NATO plans to offer a special «associated partnership» status to Georgia and Ukraine at the summit to take place in Warsaw on July 8-9, as well as a closer cooperation in the Black Sea.
At present, both Georgia and Ukraine are members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program launched in 1994 and aimed at building relationships with partners through military-to-military cooperation. The newly invented status is not a synonym for the Membership Acting Plan (MAP), a standard mechanism for aspirant countries to prepare for membership, but a step towards closer rapprochement.
The plan invites Ukraine and Georgia to join a «28+2» cooperation in the Black Sea, a formula previously tested with Finland and Sweden, which are not NATO members, in the Baltics. The idea was previously articulated by Alexander Vershbow, the current Deputy Secretary-General of NATO, at the Conference on Security in Kiev in April.
According to him, Georgia and Ukraine have to join this format of cooperation because the «Russian possible plans to station nuclear weapons in the Black sea region will undermine the balance of power».
One does not have to be an expert to realize that the plan envisages isolation of Russia in the Black Sea, as three other states – Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey – are already members of NATO.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says that Ukraine may join Romania's initiative to create a new, NATO-supported «allied fleet» in the Black Sea.
«Ukraine will be happy to join this initiative when the Alliance approves it», he said at a joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Bucharest on April 21.
«Let me stress once again that we support Romania's initiative to create a NATO-supported allied fleet», Poroshenko noted.
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow said on April 14 that the NATO-Ukraine Commission will meet on the sidelines of Warsaw summit at the level of heads of state.
«In Warsaw, the Allies will reaffirm their continuing commitment to support the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine during the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the level of heads of state», Vershbow said, speaking at the Kiev Security Forum.
Last September, Jens Stoltenberg, the 13th Secretary General of NATO, elevated the representative office of Ukraine at the alliances headquarters in Brussels to a full-fledged diplomatic mission.
Georgia’s NATO status has been discussed on and off since the Bucharest 2008 summit. Tbilisi plans to drop its requests for a MAP and demand the outright removal of any intermediary steps to join the Alliance at the upcoming event in Warsaw.
Georgian leaders are ready to take a resolute stand in a bid for membership.
Levan Berdzenishvili, a member of Georgia’s Republican Party, suggested that Georgia could enter NATO without a membership action plan. He believes Georgia is already on the way to meet fundamental MAP requirements.
It is widely believed that Georgia does not need such a plan anymore being a participant in the Annual National Plan, the NATO-Georgia Commission, and the more recent Substantial NATO-Georgia Package (SNGP).
Summed together, these programs contain all the necessary measures to prepare the country for eventual membership. A special provision could be introduced to address the problem of territorial integrity with Article 5 of the Washington Treaty applied only to the territory outside of Abkhazia and South Ossetia until the conflict is settled.
Georgia is currently the second-largest contributor of troops in Afghanistan, having deployed 12,000 soldiers to the country since 2010. The country meets the 2% of GDP defense-spending requirement (only five NATO member states countries meet this obligation).
Georgia has started to implement a program to enhance its air defense capability.
It is also in the process of restructuring its armed forces according to Western standards.
Along with that, Georgia has contributed to the NATO Response Force. The NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Center is located just outside of Tbilisi. It started to function in the beginning of this year. Georgia also hosts NATO-Georgia military exercises. Its forces have been deployed alongside NATO troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and most recently in the Central African Republic. The country is an important transportation corridor linking energy fields in Caspian Sea to Turkish and European markets, bypassing Russia.
This February, James Appathurai, the NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, said during his trip to Georgia that the NATO summit would offer «a strong declaration» to Georgia.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has made a statement saying his country will raise the issue of Georgia’s NATO membership.
According to him, Turkey had always «strongly supported» Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration.
As a matter of fact, the very idea to lump Georgia and Ukraine together sounds rather peculiar. Indeed, Georgia has done much more than Ukraine to integrate, including the lives of its soldiers dying for NATO abroad, but it has got nothing in return so far. The country has unsettled territorial problems. It’s far from being prosperous. Georgia’s defense potential will not make NATO much stronger. Ukraine’s future is uncertain with its internal conflicts unsettled, reigning corruption, ubiquitous inefficiency and economy in doldrums. The country’s membership will be a great headache and a heavy burden for the Alliance to shoulder.
Actually, at present NATO has no intention to make Georgia or Ukraine full-fledged NATO members with all the responsibility to ensue. The vague «association status» will make it easier for the Alliance to influence the countries’ foreign policies and use them for its ends. Anyway, NATO has to offer them something in order not to alienate them and bring them further into its fold. Georgia’s patience may be running out. Some political parties in Georgia are calling for a turn to Moscow and the Eurasian Economic Union.
Indeed, in Georgia the idea of joining NATO is increasingly becoming less popular. For instance, opinion polls held in the country 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.
The idea to join the Alliance does not have the support of majority in Ukraine. Only 45% of Ukrainians support the idea of joining NATO, as can be seen from a recent public opinion poll.
Asked how they would vote if a referendum on Ukraine's accession to NATO were held today, 45% of those polled said they would vote in favor of NATO membership, 30% would vote against it, 16% were undecided, and 10% would not cast their ballots.
A 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.
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Georgian and Ukrainian ships pose no threat to the powerful Russian Black Sea Fleet. Adding them to the NATO Black Sea Naval Force does not change much the balance of forces. But granting the «association status» and making Ukraine’s and Georgia’s navies permanently take part in NATO operations in the Black Sea symbolizes hostile intentions towards Russia. It will be perceived as a provocation. The naval cooperation and the new status will be inevitably used to gradually create NATO-oriented military infrastructure. It will impose further obligations on the «associated partners» without any responsibility on the part of the Alliance. NATO will use the countries according to its plans without giving much in return.
The implementation of the plan will spoil the Russia-NATO dialogue that has just been renewed. The Russia-NATO Council held its first after two years meeting to address the burning issues dividing the parties. On April 21, Russia and the US launched negotiations on cybersecurity for the first time since 2013. Very slowly Russia and the Alliance are restoring the contacts. The decisions planned to be taken at the July NATO summit will turn the tide. The hard efforts to restart the crucially important contacts may go down the drain. Russian will respond to the challenge raising the tensions already high as the Alliance has announced its plans to deploy the third US brigade in Eastern Europe.
It will certainly make Russia take appropriate steps to deter the threat and introduce changes into its operational planning. The associated partners will become targets for Russian military. This is another indication of NATO policy aimed at instigating further confrontation with Russia. «Any political game around issues of NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine can entail the most serious and deepest geopolitical consequences for Europe as a whole», Russian ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko said.
Granting the «association status» will affect other areas of relationship where NATO and especially the US have great interest in Russian cooperation. Nobody will win, everybody will lose. This is the wrong time for more actions symbolizing hostility.