Georgia at the crossroads: EU process and NATO or the “3+3” format?

Georgia at the crossroads: EU process and NATO or the “3+3” format?

The South Caucasus is expecting with important developments in terms of regional peace and stability. It is not possible for such an environment of peace and stability to exist without Georgia. We talked with Shota Apkhaidze, Georgian political scientist and expert at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, about Georgia’s new EU candidate membership status, its refusal to join the “3+3” South Caucasus Platform and its possible NATO membership.

Sharp turn

Recently, a regular meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the EU and Eastern Partnership countries was held in Brussels, where Georgia received candidate status. What does the candidate status mean for Georgia?

European diplomats this time praised Georgia for democratic reforms and European values. Unlike earlier times, there was no doubt that Tbilisi had earned the candidate status for EU membership. This position of Brussels looks strange, to suddenly change their opinion when a year and a half ago they thought completely differently, and the Georgian authorities have done practically nothing since then.

Let’s look at the position of European officials.

Josep Borell, head of European diplomacy, who was one of the main critics of Georgian Dream (Georgia’s ruling political party from 2012 to the present), said the following at the meeting:

“The good news is that Georgia is moving forward towards EU membership. All the commission’s proposals were very positive. I encourage Georgia to continue moving in this direction.”

Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said that his republic “naturally” supports the expansion of the European Union, because without it, Tallinn would not be in the European family. Estonian politicians have always been subjective towards Georgia, they maintain a destructive opposition and are waiting for Saakashvili’s revenge over the “Georgian Dream”. It is strange that Estonia has now taken such a position; this is certainly an instruction from Washington.

As for the issue of EU enlargement, the Estonians have confused the geography, the Baltic countries are part of geographical Europe, which cannot be said about Georgia.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that thanks to Georgia being given EU candidate status, the Eastern Partnership will evolve, and its members will become closer to Europe than ever. Landsbergis also abruptly changed his position, like his Estonian colleague.

Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins, who is famous for criticizing the Georgian leadership, has often called on the West to expel Georgia from all Western structures, but he thinks differently:

“I expect that Georgia will be given candidate status. It is clear that not only the people want to join the European Union, but also the authorities clearly indicate this intention.”

The head of Finnish diplomacy, Elina Valtonen, said that Helsinki is a supporter of EU enlargement. At the same time, she assessed the negotiations with Georgia as “very good.” Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said that granting Tbilisi candidate status would be a “timely” decision.

Carrot and stick tactics

What is the position of the Georgian leadership?

Irakli Garibashvili stated that obtaining the coveted status became possible thanks to the victory over external and internal enemies who tried to drag Georgia into a war with Russia:

“We did not jump on one leg, did not kneel, but firmly and with dignity achieved this victory. Today will go down in the history of Georgia as a day of celebration, a well-deserved victory for the proud and worthy Georgian people. From today, Georgia has become a European country!”

Georgian Foreign Minister Ilya Darchiashvili stated his position on this issue. If Georgia was given the status, then the country’s leadership is doing everything right:

“The statements of our partners show that we are consistently reforming the country, so that final membership will become tangible very soon.”

Chairman of the Georgian Parliament Shalva Papuashvili said that on December 14, Tbilisi heard the “historical truth” that it is part of the European family. The British newspaper The Times seems to agree with him, calling Tbilisi “the second Berlin of Europe” because of the local wine and nightlife.

The West tried to communicate with Georgia using the “stick”, but got an unexpected result. Tbilisi began to leave the influence of the EU and the USA. The Georgian authorities began to publicly contradict their Western partners, which had never happened before. As a result, Brussels was afraid of losing the country and changed its anger to mercy, and gave candidate status to Georgia.

A positive decision should have been made a year ago, but this did not happen due to the desire of some representatives of the European Union to punish Georgia for the lack of a fanatical attitude against Russia.

The West hoped that the earlier denial of status could change the political situation in the country and the destructive opposition could overthrow the authorities. But expectations of a popular uprising against the government did not materialize. On the contrary, the majority of Georgians a year ago took the news of the denial of candidate status as an insult, because they believe that in terms of the development of democracy they have gone much further than Moldova and Ukraine. As a result, the West exchanged the carrot for the stick and gave this status to Georgia.

A myth for political speculation

What do you think, will Georgia join the EU?

The candidate status does not guarantee EU membership at all. Türkiye has been in limbo for more than 30 years. Now, in addition to the Turks, Albania, Moldova, North Macedonia, Serbia, Ukraine, Montenegro and now Georgia have official status as candidate states. Georgia’s accession to the EU will not happen soon. Firstly, the European Union itself does not want to expand. Secondly, Tbilisi is not ready for this either at the political or economic level. Georgia’s goal is to become a full member of the EU with a successful economy and political system, and not one of its poorest countries.

Granting Georgia advance candidate status for the European Union. The decision is absolutely political, since in terms of corruption and many other criteria, Georgia looks like Ukraine, which was granted the start of negotiations on EU membership. Georgia can reform as much as it wants. But the EU expects two things from her, not EU membership. These are the two aspects that Ursula von der Leyen and Borrell articulated.

The first is the “depolarization” of the political system. That is, freedom for the opposition and Saakashvili. And other criteria of democracy associated with this, such as the absence of discrimination (for example, LGBT).

And the second was openly formulated by Borrell during his September visit to Tbilisi:

“My second message concerned Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine. The EU supports Ukraine and will support it as long as necessary. The EU welcomes the clarity of Georgia’s position on this issue on international platforms. It is extremely important for us and our closest partners to coordinate our efforts to isolate Russia internationally. Therefore, I noted with satisfaction our active cooperation with Georgia in the area of preventing sanctions circumvention. A lot is being done in this regard in Georgia, and I emphasized our recognition of these efforts.

However, I also had to note that we regret the resumption of direct air service between Georgia and Russia, making Tbilisi a transit point for Russians on their way to Europe. In addition, it is necessary to more actively jointly counter Russian hybrid activities, starting with Russian propaganda and disinformation wars. The EU will continue to support independent media and civil society in Georgia to build resilience to information manipulation. Independent media and fair access to information are the basis of democracy.

Convergence in our foreign policy is a commitment that we expect from all countries seeking membership in the European Union. However, there is still a lot that can be improved in this part at the moment.”

So Georgia’s membership in the EU remains a distant prospect and a myth for political speculation.

Regional integration is the only option for Georgia

Why did Tbilisi refuse to participate in the 3+3 platform? Who benefits from this?

The “3+3” format is important for Georgia and other countries in the region. Because it can provide a lot of economic opportunities. Georgia can receive very large financial dividends from such a format, because many aspects here will be related to energy resources. Since Georgia does not have its own oil and gas products, it will be able to obtain them through such cooperation at a good price. Plus, Georgia is a transit country, and within the framework of “3+3” projects for new railway transportation, land and air routes can be developed. Other economic benefits will appear as Georgia will take part in trade and economic projects with Iran, Türkiye, Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. That is, this is a very important format for the region. True, he is somewhat hampered by the political aspect concerning the so-called South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Personally, my position (like the position of many sensible experts) is that the opening of infrastructure, new routes, including through the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, will help us in terms of rapprochement, restoration of relations, and resolution of conflicts with our separatist regions. That is, we should not block, but rather meet such initiatives halfway, since thanks to their economic, cultural and humanitarian components it is possible to reintegrate our territories.

As for Armenia, in principle, after the acute phase of the confrontation over Karabakh, which lasted 30 years, has ended, it will gradually join the work of the format, especially after the Karabakh Armenians who want this calmly return to their homes, and Yerevan and Baku will sign a peace treaty guaranteeing mutual inviolability of borders.

Then the issue of opening the Zangezur corridor through the territory of Armenia can already be resolved. I believe that this is a purely economic, logistics and infrastructure project. That is, “3+3” is a format that can remove political aspects and restrictions that hinder the implementation of economic projects. And such large countries as Türkiye, Iran and Russia will already cooperate more actively with the three South Caucasian states. There is good in this.

The scenario of granting Georgia membership according to the German model

Can Georgia join NATO in the near future?

The idea of Georgia joining NATO belongs personally to the former Secretary General of the alliance Anders Fogh Rasmussen. It was he who promoted the scenario of granting Georgia membership according to the German model.

The German model involves the accession of West Germany to NATO in 1955, when it was divided into two parts.

Thus, Rasmussen proposes to annex Georgia to the Western bloc without Abkhazia and South Ossetia in such a way that the 5th article of the NATO charter on collective security applies only to the territory controlled by Tbilisi.

I want to emphasize that, first of all, the expansion of NATO and the rooting of NATO in the Caucasus is in the interests of the alliance and the United States.

Turning into a NATO base will harm Georgia

Why is the United States so actively trying to quickly admit Georgia into NATO?

This is due to the conflict between the Russian Federation and the United States, between the United States and Iran. The Caucasus also represents a transit route to Central Asia and further to China. In addition, the United States believes that in this way they will be able to “block” Russia in the Black Sea, because the area will be surrounded on all sides by NATO countries: Romania and Bulgaria in the west and Georgia in the south.

The Americans even proposed the following model of cooperation: if in 2020 the NATO leadership does not accept Georgia into the alliance, then it is proposed to strengthen military partnership agreements between America and Georgia. This “strengthening” means the direct deployment of American armed forces in the country.

In this regard, it is necessary to pay attention to the economic component of the issue. Although Georgia allocates resources to maintain the army, its budget is not enough to finance the military sector on a large scale.

Georgia does not have so much money and so many opportunities to finance the amount that Ukraine allocates to the detriment of other areas. If the Georgian government subsidizes only military infrastructure, the military sphere, then the country may face collapse, the economy and social sphere will be destroyed. We already have a problematic economy and very serious social problems.

Washington is actively using this factor. Tbilisi regularly receives tranches of military support. However, this money is used to create the infrastructure that the United States and NATO need or to purchase American weapons.

Naturally, this money then went back into the pocket of the American military industry. American hawks, they make money from this.

For Georgia itself, the prospects for NATO membership do not promise economic prosperity.

Many politicians say that this will give more stability, guarantees, security, investments will be attracted from Europe, America, and other countries. Investors will feel more secure. I doubt. Rather, this is more of a threat than security, because the location of NATO or individual American bases on Georgian territory will, first, turn Georgia into a springboard for military operations. In the event of a large-scale conflict with Russia and Iran, of course, this territory will turn into a battlefield, not only military but also civilian infrastructure will be destroyed, and the population will suffer. We may not even be talking about social well-being.

United World International

Independent analytical center where political scientists and experts in international relations from various countries exchange their opinions and views.

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June 2024