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Outlook for Georgia’s NATO accession remains hazy, but military aid keeps pouring in

February 12, 2016, 19:11 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© AP Photo/Georgy Abdaladze

MOSCOW, February 12. /TASS/. The outlook for Georgia’s accession to NATO remains hazy. Far from all members of the alliance regard it expedient. The question of inviting Tbilisi to join the NATO Membership Action Plan remains suspended and may never materialize. At the same time the United States is increasingly worried over the fact ever fewer Georgian citizens like the idea of their country entering the alliance. This explains why military cooperation with Georgia is being stepped up in various ways. The US is concerned over anti-NATO sentiment in Georgia most of all. It suspects that Russian propaganda is to blame.

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday Georgia was approaching the North Atlantic Alliance by carrying our reforms and thus making its contribution to common security. He recalled that NATO had pledged to provide assistance to Georgia on the way towards admission. In 2011, NATO named Georgia an aspirant for the alliance’s membership.

Stoltenberg said that in March 2016 NATO would establish a training center in Tbilisi soon. A new joint Georgia-NATO training center will open in Tbilisi in May. It will train Georgian officers for enhancing Georgia’s ability to defend itself, Stoltenberg said.

The latest surge in NATO’s activities are not accidental. As follows from the annual report the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, presented to the US Senate, the Georgian elites’ and society’s growing disappointment with the slow pace of Western integration and effective Russian propaganda have increased the chances Tbilisi’s efforts at Euro-Atlantic integration may begin to wane. As for the report proper, it sounds a warning to the West that insufficient support for Georgia may entail undesirable consequences.

Opinion polls held in Georgia over the past few years indicate that the popularity of the idea of NATO’s membership and integration with the European Union has been steadily on the decline. An Eurasia Institute poll of about one year ago found that 55% percent of the respondents answered in the negative to the question about the possibility of Georgia hosting NATO military bases in the near future. A tiny 20% percent answered in the affirmative. Should a plebiscite be held on Georgia’s accession to NATO, 40% would vote against membership of the alliance, and 32% for it.

"The Georgian population is getting increasingly skeptical. The people are ever more disillusioned regarding the prospects of Georgia entering NATO and the European Union," Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli said during a visit to Washington in August 2015.

Whereas within the ruling coalition only a handful of politicians came out with statements against Georgia’s likely membership of NATO, within the opposition there are parties openly opposed to the country’s Atlantic integration. Among them the Democratic Movement - United Georgia and its leader, former parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze, enjoy the greatest support.

"To begin with, Russian propaganda in Georgia, which Clapper mentioned in his report, in fact does not work. It is blocked by various political forces, opposed to any restoration of Russian-Georgian relations," the head of the Eurasian integration section at the CIS Countries Institute, Vladimir Yevseyev, has told TASS. "Also, there is another factor: Georgians are tired of NATO. In spite of the years-long expectations NATO has in fact avoided admitting Georgia and invented a variety of interaction formats. The people do not see any real benefits from rapprochement with NATO. Ever more people stop to think: it might be a whole lot better to come to terms with Russia than wait for NATO to resolve the problem of Abkhazia. Part of the population has the feeling that Abkhsazia is gone never to return."

"As for the prospects of Georgia entering NATO, there exist considerable rifts among the alliance’s members," the head of the strategic evaluations department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Situation Analysis Center, Sergey Utkin, has told TASS. "Many members of the alliance believe that granting Georgia the status of a Membership Action Plan participant would be perceived by Russia as a provocative step, so they are keen to avoid another flare-up of tensions. They are in no mood to pull chestnuts out of the fire for Georgia. In the first place this is true of Germany and France."

As far as the US is concerned, Uktin believes that Washington was "unequivocally ‘for’ during the George W. Bush presidencies. "Obama tried to avoid touching upon this theme at the summit level, but in parallel efforts were underway for stepping up military cooperation to prepare Georgia for closer relations with NATO. With US encouragement a Georgian contingent participated in the international operation in Afghanistan. These days the Republicans are ever more active in their campaign for Georgia’s accession to NATO."

Georgia will not be granted a MAP status in the foreseeable future, Utkin believes. "The enthusiasts of Georgia-NATO rapprochement have been persuading NATO that MAP is sheer formality. Georgia is advised to reform its armed forces that would bring Georgia closer to NATO standards and to achieve a situation where only a political decision would separate it from real membership. In other words, to do without MAP altogether."

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