Georgian Defense Minister Levan Izoria said on Saturday in a live broadcast of the TV channel Imedi that he believes integration into NATO will guarantee his country’s sovereignty and security.
“Georgia has taken a course towards joining NATO, it is our country’s sovereign right. Integration into the alliance is the guarantor of Georgia’s democratic development, the guarantor of security,” Izoria said. He noted that “Georgia is continuing the reforms necessary in order to join the alliance, and is continuing to implement the cooperation package with NATO (signed at the 2014 Wales Summit).”
Izoria also said that the NATO – Georgia Exercise 2019, to be held between 18 and 29 March, is not directed against Russia.
“These are command and staff exercises, they will involve around 350 military personnel from 24 NATO member and partner countries, the specific nature of the exercises is their purely defensive character, the exercises are not directed against Russia or any other states,” the minister said. He noted that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will visit Tbilisi on 25 March to observe the exercises.
As announced previously by the Georgian Defense Ministry, the drills will be held at the NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Center (JTEC) in Krtsanisi on the outskirts of Tbilisi as part of the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package agreed on at the 2014 Wales Summit. The first such exercise was held in Georgia in 2016 and featured representatives of 14 countries.
The stated goal of the exercise is “to improve the compatibility of the Georgia Defense Force and the armed forces of NATO member and partner countries, to expand the cooperation with the alliance’s member and partner states, and to work on a comprehensive response to crises”. Representatives of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the World Health Organization will participate in the exercise as observers.
Georgia has been collaborating with NATO since the end of the 1990s. During a summit in Prague in November 2002, then president Eduard Shevardnadze announced his country’s aspiration to join NATO. This aspiration was reaffirmed by the next president, Mikhail Saakashvili. The new government that came into power following the Georgian Dream coalition’s victory in October 2012 continued the course toward NATO integration. However, the new government said that its “most important task” in foreign policy is to “gradually normalize relations with Russia without harming Georgia’s territorial integrity”.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg visited Tbilisi in 2015 and 2016. He gave his assurances that Georgia would eventually become a NATO member, but noted that he could not give a specific date for this.
A number of Georgian politicians are opposed to joining NATO. The most active in this regard has been Nino Burjanadze, former chairperson of Georgian parliament and the leader of the Democratic Movement – United Georgia party. She says that neither the US nor NATO are in a position to solve Georgia’s vitally important problems, and believes that the full normalization of relations with Russia is the only solution.