News Release

Russia and NATO Expansion

The group RootsAction.org today released an action alert: “Next Wednesday, a rare joint session of Congress will hear a speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

“NATO began 70 years ago with an announced mission of being a defensive alliance of Western European nations, Canada and the United States. But in recent decades, NATO has been a destabilizing and deadly force — with large-scale military interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya — while more and more countries have become NATO members. …

“Just days ago, NATO confirmed that it intends to bring into military membership yet another country on the Russian border — Georgia. But before that dangerous change can take effect, the U.S. Senate must vote on it. …

“The historical record is clear. After the 1990 reunification of Germany, the first Bush administration promised that NATO would move ‘not one inch eastward.’ But during the last three decades, NATO has added 13 counties and now is up against Russia’s borders.”

PIETRO SHAKARIAN, shakarian.3 at buckeyemail.osu.edu
Shakarian is a specialist in the Caucasus region, particularly Armenia and Georgia. He is currently a history PhD candidate at The Ohio State University. He hosts the “Reconsidering Russia” podcast and has written introductions for a series of classic books on the region.

He said today: “Nestled on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, Georgia is a nation with two breakaway regions — Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Both entities desire to secede as a result of longstanding grievances that erupted into open conflict with the unraveling of the Soviet Union in 1991. A peace process involving Tbilisi and these self-proclaimed republics began in the 1990s, with Russia acting as mediator. After the 2003 Rose Revolution, the pro-Western Mikheil Saakashvili ascended to power with the support of Washington and made membership in the EU and NATO a priority for Georgia. This move alienated the Abkhaz and Ossetes, and aggravated Moscow. Then, in August 2008, convinced of American support, Saakashvili attacked South Ossetia, prompting the well-known bear-like response from Moscow. In 2012, his party was ousted by Georgian voters and the Georgian Dream (GD), led by the pragmatic billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, assumed power. The GD seeks a rapprochement with Russia and dialogue with the Abkhaz and the Ossetes. However, it has also retained Georgia’s EU and NATO aspirations as a form of geopolitical leverage vis-à-vis Moscow.

“Pro-NATO sentiments in Georgia are encouraged by Washington war hawks and NATO officials, such as Mr. Stoltenberg. What motivated Stoltenberg’s latest remark about Georgia and NATO? At first glance, such a statement seems like business as usual. U.S. and NATO officials periodically travel to Georgia and make such declarations to reinforce Tbilisi’s commitment to its NATO aspirations. However, the exceptional hawkishness of this particular statement suggests another context, which is the Russiagate controversy in the U.S. Keep in mind that Stoltenberg’s pronouncement came one day after Attorney General Bill Barr announced the findings of the Mueller Report. It also came a week before Stoltenberg’s upcoming address to a joint session of Congress on April 3. The idea is to bolster support in Washington for a harder policy toward Russia.

“Although especially provocative, Stoltenberg’s statement will most likely not change the status quo. It is highly doubtful that Georgia will ever join NATO, not only because the EU has no stomach for a confrontation with Russia, but also because Tbilisi does not fully control its own territory. Bringing Georgia into NATO would be a dangerous enterprise that could spark a nuclear confrontation between Moscow and Washington in the Caucasus. The alternative would be for the Georgians, Russians, Abkhaz, and Ossetes to come together at the negotiating table and resolve all matters through diplomatic means.”