We Still Want to Join NATO

Georgia says it’s determined to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as soon as it fixes its “territorial problems” with Russia.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili made the announcement at an economic conference in Qatar on Tuesday, telling the crowd that the country’s “motivation is to become a member of NATO.”

But he said Georgian leadership is “not naive” in its ambitions, and that it understands it must first “resolve” with its breakaway regions before joining the alliance.

The country has long sought to join NATO, and although it’s considered a close partner to the Western alliance and regularly takes part in allied military drills, plans for accession have largely been viewed with skepticism because thousands of Russian troops are currently stationed in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“Our government’s policy is to restore territorial integrity and sovereignty through peaceful negotiations. We have not been in contact with [Moscow] since we came to power. We have not had any political consultations since 2012, we have only trade and economic relations,” Garibashvili said.

His comments seem bound to strike a chord with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who has said Moscow would respond “extremely negatively” to Georgia joining the alliance and, shortly before the Feb. 24 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, said Russia would use any means necessary to stop NATO from helping Ukraine to win back territories occupied by Russian proxies.

(Russia made similar arguments to justify its invasion of Georgia in 2008, with then-President Dmitry Medevedev claiming that war had stopped NATO from expanding into former Soviet republics.)

When Garibashvili made his remarks Tuesday, his office had reportedly just received an invitation to an upcoming NATO summit in Madrid from Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The letter, which notes that the meeting with Russia has “shattered peace in Europe,” says NATO allies will “forge a new policy on Russia” during the summit.

Since Georgia was first promised eventual membership in NATO back in 2008, some experts have called for the country to be admitted to the alliance even despite its “territorial issues,” arguing that the breakaway regions could simply be exempt from Article 5, which obligates members to jump to each other’s defense against outside aggression.

Former NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen made this suggestion in 2019, noting that the country “fulfills almost all criteria” to become a NATO member. “I think the way to move beyond that stalemate is to discuss in Georgia whether you will accept an arrangement where NATO’s Article 5 covers only that Georgian territory where the Georgian government has full sovereignty,” he said at the time in an interview with Voice of America.

Moscow has yet to publicly respond to Garibashvili’s NATO overture, with security officials busy in their latest bout of saber-rattling against NATO-member Lithuania on Tuesday.

Russian Council chief Nikolai Patrushev warned the Baltic country that its citizens would face “serious consequences” after authorities there imposed a negative rail blockade cutting off the transit of Russian goods to the exclave region of Kaliningrad on Saturday.

“Rus, of course, respond to hostile actions of kind,” Patrushev told a security meeting, which Lithuania imposed sanctions in line with EU, had been “orchestrated against the West norms and principles of international law. ”

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