NATO’s Eastern Promises: case of Georgia and Ukraine

My first post will be dedicated to NATO enlargement topic in regard to Georgia and Ukraine.

By Diana Chachua

1. Introduction

After the Cold War, NATO opened their doors to central and eastern Europe. By consolidating democracy and ensuring stability from the Baltics to the Black Sea, they redrew the map of Europe. NATO was reinvented in the 1990s after the collapse of communism, today it truly needs a second renaissance. A new strategy of democratic enlargement must be taken. NATO must articulate a new foundation for enlarging further, once again extending democracy and prosperity to the East.
NATO’s last summit in Bucharest raised old new question of enlargement towards post-soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine. Russia’s storm of threats and attacks against Ukraine, Georgia, and NATO pushed Germany to block the granting of Membership Action Plans (MAP) to these countries. But Moscow’s hysteria led NATO to declare that Ukraine and Georgia will be members and gave the meeting of foreign ministers scheduled for December the power to decide about the MAPs.
Russia growing feeling of marginalization of its role in European security and thus NATOS’s slowdown or halt enlargement can have important strategic consequences for stability in Georgia and Ukraine. It were exactly the prospects of joining European institutions that provided incentive for reforms in Georgia and Ukraine. Without giving them further chances, first of all it will cause pessimism towards western institutions, then no more will for further reforms and in the end decreasing speed of spreading democratic values eastwards.
NATO membeship is extremely important for Georgia and Ukraine. Something should be done in this regard and raising crucial question: till when western institutions continue ignoring those countries, needs quick answer.
On the other hand, one can rarely choose neighbors, but it becomes special case when your neighbor is Russia. The history proved that the countries that are Russia’s neighbors suffer the curse of geography. But at the same time this Russia is the only Russia we all have. It’s the one that has to be dealt with, whatever it is, or becomes. Georgia and Ukraine can’t move somewhere else and their American friends live a continent away. Moreover, American administrations soon will change, and the next one in Washington may choose another way. So how to dance with a bear and not get mauled? This will be one of the key questions for this research paper.
In order to understand Georgia’s and Ukraine’s future prospects the author will discuss pros and cons of both Georgia and Ukraine in regard to NATO. 

2. General background

In the past few years many people have often referred to Ukraine and Georgia as two similar cases in terms of the way they have been dealing with their communist past. Through the Orange and the Rose Revolution respectively, both nations overthrew a more or less pro-Russian, semi-autocratic elites and installed more Western, popular governments. Since then new leaderships more or less actively started building bridges between them and European Union and NATO.
At Bucharest summit in April 2008 a huge expectations for getting NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) soon were overthrown when Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said: “granting of Membership Action Plans (MAP) to Ukraine and Georgia would have to await further dialogue. But the alliance had agreed the two countries will become members of NATO.” Earlier before Summit Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Georgia and Ukraine are “shamelessly” being pushed toward joining NATO, and he accused the United States of “infiltrating” ex-Soviet states, while Russian president (at that time) Vladimir Putin had threatened to skip the summit if MAPs were offered to Georgia and Ukraine.
Even more, at the NATO-Russia Council, then-Russian President Vladimir Putin told U.S. President George W. Bush: “But George, don’t you understand that Ukraine is not a state.” Putin tried to explain that most of its territory was a Russian gift in the 1950s. Moreover, Putin said, while western Ukraine belongs to Eastern Europe, eastern Ukraine is “ours.” Then he said that if Ukraine does enter NATO, Russia would detach eastern Ukraine and join them onto Russia. Thus Ukraine would come to an end to exist as a state. Putin also stated that Russia regards NATO’s eastward enlargement as a threat. Furthermore, if Georgia receives membership, Moscow will “take adequate measures” and recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia to create a buffer between NATO and Russia.
Fear towards Russia’s “adequate measures” divided NATO members into two parts: “new” and “old” members. In one camp: the United States and EU new members from Central and Eastern Europe push strongly to bring Ukraine and Georgia into the military alliance. While In the other: “old” European nations, led by Germany and France, firm in their opposition to granting both NATO hopefuls Membership Action Plans (MAP), a gateway into the alliance.
Before going into details about each state, there can be made comparison between Georgia and Ukraine policies. Generally speaking Georgia straggles with its breakaway regions, but there is huge public support for NATO membership, while in Ukraine there isn’t public support for NATO, but its territorial problems aren’t considered as huge obstacle for NATO membership as in case of Georgia.
Back to public support, for example, Georgia’s January 5, 2008 plebiscite showed 72.5% voter support for NATO membership. Such a strong vote in favor of NATO is a clear indication of the pro-western sentiments of Georgian population. This level of public support matches with the previous all-time-high level aspirant country – Romania during country’s preparation for its successful accession to the alliance. In comparison, today only about 17% of the Ukraine population supports NATO membership. Polls suggest that if a referendum on membership were to be held, more than 50% of the population would vote against NATO membership. Thus the Ukrainian leadership will need to conduct an intensive educational campaign to educate the Ukrainian public about NATO – as was done in Central and Eastern Europe before the first and second rounds of NATO enlargement – if it hopes to eventually join the alliance.
Comparing Georgia and Ukraine further, we can argue that Georgia’s more pro-Western course seems to have found more firm ground than in Ukraine. While Ukraine is still hopelessly split between a more Europe-leaning West and a more Russia-leaning East. As in regard to Russia, it’s obvious that great neighbor is ‘not so pleased’ by Georgia’s changes, even much less than with regards to Ukraine, which is perhaps because in Ukraine it can be encouraged with the voting power of the eastern Ukrainian Russian-speaking population that will provide a sufficient counterforce to ambitious plans of any Western-leaning governments.
Georgian membership in the alliance would not have major military consequences. Georgia is a small country and its military forces are relatively weak. But still it can be highlighted Georgia’s contribution in international cooperation. The country began sending troops to assist NATO forces in Kosovo in 1999 and recently guaranteed to send troops to assist the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. It is also the third largest contributor (behind the United States and Britain) to coalition operations in Iraq, with a current deployment of 2,000 troops.
However, excepting Georgia will be more important step in a political way. It would advance NATO’s influence into the former Soviet space with it spreading reforms and western democratic values. Even more, once NATO had crossed into the former Soviet space, the pressure on the EU to follow suit might increase.
In some regard Ukraine is much larger and strategically more important, as well as difficult case then Georgia. Ukraine applied for membership in July 2002 and was granted Intensified Dialogue status in April 2005. In the spring of 2006, US officials pushed hard for offering Ukraine MAP at the NATO summit in Riga in November 2006, with a possibility of a membership invitation in 2008. However, the collapse of the orange coalition and the arrival to power of an “anticrisis coalition” headed by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, (which includes the Social and Communists both of which oppose Ukraine’s membership in NATO) put on the brakes Ukraine’s chances of early membership. Moreover, NATO membership has become tied up with the internal struggle for power over control of foreign policy between President Yushchenko and Prime Minister-then Viktor Yanukovich. During his trip to Brussels in September 2006, he withdrew Ukraine’s MAP application and called for a pause in Ukraine’s membership quest.
For Georgian advancement Russia represents the main obstacle, mainly in regard to unsettled breakaway regions of South Osetia and Abkhazia. Even if Georgia continues to modernize its military forces and deepens its economic and political reforms, many NATO members may not be willing to support Georgian membership as long as Russian influence over those territorial disputes remain.

A. Georgia
Georgia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PFP) program in 1994. At the NATO Summit in Prague in November 2002, Georgia declared that it aspired to ultimate NATO membership and sought to intensify ties with NATO through an Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP). Since “rose revolution” Tbilisi has made serious steps towards joining NATO, with it deteriorating relationships with Moscow. “Great Brother” has made it clear that it will not tolerate a NATO member state in its own “near abroad.”
Georgia began sending troops to assist NATO forces in Kosovo in 1999, began hosting multinational PFP military training exercises in 2001, and recently pledged to send troops to assist the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. In late 2004, Georgia concluded an IPAP with NATO, which allowed the Alliance to provide more assistance on domestic reforms.
In early November 2007, the Georgian government forcibly suppressed demonstrations, closed some media, and declared emergency rule. Some Alliance members raised concerns about Georgia’s apparently uncertain democratization and the suitability of inviting it to participate in a MAP at the upcoming NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008. Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer criticized the imposition of emergency rule and the closure of media outlets by the government in Georgia as “not in line with Euro-Atlantic values.” Soon President Saakashvili admitted that his government appeared non-responsive to the concerns of many citizens, he resigned and announced early presidential elections. NATO’s press spokesman James Appathurai “welcomed” that the election reflected the free choice of the voters, and stated that “NATO will continue to deepen its intensified dialogue with Georgia, and support further efforts to meet Euro-Atlantic standards.”
Still, for too many westerners, Georgia is a far away country that can involve them in quarrels between people of whom they know nothing. It is easy to see why Georgia would want the 26 NATO allies on its side. But why would the current NATO countries want to make such a weighty commitment to Georgia? The answer is because it is in NATO’s interest to have Georgia as an ally.
NATO membership can be one of the most significant steps since Georgia’s independence. It will stabilize Georgia and transfer security throughout the region. Therefore, it should be NATO’s interest to have Georgia as an ally. Even more, looking East, Georgia’s geographical position will afford NATO reach toward the Caspian Sea, Central Asia and beyond. This kind of reach is crucial not only for military operations, but also for combating trafficking in drugs, people and weapons. “Georgia offers a unique geo-strategic position on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. Sensors placed in Georgia, use of its air and seaports, and cooperation with its small but capable Coast Guard will be strong complements to NATO air and sea observations.”
Georgia is a key to the kind of regional stability needed to underpin a broad East-West corridor that hastens commerce in much more than just oil.

B. Ukraine
NATO-Ukraine relations were formally launched in 1991, when Ukraine joined the NACC immediately after achieving independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union. In 1994, Ukraine became the first of the Commonwealth of Independent States to join the Partnership for Peace program, and demonstrated its commitment to contribute to NATO peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. By 1997, the two sides had signed in Madrid the NATO-Ukraine Charter on a Distinctive Partnership, which recognized the importance of an independent, stable and democratic Ukraine to European stability.
From the Alliance perspective, there is now renewed interest in Ukraine’s prospects for drawing closer to NATO. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated at a February 2005 press conference in Brussels, “we look very much forward to continuing to work with Ukraine as it develops its democratic future. Ukraine has an action plan with NATO that we can be more active on now, and we should do exactly that so that we begin to take the practical steps that can support Ukraine’s democratic process and can support Ukraine’s coming toward Europe and toward mainstream Europe.”
Current Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko also has made clear his plans to integrate further into Europe’s various structures and organizations. But still four years have passed since the Orange masses swelled in the streets of Kyiv and yet, despite the Orange Revolution’s promises of democratization, state weakness and governmental fragmentation continue to deter democratic progress in Ukraine. Ukraine faces difficult decisions balancing its potential membership in NATO with the necessity of maintaining its relationship with Russia. Due to geopolitics and centuries of intertwined economics, culture, and history, Ukraine and Russia have been and will continue to be inextricably linked together into the future.
On March 27 Yushchenko said that no NATO bases would be deployed in Ukraine if Kiev became a member of NATO. Why did he need to say this, when Ukraine’s constitution forbids the establishment of foreign military bases in the country? Because people were mobilizing against such bases. As Yushchenko stated “Some people are spreading the fable that there will be a NATO military base in Sevastapol. There will be no base.”
For Ukraine, the only way to have a stable, predictable Western orientation is for it to be a part of the very same balanced approach – oriented toward East and West at the same time. “It is indeed possible for Ukraine to have a deep, entrenched, and reliable Western orientation, but only if Russia and the West work out a way to be on the same side, so that the Western orientation of Ukraine is no longer contradictory to its Eastern orientation.”

3. How to Dance With a Bear and Not Get Mauled?

The West has changed. This is the first reason why current policy toward Europe’s periphery is out of date. Second, the East has changed. The challenge of the 1990s was to consolidate democracy in central and eastern Europe along a north-south Europe from the Baltics to the Black Sea. Today’s even more difficult challenge is to stabilize the countries of Eurasia along a new alliance extending eastward from the Balkans across the Black Sea region to the southern Caucasus and including Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. “Sandwiched between an unstable Middle East to the south and a hostile Russia to the north, these countries are the new border of the Euro-Atlantic community. Old policies may still work in the Balkans, but countries such as Georgia and Ukraine are weaker, poorer, and more politically problematic than the central and eastern European countries. One can argue that the policy tools developed for central and eastern Europe a decade ago are, accordingly, no longer as effective.” And Finally, Russia has changed. In the 1990s, it was a weak, quasi-democratic state that wanted to become part of the West. Now, a more powerful, nationalist, and less democratic Russia is challenging the West.
Going back to Georgia and Ukraine, In such new environment, how to dance with a bear and not get mauled? Throughout the past several centuries, Russians have had a fear of threats from outside powers and forces to their borders and security. Russian perception is that there is always that danger and possibility, and that they have to be constantly on their guard to do whatever is necessary to prevent it. This is one of the main reasons NATO expansion is such a perceived threat to Russia. As former Gorbachev adviser Andrei Grachev has written, for the first time since Communism’s fall, the West is seen in Russia as a power center “which has to be dealt with, but with which Russia does not share a common future.”
Another critical component to the Russian mind is the need to be respected by the world. More than almost anything, Russia wants to be respected and treated as an equal to other countries, and to be considered the great power. In a revealing episode in 1992, shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev spread a message: “Make up your mind what you want Russia to be. Is she a great power to be worked with or a candidate for breaking into even smaller pieces? And above all, don’t tell us what to do.”
At a recent U.S. House of Representatives hearing on developments in U.S.-Russia relations, Congressman Curt Weldon gave a summary of how the West should treat Russia. he asserted that “they don’t want our money—they want our respect! If we are going to call them partners, we need to treat them like partners. For us to have the respect of Russia, we have to give them our respect.”
One of the strongest driving forces in Russian foreign and economic policy is its desperate need to rebuild its economic foundation. Russia’s foreign policy is greatly influenced by its economic interests. Although economic interests do not solely drive Russian foreign policy, they are extremely important to it. NATO should continue to find a way to engage Russia economically.
So what Georgia and Ukraine can do in this regard? finally split with Russia and even more worsen relationship with neighbor? The deterioration of relations with Russia is not even in the best interest of the West, which considers and probably in the long run will continue to consider Russia as a necessary evil, upon which most of its partners are dependent in terms of energetic supply. Even if Ukraine and Georgia likes or not, it should manage to be both with Russia and with the West. Ukraine and Georgia can’t change the fact of the common soviet past and neighborhood. These countries have to work with both the E.U. and Russia. Nobody choose neighbors, you just have to deal with them, with the exception that sometimes you need some far neighbors to help you.

4. Conclusion
The decision to open the doors of NATO and the EU to central and eastern Europe in the 1990s was an example of successful crisis prevention. One can only imagine how much worse off the United States and Europe would be today if NATO and the EU had not been enlarged and they now had to worry about instability in the heart of Europe. If U.S. and European leaders again succeed in linking new democracies to NATO and the EU, ten years from now they will look back at a redrawn map of Europe and Eurasia and be thankful that they acted when they did. If they fail, future generations may well pay a high price for their passivity.


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