Probably due to similar fear, the Georgian Government often finds it difficult to clearly express its opinion about this issue. The diversity of the Georgian Dream Coalition further complicates the process of formulation of unified messages. As a result, we often hear inconsistent comments and actions when, on the one hand, the Minister of Defense is very harsh and almost blackmailing the West to give us the MAP and, on the other hand, Irakli Gharibashvili, Georgia’s former Prime Minister, always spoke in a manner that would not annoy the Kremlin.
Georgia’s cooperation with the EU, apparently, is less painful for Russia, therefore, probability of new problems in our European integration process caused by third parties is low. The main question the Georgian Government and society should think about is what we should do in terms of NATO aspirations.
As mentioned, two polarized opinions dominate the non-governmental groups in the country: i) to try our best to join the NATO by ignoring Kremlin’s interests; and ii) to say “no” to NATO and try to deal with Russia.
As for the Georgian Government, its official position is that the NATO membership and warmer relations with Russia are not in contradiction to one another, and can be achieved together. I hope that the Government of Georgia understand that these two policies are mutually exclusive.
However, in foreign policy what you really believe sometimes is less important than how you want to be seen by others. Sometimes you have to pretend that you are very serious about your plans and strong enough to overcome all difficulties. That is why, I think, the official stance of Georgian Government on this issue is mostly correct. The only thing missing is consistency in comments and actions.
One the one hand, we should understand that Georgia’s NATO aspirations is very painful for Russia and it will resist this process even by use of force. Therefore, this could be very risky game for our independence and security. On the other hand, expression of fear and abandoning of NATO aspirations is also not a good idea, because the current leadership in Russia is our number one enemy and we should not lose face in future negotiations and conflicts. Such kind of serious concession may increase the Kremlin’s appetite and require even more from us.
Therefore, the following strategy would be best for Georgia:
- The Government of Georgia should maintain the current official position about the NATO membership and improved relations with Russia;
- Cooperation should be further deepened with NATO. However, Government officials should refrain from harsh and blackmailing statements towards the West. We should understand that Georgia’s NATO membership is not realistic at least in the short and medium term. The Alliance is not ready for military confrontation with Russia. As for other non-military leverages, they would not be that effective;
- The Government of Georgia should not play with its citizens’ perceptions and raise unrealistic expectations. It is important to avoid discrediting the idea of NATO membership;
- In parallel, the Georgian Government should individually work with the United States to get the status of Major Non-NATO Ally, therefore, falling under the protection shield of the USA in case of Russian aggression;
- We should try our best not to increase dependence on Russian economy in order to soften potential economic sanctions against us. In this regard, the special attention should be paid to ongoing negotiations with Gazprom about new contracts.