Georgian PM’s special representative for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, said on February 19 that Georgia’s cooperation with NATO does not aim at deploying alliance’s “military infrastructure” in Georgia.
He made the remarks while speaking with journalists before a government session on Thursday morning as he was commenting on Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s February 18 remarks, when he said that Russia will take measures to prevent “negative effect” of attempts to “drag Tbilisi into NATO.”
“Georgia is an independent state, therefore it has a right to cooperate with any international organization, including with NATO,” said Abashidze, who will be meeting Russian deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin in Prague later this month.
“This cooperation in no way aims at deploying NATO military infrastructure in Georgia. No such plans exist,” Abashidze said.
“It is well known in Moscow, Brussels and Tbilisi that Georgia’s membership to NATO today and tomorrow is not on the agenda,” he said.
After these remarks of Abashidze, the Georgian Foreign Ministry released a written statement in response to Lavrov’s comments on “dragging Tbilisi into NATO”, saying that Georgia’s “European and Euro-Atlantic integration represents country’s foreign policy priority, which is based on unwavering will and free choice of majority of the Georgian population.”
“Georgia’s NATO membership depends on ongoing dialogue between Georgia and the Alliance and decision of its member states. Therefore third country will have no influence over this process,” it said.
“History of NATO enlargement shows that accession of new members to NATO represents an important factor of strengthening security and stability,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
“Russia itself poses threat to stability in the South Caucasus by ignoring August 12, 2008 ceasefire agreement, systematic militarization of Georgia’s occupied territories and by attempts to annex those [territories]. At the Geneva international negotiations, Georgia keeps on raising without result the issue of Russia to reciprocate Georgia’s unilateral non-use of force commitment, undertaken [by Tbilisi] twice,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
Abashidze’s remarks were immediately condemned by opposition UNM and Free Democrats (FD) parties.
“This statement is yet another open confirmation of the fact that our country’s Euro-Atlantic course is facing an obvious and real threat,” said Alexi Petriashvili of FD party, former state minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration issues.
“Substantial package, extended to Georgia at the NATO summit in Wales envisages deployment of NATO infrastructure in Georgia and promoting Georgia eventual goal of membership in NATO,” Petriashvili said.
He was referring to planned joint NATO-Georgian training and evaluation center in Georgia.
“This government is doing everything to please Russia and these remarks by Abashidze are a signal and a message to Russia that Georgia will not take a step towards [NATO]. This is very damaging for our country and a very negative signal for our partners,” MP Sergo Ratiani of opposition UNM party said.
Another UNM lawmaker, Akaki Minashvili, condemned Abashidze’s remarks as “disastrous”, adding that it shows that the Georgian authorities are “playing Russian game.”
After the government session on Thursday, Defense Minister Mindia Janelidze told journalists that setting up of joint NATO-Georgia training and evaluation center is planned in Georgia under the substantial package of cooperation with the alliance, endorsed at the summit in Wales in September.
“Deployment of NATO military base is not planned in Georgia,” Janelidze said. “Setting up of training and evaluation center is planned, which will serve increasing professionalism of our servicemen and increasing their compatibility with NATO. This is not a military base, which would have military goals; this is a training and evaluation center.”