Georgian Dream’s NATO Dream: How to Best Reach Peace with Russia?

Last October Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream party triumphed at the polls, making Ivanishvili prime minister.  Despite charges that the latter was pro-Russian, he has maintained President Mikheil Saakashvili’s pro-Western policy.

While attending an event at Georgia’s Armed Forces Day, the prime minister set as a goal for his government getting a Membership Action Plan at next year’s NATO summit.  He explained:  “Next year we should undertake a very vigorous step and get at least MAP.”  He pointed to Georgian troops currently serving in Afghanistan, who “contribute most of all to this deed.”

In early May Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili visited Washington and met with Secretary of State John Kerry.  President Saakashvili observed:  “We want American support for NATO.  We want America’s support of further Euro-Atlantic integration at this very difficult and crucial moment for Georgia’s democracy and Georgia’s survival.”

In 2008 NATO leaders promised Tbilisi that it could eventually join the transatlantic alliance.  However, the intervening war with Russia dampened enthusiasm for Georgian membership among European states which seek a good relationship with Moscow.

Nor has the Obama administration pushed the issue as vigorously as its predecessor.  Washington continues to say that Georgia should become a member, but so far the administration’s attempted “reset” in relations with Russia has taken precedence.

Georgia’s prime minister has been pushing his own Russian reset, explaining that a resolution of the two nations’ problems is his “big dream.”  Saakashvili responded to Ivanishvili’s criticism of his Russia policies:  “Whose hearts is he trying to win?  This will have consequences for Georgia’s sovereignty, freedom, future, and territorial integrity.”

Indeed, Saakashvili has claimed that the new government is pro-Russian.  Yet in practice the prime minister has maintained Georgia’s Western-orientation.  The latter simply realizes that Georgia would benefit if the colossus to the north was not so hostile.

Observed Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania:  “We want to tone down the rhetoric so we can have a workable relationship on trade, so we can develop our institutions and our economy and give ourselves more space to deal with the Abkhaz and the Ossetians.  This is the idea.  We call it a realistic approach to Russia.”

Ironically, improved ties with Moscow are Tbilisi’s only chance of entering NATO.  Despite the alliance’s formal welcome mat, there is little enthusiasm for courting conflict with Russia.  Thus, there will be no formal invitation until the disputes with Russia seem at least contained, if not resolved.

Perhaps Ivanishivili’s “big dream” isn’t realistic, since it depends on a positive response from Vladimir Putin.  However, the former’s approach is more realistic than that of President Saakashvili, who appears to expect the Western allies to risk war by including Georgia among them, irrespective of Tbilisi’s relationship with Russia.  Such a policy actually would be in no one’s interest.

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