In a recent op-ed published in the Saerto Gazeti newspaper, Anro Khidirbegishvili editor-in-chief of the Sakinform news agency, claimed that the West is “forcing” Georgia to accept the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in order to “drag Georgia into NATO.”
That claim is false: NATO is not forcing Georgia to join the alliance. In fact, on the contrary, it is Georgia which seeks to join both NATO and the European Union.
In addition, NATO and the EU have consistently and publicly supported Georgia’s territorial integrity and called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Georgia.
Georgia’s relations with NATO began shortly after it regained independence in 1991. It joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council in 1992 and the Partnership for Peace three years later. In 2002, Georgia declared its aspirations to join NATO, and said it would deepen cooperation with the alliance to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions.
NATO was founded in 1949 on the principle that membership is the free choice of sovereign nations. It is a consensus-based organization, meaning all of its member-states must agree to the accession of a new member.
Some members, including the United States, strongly supported granting Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP) – NATO’s program of advice, assistance and practical support for countries seeking to join, which historically has been a required step toward membership. However, at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, the alliance decided not extend a MAP to Georgia, declaring instead that Georgia would become a member once it met all necessary requirements.
While Georgia has not received a MAP to this day, the Bucharest Summit decision was reconfirmed at NATO summits in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016. These actions showed that NATO is not “dragging” or forcing Georgia to become a member. If anything, the alliance does not consider Georgia fully ready for membership.
In his op-ed, Khidirbegishvili also claimed the West is trying to “force” Georgia to accept the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia because “it is no longer convenient for the West to recognize the territorial integrity of Georgia.”
To support his claim, Khidirbegishvili referred to a visit that Herbert Salber, the EU special representative for the South Caucasus, made to South Ossetia in May, during which he congratulated the breakaway region’s de facto leader, Anatoly Bibelov, on his victory in the “presidential elections” and name-change referendum conducted by the South Ossetian authorities on April 9.
Khidirbegishvili claimed in his op-ed that this visit was the first open step by the West to force Georgia to give up its territorial claims on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In the wake of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru have recognized the two breakaway republics as independent states.
Salber’s visit and comments were, in fact, controversial and received major criticism in Georgia. Georgia’s Foreign Ministry even summoned European Union Ambassador Janos Herman to explain Salber’s remarks.
However, Salber’s remarks do not reflect the position of the EU. The day before the April 9 vote in South Ossetia, the EU issued a statement referring to the elections and referendum there as “so-called” and reiterating support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Responding to an email inquiry from Polygraph.info, EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic wrote that “the European Union fully and actively supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders” and does not recognize “the framework in which the so-called Presidential elections in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia took place.”
Contrary to Khidirbegishvili’s statement, NATO has also publicly declared its support for Georgia’s territorial integrity. The Warsaw Summit Communique, issued by the heads of state and governments of the NATO members on July 9, 2016, reiterated the alliance’s support for “the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders.”
It also called on Russia “to reverse its recognition of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia as independent states, to stop its construction of border-like obstacles along the administrative boundary lines, and to withdraw its forces from Georgia.”
NATO has also been vocal about Russia’s illegal actions in Georgia, declaring in the Warsaw Summit Communique that it does not recognize “the so-called treaties signed between the Abkhazia region of Georgia and Russia in November 2014, and the South Ossetia region of Georgia and Russia in March 2015. These violate Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity and blatantly contradict the principles of international law, OSCE principles and Russia's international commitments.”