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We want you, but for now that’s all you will get

By David Matsaberidze
Wednesday, September 17
The NATO-Georgia summit held in Tbilisi on September 15-16 became the main focus of attention for the international community, major news agencies and think-tanks, the subject of expert analyses. So far all the analysts have unequivocally stated that the event has sent a serious signal to the world about NATO’s plans towards the Caucasian region in general and Georgia specifically. The creation of the NATO-Georgia Commission is seen as a particularly strong indication of how NATO expects political and security affairs in this region to go.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited the Georgian capital on Monday to establish the Commission, which confirmed the alliance’s support for Georgia. "This meeting represents a strengthening and deepening of relations between Georgia and NATO," Georgian Euro-Integration Minister Giorgi Baramidze told Reuters on Sunday, adding that "It's a very serious signal and a response to Russia's aggression against Georgia." Russia's intervention in Georgia has drawn widespread international condemnation, and deepened concern over the stability of the wider Caucasus as a transit route for oil and gas from the Caspian Sea to the West, bypassing Russia.

Scheffer, for his part, said in an interview with the Financial Times on Monday, hours before he was due to lead the mission to Georgia, that the EU-brokered deal for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia was unacceptable and hard to swallow because it ceded too much ground to Moscow, commenting: "If the Russians are staying in South Ossetia with so many forces, I do not consider this as a return to the status quo." He added that “the option of keeping Russian forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia is not acceptable”, according to Reuters.

The NATO alliance has assured Georgia’s leaders that their country will eventually become a member, but have not said exactly when that will happen. Some European NATO members have baulked at offering something concrete for fear of further infuriating Russia, as Moscow has been watching NATO's expansion into eastern European and Baltic states with wariness.

"Allied Ambassadors reaffirm their support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity," said a statement released after the establishment of the Commission. It added that the Ambassadors discussed "measures of concrete support" for the country with their hosts. The NATO officials called for "swift, complete and in good faith" implementation of the ceasefire agreement brokered by the European Union. The NATO officials visited a number of places attacked by Russian forces.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, visiting the Abkhazian capital, Sokhumi, accused NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of making “inappropriate and not very responsible” statements about the conflict in Georgia, reports. "Let me say (Lavrov's statement) is very difficult to swallow," said Scheffer in response. Some Russian forces pulled out of the area around Georgia's Black Sea port of Poti on Saturday, before the September 15 deadline for the first phase of a pullback brokered by France on behalf of the European Union. But many more remain, controlling so-called 'security zones' around South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moscow has agreed to withdraw them by October 10, but plans to station some 7,600 soldiers in the two separatist regions indefinitely

The withdrawal of troops from the security zones is conditional on deployment of an international force of ceasefire monitors, including the 200-strong EU contingent. Danish State Secretary Michael Zilmer-Johns said on Sunday that EU countries had been asked to provided batches of 20 monitors and that Denmark and Finland would do so jointly. "It's not unrealistic to have the mission ready by October 1. At least the Danish-Finnish contingent will be ready before October 1," he said, as Reuters reports.

Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said that he hoped the NATO-Georgia Commission would "help accelerate Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration process." Scheffer, speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Commission, stated: "Despite the difficult situation, we expect Georgia to firmly stay on the course of democracy and reform. Dedication to these fundamental values remains essential for Georgia on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration." As a response, President Mikheil Saakashvili, addressing the same meeting, said he will soon announce "another set of new democratic changes and reforms."

Truce Monitors has emphasized that “Tbilisi sees the first session of the NATO-Georgia Commission as a commitment to its future membership, but the meeting is likely to only paper over the cracks between NATO members on the wisdom of expanding further into the former Soviet Union.” According to the agency “Russia is incensed by NATO's promise of membership to neighbouring Georgia and Ukraine. Some Western European countries led by France and Germany are wary of antagonizing Moscow over the issue.”