Georgia’s Defense Minister, Irakli Alasania, said in Washington on April 30 that in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, NATO allies should deploy “defensive assets” in Georgia.
Air defense and anti-armor capabilities – “this is something we need to put in Georgia and Russians will understand that you are serious,” Alasania told the Washington-based think-tank Atlantic Council’s “Toward a Europe Whole and Free” conference on April 30.
He spoke at a panel discussion which also included NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, as well as defense ministers of the Czech Republic, Estonia and Montenegro.
Alasania said that in response to crisis in Ukraine, NATO should be considering Georgia’s accession to the Alliance, but that’s not the case and instead the focus is made on discussions on Membership Action Plan (MAP) and even that is not yet decided.
He stressed on importance of “Americans and Europeans working together.”
“It is also important for the United States to show leadership… to make sure that next steps that NATO will make, for example at the summit in September, will be adequate response to what’s happening in Ukraine,” the Georgian Defense Minister said.
“We are talking about the Membership Action Plan, but we don’t really know how these discussions will end up, while, honestly, in fact after [developments in] Ukraine we should be talking about accession talks of Georgia and other aspirants to NATO,” he said.
Alasania also said that Georgia is contributing to NATO-led forces in Afghanistan more troops than some members of the Alliance do and is going to also send troops to the EU military mission in the Central African Republic.
He said that Georgia is already pushing above its weight and NATO should be responsive to these efforts.
“When the aspirant countries are performing, when they are contributing to the common security… and when we have public support [within the country] to the Euro-Atlantic integration, we need validation from NATO, from EU that we are doing the right things,” Alasania said. “NATO summits and ministerial – these are exactly the places where you need to validate that we are on the right track and that we are also a role model for others in the region to follow.”
Alasania said that the Western response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine should have “strategic implications”.
“Sanctions that we are talking about – this is something that will come and go as soon as the crisis in one way or another ends. I bet in three to six months business will be as usual with Russia, so this is why we should do something that will have strategic importance – this is expansion of NATO,” he said.
He said that while providing enhanced security to its eastern allies, NATO should not forget about its partners, which are not members of the Alliance.
“Georgia should see more… exercises from the NATO countries [in order] to have a footprint in Georgia,” he said, adding that these joint exercises may have a regional context with involvement of troops from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey with a focus on protecting energy and pipeline infrastructure.
Alasania said that this is Russia, which “creates new reality on the ground” and then starts negotiating with the West.
“The West should now seize the opportunity and create the reality on the ground by accepting membership of aspirant countries, by putting purely defensive assets in aspirant countries and predominantly in Georgia,” he said.
He said that it will be part of his discussions with the U.S. officials during his ongoing visit to Washington. According to the Georgian Defense Ministry, Alasania plans a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary at the Pentagon.
“What is important now is to put some deterrent capabilities on the ground like air defense and anti-armor capabilities that will give us a chance to defend our freedom, because we know that if things go wrong at this point no one is coming to save us; we’ve seen that in 2008,” Alasania said.
Asked if the NATO members should also provide defensive weaponry to the interim Ukrainian government, Alasania responded: “Definitely yes.”
He said that crisis in Ukraine “created opportunity to make sure that we understand why the NATO was created.”
NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said that a suggestion of deploying NATO forces in Georgia is “controversial.”
“We need to step up our support for defense reforms and military modernization of Russia’s neighbors, and not just of Ukraine, but also Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan,” Vershbow said.
He said that possibly NATO should also think about “upgrading” already existing practice of joint exercises with its partners, but “permanently stationed forces, as the minister [Alasania] suggested, may be more controversial, but I’ll take the suggestion back to Brussels.”