Georgia's dance with NATO: one step to the West, two steps North

By Tengo Gogotishvili

Protesters wave Georgian, Ukrainian and NATO flags during clashes in Tbilisi, Georgia, on March 7. [AFP]

Protesters wave Georgian, Ukrainian and NATO flags during clashes in Tbilisi, Georgia, on March 7. [AFP]

TBILISI -- Seldom has there been a more auspicious moment for Georgia to move closer to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) membership -- but Tbilisi is deliberately missing every opportunity to make its case, say analysts.

More than 75% of Georgia's population favours the country's accession to NATO, according to the latest research and polling.

This overwhelming majority includes voters of the ruling Georgian Dream party, contends former International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) senior fellow Thorniké Gordadze, adding that such support for NATO is why the government cannot openly declare it has changed its long-held stance.

But neither is it taking "any effective steps to get closer" to NATO, he told Caravanserai.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg give a joint statement at NATO headquarters in Brussels on April 25. [Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP]

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg give a joint statement at NATO headquarters in Brussels on April 25. [Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP]

The Georgian government is holding itself at a distance from NATO, former Georgian ambassador to the Netherlands Shota Gvineria told Caravanserai.

"It's impossible to talk about any real integration today," he said. "The Georgian security system has been undermined, and Russian intelligence has infiltrated every government agency."

"In these circumstances, NATO won't exchange information with Georgia even at the level of a candidate country," he explained.

"The alliance simply will not entrust sensitive information to Georgian authorities, as long as it perceives them to be actively collaborating with Russia."

The path to membership

"Georgia has decided to become a full NATO member and work tirelessly for this historic mission," then-President Eduard Shevardnadze declared at NATO's Prague Summit in November 2002, more than two decades ago.

A year later, Shevardnadze resigned, and it fell to the new government to continue the work. Much was achieved in the 10 years of Mikheil Saakashvili's presidency.

Saakashvili's government "had the political will but did not make enough smart decisions for achieving [NATO membership]", said the former rector of the Military Academy of Georgia, Giorgi Tavdgiridze -- a critic of the Saakashvili administration.

"But now, even that political will for rapprochement with NATO is absent," he told Caravanserai.

At the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, NATO supported Georgia's application for the Membership Action Plan, and that of Ukraine.

Both received assurances they eventually would become members, and NATO has continued to stand by the written pledge made in Bucharest.

"We are lagging behind, above all, in terms of the level of democracy," said Black Sea University social scientist Nika Chitadze, who says the Georgia-Ukraine duo has broken up.

"In 2008, Georgia was ahead of Ukraine across all indicators. Fifteen years later, everything is exactly the opposite," Gordadze said.

At the conclusion of each subsequent summit, NATO has reiterated the promise made in Bucharest: "Georgia and Ukraine will become members of the North Atlantic Alliance."

To join or not to join

At a news conference ahead of the alliance's July summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, however, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was extremely dry in answering a question about Georgia's prospects.

"We need to strengthen our partnership with partners who are vulnerable to [sic] Russian interference and under pressure," he said, reading from a piece of paper.

"At the summit, allies will reiterate our support to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia... Allies will also, I expect, reaffirm Georgia's right to decide its own future and foreign policy, free from outside intervention."

"I participated in the preparation for two NATO summits," recalled Gordadze, who is a former state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration.

"Work on each phrase, each word, began many months in advance," he said. "We travelled around the capitals. We lobbied with leaders regarding our position, what the summit resolution should say about us."

"But now the authorities are openly sabotaging the process and do not hide their pleasure that Georgia has completely fallen off the NATO agenda."

One recent example of falling off the agenda is Georgia's failure to participate in NATO's Defender 2023 exercises -- with Defence Minister Juansher Burtchuladze admitting that Georgia itself had declined to participate.

"I hope at least the Noble Partner 2023 exercises will be held," said Chitadze, referring to annual exercises held in Georgia under the auspices of the US European Command.

"But I wouldn't be surprised if they also get cancelled."

'Ship without a compass'

In recent days, Ukraine's path to NATO membership has dominated the headlines.

Ukraine was discussed at length at Vilnius, yet Georgia's membership bid has meanwhile slipped out of sight.

"Finland is already in NATO. Sweden will enter very soon," said Gordadze. "The most ardent skeptics -- France, Italy, Germany -- consider Ukraine a future NATO member."

"Even eternally neutral Moldova has started talking about joining. And Georgia alone, which once led the process, now claims through its prime minister that the war in Ukraine was provoked by its desire to become a member of NATO."

"This is a Russian narrative," explained Baltic Defence College lecturer Shota Gvineria.

"The assertion that integration with NATO is fraught with danger -- a fact allegedly confirmed by what happened with Ukraine in 2022 or Georgia in 2008 -- originates in Moscow and is now being parroted by Georgia's prime minister."

Do you like this article?

1 Comment(s)

Comment Policy * Denotes Required Field 1500 / 1500

Georgia and its dancing with NATO look like a dancer making one step forward, one step backwards, and then... decisively walking into a wall. More than 75% of the population long for the West, but the people governing their country look like a car with a blocked reverse gear. It's like playing tag, but instead of "Tag, you're 'It'!", it's "Please tag me already!" here. And with all that, Russian intelligence undoubtedly applauds looking at this picture while the Georgian government prolongs the masquerade and continues playing "Catch me if you can!" It's an incredibly breathtaking show!