As a result of the NATO summit in Wales, Georgia gained a ‘golden card’ of enhanced cooperation with the Alliance. Meanwhile, in the course of discussions of the summit results a question ironically arose: will this ‘golden card’ stop the Russian tanks deployed 40 kilometres away from Tbilisi?
The question is far from being rhetorical, considering that Georgia’s security much the same as before the summit remains fragile. The previous NATO summit in Chicago in 2012 was decided to be the last one to omit discussions of enlargement. Despite this fact, Tbilisi did not obtain a NATO Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) this time again.
A new NATO-Georgia cooperation package, adopted against a background of exacerbated Russia-West relations on the issue of the Ukrainian crisis, opens new possibilities as well as challenges for Tbilisi.
A closer cooperation within NATO’s institutions, which were previously of a limited access for Georgia, is becoming more possible. One of these institutions is Operations Policy Committee that provides the framework for intensified coordination among the members on concrete NATO operations, such as the Kosovo Force or the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
A comparative analysis of Georgia’s relations with NATO before and after the Wales summit shows that, despite its seemingly humble results for Tbilisi, the summit did raise the level of cooperation between the country and the Alliance significantly.
For the first time in Georgia there will be a small, but military NATO institution in the form of a joint training centre. Additionally, the NATO communication office in Tbilisi will be enlarged. This implies a considerable future increase in NATO personnel permanently deployed in Georgia. The official legal status of this centre has not been defined yet. A number of issues, such as financing, structure functions and the level of equipment, are still under discussion and there is no detailed information about them. However, the centre functions can be expected to go beyond military training for NATO states and their partners. The Alliance penetrates Georgia and gains a foothold in it with all the far-reaching implications.
The US Defense Minister Chuck Hagel’s visit to Georgia shortly after the summit and the issues that were discussed during this visit partially proved this point. There is a high possibility that Georgia may be pushed for more action aimed at countering Russia’s plans to re-establish its influence in the post-Soviet space. The new cooperation package also provides for significant military assistance to Georgia from the part of the Western states, including modern equipment supplies.
It can be fairly assumed that NATO’s relations with Georgia is a ‘win-win’ game of making the country a part of its global presence system and gaining much at a low price.
Is Georgia determined to re-establish its role of an anti-Russian irritant in the post-Soviet space the way it was during Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency? There is a certain amount of proponents in the West for this to happen. Lamentation with the fact that the current Georgian leadership is not pro-Western enough has intensified with Tbilisi’s reserved stance on the Ukrainian crisis. The government is under constant criticism coming from the Georgian pro-Westerners for being too careful, as they see it, in the country’s relations with Russia.
In order to lessen these concerns the ruling Georgian Dream coalition has to maneuver. The fragility of Georgia’s security under conditions of lack of NATO’s guarantees to protect the country in case of Russia’s reaction, including military actions, will serve as a deterrent for Tbilisi. Even if NATO grants Georgia – along with Ukraine and Moldova – with the status of the US partner in the foreseeable future, it will not minimize the risks of possible deterioration in relations with Russia to a great extent.
Meanwhile, there are undoubted risks of Russo-Georgian relations deteriorating in case of emergence of NATO infrastructure and military supplies in Georgia, even if they are very limited. The Georgian leadership and the parliamentary opposition choose not to talk about this at the moment, but it is constantly voiced by opposition parties and social groups, who promote reconciliation with Russia. Lately their activity has grown, however, it remains localized. Nino Burjanadze, a former Georgian parliament-speaker and a Democratic Georgia Party leader, presently is the only politician to publicly criticize the opening of the NATO training centre and the government’s unwillingness to intensify cooperation with Russia.
Judging from the representation of political parties in the parliament, the West and Atlantic integration proponents are obviously stronger.
Notably, however, this strength is more an issue of quality, not quantity, for the pro-Westerners are politically more experienced, enjoying their ties with partners in the West and their impressive ability to mobilise public opinion through the Media and civilian sector.
A moderate wing of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition is constantly undergoing the pressure of the pro-Westerners. The politicians of this wing are mostly new in politics. They may be identified as Eurasianists. As much as they conform to the current state of events and publicly support the firmness of the pro-Western course, they remain unwilling to sacrifice the relatively smooth lately relations with Russia to it.
The nature of Russo-Georgian relations after the NATO summit in Wales will depend on several exterior and interior factors.
The US, obviously, has no inclination to provoke Russia, and for this reason its military cooperation with Georgia did not gain the level of development Tbilisi had been counting on.
The ‘enhanced package’ of NATO-Georgia cooperation can hardly become a deterrent for Russia in case the two countries find themselves on the brink of war. At the same time, the US and NATO are persistent in preserving Georgia’s enthusiasm about the possibility of a membership in the Alliance. This policy does not require much effort with the Georgian elite ready to bear certain expenses for the sake of the Euro-Atlantic integration and in exchange for the Western support of keeping the current government in power.
Implications of the ‘enhanced cooperation’ between NATO and Georgia for the Russo-Georgian relations will manifest themselves in the upcoming months. Much will depend on the ability of the West and Russia to reset their relations and agree on new game rules for the post-Soviet space.
Waning of the Ukrainian crisis may recreate conditions favourable for the meeting between the Russian and Georgian leaders. However, normalization in relations of the two countries has distinctly set limits, for the global strategy of the Georgian leadership remains unchanged.
The key question for Russia is whether the Operation Atlantic Resolve will become the start of permanent stationing of American and NATO forces in the countries of former Warsaw Pact and the post-Soviet space. Moscow insists that its security needs be taken into account, whereas the American leadership believes that the motives of Russia stem from “misinterpretations and outdated thinking”.
It seems to me that George Friedman’s geopolitical doctrine simplifies both the international reality and the liberal ideas of the American mainstream. Acceptance of the reality of the existing balance of powers, aspiration for preserving stability and guidance by the international law – these are the key ingredients in the realist policies recipe that the US still fail to manage.
Western governments locked up in short electoral cycles are bound to continue same policies towards Russia.