NATO said no to Georgia’s bid for Membership Action Plan (MAP) at its summit in Bucharest, but gave temporizing assurance that it would become a member of the alliance in the future.
The summit's final communiqué reads: “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO. Both nations have made valuable contributions to Alliance operations. We welcome the democratic reforms in Ukraine and Georgia and look forward to free and fair parliamentary elections in Georgia in May. MAP is the next step for Ukraine and Georgia on their direct way to membership. Today we make clear that we support these countries’ applications for MAP. Therefore we will now begin a period of intensive engagement with both at a high political level to address the questions still outstanding pertaining to their MAP applications. We have asked Foreign Ministers to make a first assessment of progress at their December 2008 meeting. Foreign Ministers have the authority to decide on the MAP applications of Ukraine and Georgia.”
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO secretary general, said at a news conference that the statement was “very strong” and underlined that the alliance had agreed that Georgia and Ukraine would eventually become NATO members. “That is quite something,” he added.
Indeed, the Georgian authorities have also seized on this point, claiming a Georgian victory at Bucharest, despite the alliance's refusal to grant MAP.
“Georgia failed to receive MAP today, but it received something more - and I would even say - a firmer pledge that Georgia will join the alliance,” Davit Bakradze, the Georgian foreign minister, told reporters in Bucharest. He then read out the line from the communiqué promising eventual Georgian membership of the alliance.
“It is a clear commitment by the alliance that Georgia will join NATO. This commitment is even stronger than the membership perspective received through MAP,” he added.
Bakradze’s remarks differ sharply from his and other officials’ comments prior to the summit. He said on March 28 that any “artificial” assurance from NATO less than MAP would be “unacceptable” for Georgia. President Saakashvili even said during his visit to the United States last month that any kind of temporizing assurance by NATO, other than MAP, would be “rubbish.”
Speaking about “artificial” assurance, Bakradze meant an instrument by NATO that would be less than MAP. The final communiqué of the summit says that NATO was launching, as it put it, “intensive engagements.”
Scheffer said at the news conference that it was something different from the so called ‘intensified dialogue’ in which Georgia has been engaged with NATO since September 2006. “This is different from intensified dialogue… This is a road to MAP,” he said.
The NATO decision comes less than two months before the parliamentary elections in Georgia. The opposition is expected to pick up on the line of the summit communiqué, which reads that NATO allies “look forward to free and fair parliamentary elections in Georgia in May.”
Meanwhile, the opposition has already pointed the finger at, what they called, the Georgian authorities’ failure to follow democratic reform commitments as a reason behind Georgia’s failure to get MAP.
“Granting MAP to Georgia was postponed because Georgia has a government responsible for the events of November 7,” MP Davit Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party said, referring to the break-up of anti-government demonstrations and a raid on Imedi TV last November. “The denial of MAP to Georgia at this stage was defined by the [position] of the EU founder-states – three big and three smaller ones. When Germany, Italy, France, Luxemburg, Belgium, Holland, Spain and several other countries are against, it is nonsense to declare them as agents of Gazprom and Putin.”
Lawmakers from the ruling party in Tbilisi have already said that NATO’s decision amounted to an indirect veto by Russia.
“The first and decisive factor was Russian pressure,” MP Nino Nakashidze, the chair of the parliamentary committee for Euro-Atlantic integration, said. “Russia has said directly that in the event of NATO enlargement and MAP for Georgia and Ukraine, they would perceive it as a direct provocation against Russia. Of course, this pressure by Russia was a decisive factor in the decision-making process."