is called upon to help the target countries prepare themselves for membership but does not guarantee accession automatically.

While only a few politicians in the ruling coalition have come up with warnings against Georgia’s accession, some opposition parties have been openly critical of the government’s drive towards North-Atlantic integration. The public movement ‘Demokratiuli Modzraoba - ertiany Sokartvelo’ (the Democratic Movement - United Georgia) led by former parliament speaker Nino Budjanadze is one of them.

"I myself advocated Georgia’s accession to NATO but this was at the time when Russia and the West had totally different relations," she said on Thursday on the sidelines of the Eurasian Women’s Forum in St Petersburg.

"Let's state a realistic thing: Georgia doesn't have a chance for becoming a NATO member and even if had had one after 2008, now this membership is already unrewarding for our country," she said. "Friendship yes, cooperation yes, work together for making life better - yes, but I wouldn’t like to see military bases in our little Georgia under any circumstances, even if the territory of the country were bigger."

"I think we must build relations in a manner that would make foreign bases unneeded," Burdjanadze said. "Russia should feel confident no threat to it is coming out of our country. These are Russia’s legitimate interests, like the interests of any other state. We must realize there is no building security of the state at the expense of security of other countries."

"I visit Georgia often enough and I can see people there are getting disillusioned by the West," Sergei Mikheyev, the president of the Center for Current Political Situations told TASS. "More and more Georgians begin to accuse the Georgian government, which acted upon the advice of Western ‘friends’, of the loss of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and of the spoiling of relations with Russia."

"The idea of zero benefits and more complexities in relations with Russia from an accession to NATO is sounding louder and louder in Georgian public opinion," Mikheyev said. "They lost Abkhazia and South Ossetia and NATO proved to be unhelpful then."

Disillusionment with own leadership and with the West is getting stronger but one cannot call these moods to be prevalent yet, he said, adding that they do not exert any impact on the position of the official Tbilisi at present.

"Georgia began to turn its face away from NATO and the US after it failed to rally their support in 2008 when it lost Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Sergei Markov, the director of the Center for Political Research said in an interview with TASS.

"Those conditions kicked off a growth of understanding of the importance of better relations with Russia," he said. "A change of state power, with the removal of Saakashvili from office, took place on the background of that trend."

However, it waned away since Russia was unable to give up support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia at the time and the pro-Russian trend came to a standstill.

A pro-American kernel has crystallized in the ruling coalition now. The President and the Defence Minister are its component elements and, in all evidence, preparations have begun to dislodge the politicians speaking in favor of normalization of Russian-Georgian relations.

Sergei Markov believes that Georgia’s full-fledged membership of NATO will remain but a rosy fantasy.

"It is true that NATO is striving for expansion but not through the absorption of Georgia and Ukraine," he said. "They’ve designed a different model that can be called a de facto unilateral membership."

"These countries won’t have legally formalized memberships, as NATO puts stakes on signing the agreements on extended strategic partnership with them," Markov said. "They will be providing their troops, adopting NATO standards and housing NATO bases."

"In other words, they will have anything except formal membership and security guarantees," he said.

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