By Eka Janashia (03/04/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The Kremlin continues Russia's annexation of Georgia's breakaway regions and at the same time warns Tbilisi to cease its effort to integrate with NATO. On February 18, breakaway South Ossetia signed a "border treaty" with the Russian Federation, and declared its intention to strike an "Alliance and Integration" deal with Moscow shortly.
The agreement mirrors the "Alliance and Strategic Partnership" agreement inked between Moscow and Sokhumi in November, though envisions a deeper integration of the South Ossetia's defense, security, and customs agencies with those of Russia. An already signed border agreement dictates the abolishment of the border crossing point at the Roki tunnel connecting the South Ossetia to Russia.
The border eradication initiative was first aired by Vladislav Surkov, the Russian president's aide in charge of supervising Moscow's relations with the two de facto republics, on February 17, during a meeting with Abkhazia's de-facto president Raul Khajimba. "There must not be a border between us," Surkov said and added that Russia's financial support for the two breakaway regions would be upheld in the face of Russia's current economic troubles.
The border agreement between Moscow and Tskhinvali is a swift implementation of this initiative. After signing the border treaty, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed the Kremlin's readiness to avert the "negative effect" of "never-ending attempts to drag Tbilisi into NATO."
The Kremlin's apprehension is directed towards the establishment of NATO's "Training and Evaluation Center" (TAEC) in Georgia which, in the words of Russia's permanent representative in NATO Alexander Grushko, provokes Moscow, escalates tension and worsens regional security.
At the recent NATO summit in Wales, Georgia obtained a "substantial package," which along with other supportive tools, aims to enhance Georgia's defense capabilities through launching the TAEC, which could obtain a regional dimension in the future.
As part of this policy, NATO's Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow visited Georgia in January 2015. Vershbow assured that despite the Kremlin's nervous reaction towards the planned NATO-Georgia training center, the alliance will make a resolute effort to create the facility before the end of this year.
He underlined that the TAEC will be "the most visible element of a NATO presence in Georgia." While it will primarily focus on command post exercises, field exercises with participation of foreign troops as well as live and simulated trainings for allied military units committed to the NATO Response Force and Connected Forces initiative might also take place, Vershbow said. He also announced that periodic military exercises involving NATO allies and partner countries will start in Georgia this year.
The Kremlin's reaction to the high NATO official's statement was soon reflected in the border removal initiative and strict declarations on Russia's counter-measures to deal with the undesirable implications of NATO-Georgia cooperation. Zurab Abashidze, the Georgian Prime Minister's special representative for relations with Russia, commented that Moscow, Brussels and Tbilisi all are well-aware "that Georgia's membership to NATO today and tomorrow is not on the agenda" and that Georgia-NATO cooperation "in no way aims at deploying NATO military infrastructure in Georgia."
Later, Defense Minister Mindia Janelidze restated that Georgia has no plans to host a NATO military base and that only the TAEC, aiming to enhance the professionalism of Georgian servicemen and with no additional military functions, will be established. The parliamentary minority immediately slammed these official remarks. The former state minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration issues, Free Democrat Alexi Petriashvili dubbed Abashidze's statement another proof that the country's Euro-Atlantic course is under threat. The Free Democrats, led by former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, quit the ruling coalition Georgian Dream (GD) in November with the same motivation.
The United National Movement (UNM) party, in turn, argued that Abashidze had voiced the government's position. The party's leader David Bakradze said that instead of distancing himself from Abashidze's statement, the defense minister had justified it.
Abashidze's statement came a few days before his meeting with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Prague. The Karasin-Abashidze format is the only channel for direct communication between Tbilisi and Moscow, established by former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili. The previous government led by Mikheil Saakashvili government did not engage in direct negotiations with the Kremlin and preferred dialogue in an international format with the participation of representatives from partner countries.
While Russia's anti-NATO policy hardly surprised anyone, Abashidze's statement, which the opposition interpreted as appeasing to Moscow, was unexpected and triggered doubts about the consistency of Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Through the border removal initiative as well as the "amalgamation agreements" with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia signals that the establishment of a training center where the troops of NATO partners may hold military exercises is totally unacceptable to Kremlin. Georgia's incumbent government clearly seeks to avoid irritating Moscow, but it yet uncertain to what extent this stance will slow Georgia's NATO integration pace. However, ambiguous moves with regard to Euro-Atlantic policy not only cast doubt on Georgia's achievements at the Wales Summit, but also minimize its chances to reach any tangible success at the Warsaw Summit scheduled for next year.
By Eka Janashia (11/26/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
In mid-November, Georgia’s PM Irakli Gharibashvili visited Brussels to discuss the country’s progress on Euro-Atlantic integration, after former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania’s publicly expressed doubts regarding the irreversibility of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic path. The EU praised Georgia’s progress in implementing the Association Agreement (AA) but also aired warning signals about “political retribution, confrontation and polarization.”
On November 17, the Georgian delegation led by PM Gharibashvili along with European colleagues, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn, attended the first EU-Georgia Association Council (AC), the highest body in charge of supervising AA implementation.
The Council confirmed the European Commission’s October 29 report, stating that Georgia had successfully dealt with the first-phase requirements of the Visa Liberalization Action Plan (VLAP) envisaging a set of benchmarks for the EU short-term visa free regime.
VLAP involves a wide range of issues such as anti- corruption and organized crime policies, protection of human and minority rights, border management, document security, money-laundering, migration, mobility, asylum and anti-discrimination polices.
Since the European Commission’s first progress report on VLAP, issued in November 2013, Georgia has approved a new law on status of aliens and stateless persons as well as an anti-discrimination law and made extensive legislative amendments including legislation on protection of personal data.
The first phase of VLAP has applied to the overall policy framework reflected in the adoption of relevant legislation and the next phase will focus on effective and sustainable enactment of defined measures and adopted laws.
The AC also reviewed the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), a substantial component of the AA. Hahn said the DCFTA preparations are going “smoothly” and “Georgia continues to be in the forefront of the Eastern Partnership.”
To maintain the country’s efforts, the EU will allocate EUR 410 million in the period 2014-2017, enabling Georgia to continue adapting to the AA demands. The foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament issued recommendations for the European Parliament to ratify the AA with Georgia in December.
Despite the successful completion of the first phase of VLAP application, paving the way for the second one, EU representatives noted their concerns regarding the firing of Defense Minister Alasania and the resignations of Georgia’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs and European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. Mogherini talked about the need for an improved political climate and “space for opposition and cross party dialogue.” She accentuated the necessity of continuing judiciary reform and avoid “any form of instrumentalization of the prosecution for political purposes.”
PM Gharibashvili pledged to substantiate Georgia’s further steps to meet all second phase criteria of the VLAP by the next Eastern Partnership summit in Riga 2015, where Tbilisi hopes to get the EU’s approval for a visa-free regime with Georgia.
After the AC’s inaugural session, Gharibashvili discussed with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg the implementation of the “substantive package” granted to Georgia at the Wales summit in September.
Stoltenberg stated that the establishment of a NATO-Georgia Training Center and the deployment of trainers to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities are the essential components of the package. Their implementation should start at the NATO defense ministerial meeting in February, 2015. Stoltenberg also said he has “no reason to doubt” Georgia’s NATO integration commitment.
PM Gharibashvili’s visit to Brussels also aimed to disperse the allegations voiced by former Defense Minister Alasania that Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration is under threat. Many officials and analysts in Brussels and Washington assessed the PM’s decision to sack Alasania as an attack on Georgia’s strategic direction.
Gharibashvili thus had to convince Georgia’s foreign partners that the incumbent government remains firmly on its chosen course. He presented the newly appointed Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili, State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Davit Bakradze, Defense Minister Mindia Janelidze to European colleagues and expressed their readiness to make Georgia a “success story in the region” by galvanizing the process of European integration.
Gharibashvili also made tough statements about Russia’s destructive policy. He condemned Moscow’s “attempt to annex” Abkhazia and South Ossetia and expressed hopes that “Georgia’s occupied territories will remain on the radar screen of the Alliance.” Moreover, Gharibashvili dubbed the Kremlin’s steps in Ukraine as a continuation of the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008. Such hardline language is new for the PM who has otherwise subscribed to the soft and cautious policy towards Moscow endorsed by his predecessor Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Alasania’s dismissal from government compelled Gharibashvili to reassure counterparts in the EU and NATO that there is no drift in Georgia’s strategic direction. To restore the confidence among Georgia’s Western partners, he is also portraying the criminal cases against former Ministry of Defense officials as exclusively based on corruption charges, in an effort to disperse perceptions of political retribution.
By Naveed Ahmad (10/15/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On August 5, an Afghan in army uniform opened indiscriminate fire, killing a U.S. army major general besides wounding 15 coalition troops. One German brigadier general and two Afghan generals received non-fatal bullet injuries. Green-on-blue attacks are the most alarming trend in Afghanistan, which has forced ISAF to instruct each soldier to carry a loaded weapon when amongst Afghans. The most recent attack casts a serious shadow over Afghanistan’s stability after NATO hands over internal and external security to Afghan security forces. Even the unprecedented news of two opposing presidential candidates reaching a power-sharing deal offers little hope.
By Eka Janashia (09/17/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On September 5, during NATO’s two-day summit in Wales, Georgia obtained a “substantial package” instead of the long-expected Membership Action Plan (MAP), entailing a step toward closer integration with the alliance.
In the Wales declaration, NATO leaders acknowledged the visible progress that Georgia has made since the 2008 Bucharest summit and stated the provision of a “substantial package” as a tool that should further boost Georgia’s integration with NATO. The package includes the launch of a Defense and Related Security Capacity Building Initiative aiming to buttress partner nations’ ability by sharing NATO expertise in projecting international stability and conflict prevention without deploying large combat forces. Aside from Georgia, the initiative will be extended to Jordan and Moldova.
Consequently, the package aims to enhance Georgia’s defense capabilities, particularly by supporting the Ministry of Defense and promoting reforms intending to modernize the defense and security sectors. It also aspires to increase the interoperability of Georgia’s armed forces by involving them in more NATO trainings and exercises.
To this end, a military training center, which may in the future even gain a regional dimension, will be established in Georgia. According to Georgia’s Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, one suggestion is to deploy the center to the Krtsanisi training base. U.S. marines have been instructing nearly 12,000 Georgian troops in the Krtsanisi training facility before deployment to Afghanistan and other missions, the minister said. Finally, the package foresees the expansion of the NATO liaison office in Tbilisi.
Another accomplishment at the Wales summit is that Georgia has been placed among a group of nations – Australia, Finland, Jordan and Sweden – who attained an “elevated status” and “enhanced opportunities” of cooperation with NATO.
Whereas this, together with the “substantial package,” is a real achievement for Georgia, it is not a direct step toward NATO membership. The 2008 Bucharest declaration included the decision that MAP should be the next step for Georgia on its “direct way to membership,” meaning that MAP remains a necessary phase for accession to NATO. Notably, NATO’s Wales declaration reaffirms all “elements” of the 2008 Bucharest summit decisions on Georgia.
In fact, Georgia’s expectations regarding MAP faded months earlier during Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili’s visit in Berlin. In a meeting with Garibashvili on June 2, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that MAP for Georgia will not be on the agenda of the NATO summit in Wales but that there are opportunities other than MAP that can reflect Georgia’s progress. The German Chancellor certainly had in mind the “substantial package” that truly is an option for Georgia but not an alternative to MAP.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited Georgia instantly after the Wales summit, in the first visit by a U.S. Defense Secretary since 2003, and conveyed several important messages.
Firstly, it was a logical reflection of U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Tallinn on September 3, when the president underscored the need for providing more assistance for NATO partners including Georgia and Moldova. Hagel informed Tbilisi that Washington intends to make an extensive contribution to the “substantial package” and pledged to continue its bilateral capacity building efforts with Georgia. He said the Pentagon is familiarizing itself with Tbilisi’s request to purchase Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters.
Secondly, in light of Russia’s “aggression” and “brazen assault” on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Hagel sought to neutralize the inconvenience caused by NATO’s denial of MAP for Georgia and focused on the country’s newly attained “special partnership” status with NATO which gives it “new options, new expandability, new possibilities.” Finally, Hagel envisioned a potential role for Georgia in the U.S.-led coalition to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Evaluating the implications of NATO’s recent summit for Georgia, the critics say that there are some undesirable aspects of the declaration that could be avoided if proper diplomatic efforts were pursued by the government. Namely, the 31st article of the declaration expresses concerns that “protracted conflicts” undermine “the opportunities for citizens in the region to reach their full potential as members of the Euro-Atlantic community.” Skeptics argue that it is an ambiguous article that could well mean that conflict zones on Georgia’s territory might prevent the country’s membership in NATO.
Another sensitive question is that the Wales declaration does not mention Georgia as an aspirant country while the declaration of the 2012 Chicago summit did. The Wales declaration pledges to assess Montenegro’s progress towards NATO membership and decide the Alliance’s final position on the matter no later than by the end of 2015. No such notifications were made regarding Georgia. Further, the declaration does not mention the conflicts over Crimea, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the same context, which hinders Georgia’s de-occupation policy.
Finally, opposition politicians and some analysts believe that although Georgia has gained new and enhanced opportunities in its partnership with NATO, given its sizeable contribution to international missions the country should have been granted more than a “substantial package” at the Wales summit.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.