Georgian Defense Minister Says Without NATO, Russian Aggression Grows

Central Eurasia

On Wednesday, August 19, Georgia’s first female Defense Minister, Tinatin Khidasheli, headlined the event “Seeing Security: Georgia Between Russia and ISIS” at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). During the briefing, which focused mostly on Russia, Minister Khidasheli explained very clear why she was visiting the United States: to strengthen Georgia’s partnership with the United States and to gain support for Georgia’s accession into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Minister Khidasheli said Georgia is an exceptional place in the world as it still “fights to prove that success is possible without Russia being in charge.” She painted Russia as the biggest threat to the region and to Georgia in particular. She explained that, “Russia isn’t going to allow anyone in its immediate neighborhood and its sphere of influence to have a say without them, without their permission, without their engagement.”

Recently, Russia signed treaties with Georgia’s breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which, along with other changes, effectively incorporate these regions’ economies and militaries into Russia’s. Given these deals, the Defense Minister believes that if steps are not made towards Georgia’s membership to NATO, the situation will only worsen.

Georgia has been working towards becoming a member of NATO for many years and a decision on a Membership Action Plan (MAP) is expected to be reached at the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw. While promises have been made and relations between NATO and Georgia are strong, Khidasheli made it very clear that Georgia is ready and deserving of membership now.

She explained that if a step forward isn’t achieved in Warsaw “it puts the whole credibility of NATO under serious danger” and that it would be a “clear message to Russia that they [Russia] do have a veto power over the decisions of the organizations where they are not even present.” She went on to explain that a MAP for Georgia would only be putting on paper what NATO has already given Georgia.

Khidasheli also argued that while Georgia deserves membership, “NATO needs it even more than Georgia does for its own credibility.” She said that NATO expansion would not be a triggering factor for Russian aggression but rather would lead to just the opposite. Using the 2008 August War as an example, she explained that in the past when NATO refused to enlarge, Russia took that as an invitation to invade. To Georgia, NATO means peace and, according to Khidasheli, without NATO, Russian aggression will only continue to grow.

The Defense Minister also touched on U.S. security assistance. Georgia has been one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid in the region, including $509 million in security assistance and nearly $200 million in economic assistance from FY 2012 to FY 2015. However, when the question was posed to the Minister about Georgia’s assistance package, the specifics were dodged and only a vague plan was given emphasizing the desired role of U.S. provided education for its state security.

Most of the U.S. government’s military aid to Georgia has gone to repay the Georgians for their efforts in the war in Afghanistan through the Coalition Support Funds (CSF) program. Of the non-CSF allocation, Foreign Military Financing (FMF) has provided about three quarters of the remaining type of military aid and the FY 2016 request seeks to double FMF from $10 million to $20 million.

The Defense Minister clearly outlined Georgia’s NATO aspirations and desire to increase U.S.-Georgian relations. Those with interest in the region will be eagerly awaiting the outcomes of NATO’s 2016 Summit in Warsaw.