Would NATO Membership Help Georgia Get Abkhazia Back?
Georgian officials are saying -- again -- that they will make some concrete progress towards NATO integration during the alliance's next summit in Wales in September. “There is a high probability that at the next summit we will have new instruments for closer integration with NATO. Whether it will be called a MAP [Membership Action Plan] or it will be a new instrument… it has yet to be decided,” said Defense Minister Irakli Alasania in an interview with Rustavi 2 TV, reported Civil.ge. But will that help Georgia regain its lost territories?
That's what Georgia's new cabinet minister in charge of affairs in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Paata Zakareishvili, told The Bug Pit. Not because those breakaway territories want to be part of NATO, but because it would signal strength. I didn't bring up NATO in our interview, but Zakareishvili did: "We need to see very serious steps toward NATO to show Abkhazia and South Ossetia.... the European institutions should have our back, so we feel strong. It's quite clear that it's too early to talk about MAP, but there are signals... that there is progress. If we had MAP, we'd be more confident talking with the Abkhaz and Russians, we could say 'Look. we're going there anyway.'"
He continues: "NATO is not attractive [to Abkhazia] but it's the reality. Georgia is not part of any regional security organization. We left Russia's, the CIS, we don't see any prospects there. Now we're in a transitional period. We left somewhere but we haven't reached anywhere else yet. And the Abkhaz see this. And they see that nobody accepts Georgia, or didn't accept us for a long time, so what's the point of talking with Georgia? Here is Russia, which is more secure -- maybe it's not the ideal system, but it's still more secure. So why should we follow Georgia, if Georgia has no prospects? We need to show that Georgia is clearly going toward Europe."
The foreign policies of the two breakaway territories are different: while South Ossetia seems content to be absorbed into Russia, Abkhazians see themselves as European and want to carry out an independent foreign policy. Nevertheless, rhetoric about joining NATO does not impress the Abkhazian government. Viacheslav Chirikba, the foreign minister of the de facto republic, expounded on this in an interview with Civil.ge:
We don’t care about Georgia’s vision, it is a foreign country and we look at it as through the TV set, as much as we look at Ukraine, or Italy, the U.S. or Greenland. We are detached from Georgia, we are a different country, we don’t care what they want – to be part of whether it is Russia, China or South Korea or the U.S. It is their decision, we don’t care about it.
But if they want to use NATO as a tool against us of course we do care. That’s why we don’t want Georgia to become strong, invariably aggressive, even now, the rhetoric may be different but the aims are the same – to re-occupy us.
So if they want NATO as a tool against Abkhazia of course we do care so we are against it. Of course people in NATO are not crazy to risk to go against Russia in order to help Georgia to get Abkhazia back. We are risking the third world war here. It is a nightmare for everyone, it means it will not happen probably, but why does Georgia want to become part of NATO? Because it wants a tool against Abkhazia, our citizens, to get Abkhazia back and a tool against Russia. It is not what they say, ‘we share common values’ etc. Excuse me, this is for children to consume. It is very pragmatic, and the EU the same, it is their choice. If they want to be close to the EU, well, why not…
The Bug Pit had a chance to follow up on this statement, and asked Chirikba if Abkhazia would join NATO itself. "Against whom?" he asked. (It's worth noting that other Abkhazian officials in the past have not ruled out NATO aspirations.) But would they be part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization instead? Chirikba was noncommittal, saying that while Abkhazia wanted to be an observer, at least, of Russia's economic integration projects like the Customs Union, it was happy with its current security relationship with Russia and that "so far it [CSTO accession] is not on the agenda."
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.