The country should only take the steps forward and never go back to its past, no matter how close it might be!

The country should only take the steps forward and never go back to its past, no matter how close it might be!

Levan Dolidze – Georgia’s permanent representative to the Alliance was appointed to the post a year before the Welles Summit .  Several days ago he filed a motion and officially stood down from the post.  At different times Mr. Dolidze worked for the Administration of the President of Georgia, Ministry of Finance and State Chancellery. In addition, he was a consul of Georgia to Switzerland and the Director of  the Levan Mikeladze Foundation. We interviewed the former Ambassador of Georgia to NATO on the decisions made at the Welles Summit, Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic future and the threats facing the country on this way.

– Mr. Dolidze, there still exist different opinions related to the decisions made in Welles.  Could you explain what “substantial package” is and how close we got to the Alliance in Welles?

– To begin with, let me briefly underline several important political messages of the Wales Summit Declaration on Georgia’s NATO integration path.

The Declaration states that Georgia’s relationship with the Alliance contains the tools necessary to continue moving Georgia forward towards eventual membership – this may suggest that Georgia might be able to achieve the membership of the Alliance without any other additional mechanisms. It is clear that such sentences never appear in the Summit documents accidentally. Of course, now it is very important to further reinforce those perceptions and in terms of integration in NATO to focus on political decisions related to Georgia’s membership, rather than on tools and procedures. In this respect, it is also important that a Substantial NATO-Georgia Package is directly linked to Georgia’s membership process and, according the Declaration, one of the main goals of the Package is to support Georgia’s NATO membership.

In addition, it was noted in Wales that after the 2008 Bucharest Summit Georgia demonstrated significant progress and came closer to NATO. I would like to also emphasize the importance of reaffirming the Georgia’s status as an aspirant country. Referring to Georgia with this status rather than just a partner, reinforces our positions within NATO as of a country seeking the membership and will help us to put the issues related to Georgia’s integration on the NATO agenda more actively and efficiently. When it comes to the content of the Package, as you are well aware, the establishment of a Joint Training and Evaluation Center is one of the most important parts of it. It goes without saying that this center has huge political as well as practical importance for our country and its security. Among other valuable components, the Package also envisages the conduct of periodic NATO exercises open to partners, and sending member states’ military experts to Georgia to help building the capacity of our armed forces.

It is also important that Georgia as one of the most interoperable partners of NATO, together with Sweden, Finland, Australia and Jordan was invited and joined the group of Enhanced Opportunities Partners, EOP. This format enables Georgia to engage in strategic discussions of the Alliance and to further increase the practical cooperation with the Alliance. It is noteworthy, that one of the criteria for inviting a country to the EOP group is its readiness and potential to significantly contribute to international security, which at the same time is one of the key criteria for the NATO membership. Respectively, considering our aspirations, inviting Georgia to this group is an important step taken on the membership track. It also confirms the efficiency of Georgia’s NATO membership tools.

– Was the decision made in Welles on awarding the new package to Georgia maximum? … Wasn’t it possible to achieve more?

– In any case, whatever might have been the decision of the Welles Summit, except inviting Georgia to the Alliance, of course, I would have wished for more. However, what we should bear in mind is that the Wales was not an enlargement Summit. So, within the frames of the decisions made by the Alliance with regard to Open Door Policy, I would evaluate the outcomes achieved by Georgia at this Summit as a definite success. The Summit recognized the high level of interoperability of Georgian armed forces with NATO and the country achieved unprecedentedly high level of practical and institutional cooperation with the Alliance. We received an additional mechanism to strengthen our security and advance towards joining NATO and most importantly, Georgia received a number of significant messages related to the membership process.

 -Lately a number of questions have been emerging about Georgia’s western policy. The Government is stating that the policy stays unchanged. However, along with such statements, the present Government is doing its best to regulate and make its relations with Russia warmer. What are people saying in Brussels? Do they also have some questions? Is there any skeptical attitude concerning Georgia’s integration into Alliance ?

– Georgia’s integration into the western institutions is a natural and irreversible process, which first of all is deep – rooted in our historic choice and the aspiration of the Georgian people for better future – this is clearly and evidently confirmed by recurrently expressed position of the citizens of Georgia, including through the elections. Hence, in the perceptions of Georgian voters the electoral victory of current as well as of the previous government largely depends on their commitment to the above mentioned clearly expressed national choice. As a former Ambassador of Georgia to NATO, I can tell you that while in office, up to the very last day, I acted in accordance with the policy defined by the Government aimed at Georgia’s integration in the Alliance.

At the same time, I think that we should be rather cautious and ensure that the developments within the country do not slow down the process of achieving our top foreign policy goals. We are facing rather complex challenges and cannot afford making mistakes that might harm the pivotal interests of the country, among them, the mistakes that may hamper the implementation of our foreign policy aspirations. Therefore, I think it is natural and even needed to observe and analyze the processes evolving in the country from this angle as well.

As for Georgia-Russia relations, I don’t think that the steps aimed at restoration of trade and economic relations with Russia may raise questions in the West in terms of our foreign policy stance. Normalization of Georgia’s relations with Russia is our goal as well as the goal of our western partners. However, unfortunately, the perspective in this regard, at least in the short term, does not look somewhat optimistic. In current situation, it is more important for us to have right expectations concerning the Russia’s counter-actions in response to our steps. Also, it critically important that each concrete step taken by Georgia vis-à-vis Russia is based on a wider context analysis rather than being considered from a single perspective, even if it is a social and economic condition of the country.

– Are the Georgian territories actually  already annexed by Russia  one of the main impediments?  Skeptics say that Georgia cannot become a member of the Alliance unless the problem is solved.

– I would like to remind those skeptics that when the Federal Republic of Germany became a member of NATO, Soviet troops were deployed on the territory of the German Democratic Republic. We can get into hot debates over differences and similarities between Georgia’s and Germany’s cases; however, based on this and other historical precedents, I do not think that occupied territories can be considered as the insurmountable impediment on Georgia’s way to the Alliance.

In this regard, we should also take into account that Georgia does not intend or plan in any way to restore its territorial integrity by military force. As you might know very well the previous Government made unilateral pledge on the non-use of force which was also confirmed by the present Government. We can say that the reconciliation and political dialogue is defined as the only way of uniting the country – this is a matter of a firm and nationwide agreement in Georgia.

At the same time, it is obvious that any revision of the founding principles of the Alliance, including the Open Door Policy, due to the reality emerged in the region as a result of Russia’s aggressive actions, cannot ensure the security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. That would be a very wrong signal to the whole region including Russia itself. If the course of events develops in this direction, not only Georgia’s membership will be hung in the air, but the choice will be made between the world free of dividing lines and the spheres of influence – there is a good understanding of that in the West. That is why, the Allies state that no third party has the right to veto the decisions made by the Alliance… Basing on that the NATO stated in the Wales Summit Declaration that the Allies will continue to support the right of partners to make independent and sovereign choices on foreign and security policy, free from external pressure and coercion.

– As it was at the previous Summits, the documents approved at the Welles Summit include very important entries on Georgia’s occupied territories. The Alliance member states once again urged the Kremlin to repudiate its recognition and meet its international obligations. How sufficient are such callings for Russia to change its policy?  The same concerns Ukraine – the West is being strongly criticized because of the developments in Ukraine. Presently, the Alliance is supposed to be weak and not as daring and courageous  as it used to be.  How ready is the Alliance to confront the attempts of Moscow?

– If we take a closer look at the steps taken by Russia, it is clear that we should not expect Russia to take into consideration these calls by the West and act in line with its legal obligations, at least not in the nearest future. However, it is very important to permanently have Georgia and the problem of its territorial integrity on the agenda of international community. These issues should be always adequately reflected in the respective documents.

Although it is arguable how sufficient these sanctions are but it should be noted that Russia is already paying a price for its aggressive actions in Ukraine. Respectively, now it is important that the West maintains its firm position; remains committed to the decisions already made about Ukraine and ensures their sustainability until some tangible progress towards the de-escalation is made. In addition, the West should demonstrate maximum unity over the main messages sent to Russia including warnings, and make it clear that those messages are linked not only to Ukraine but to other countries in the region as well.

Generally, since the cause of the crisis is the attempt of Russia to restore and in some cases maintain its spheres of influence in the region, I would rather call it Russian than Ukrainian crisis. European choice of Ukraine is especially painful for Russia, though, it is a part of a quite complex process that contains a number of different elements.

– Georgia was and stays to be one of the main contributors to ISAF’s mission in Afghanistan.  We sacrificed a lot  in this fight against terror. It has already been decided that Georgia will have one of the key roles in a new mission in Afghanistan. In addition, Georgia is already participating in EU mission. What else can we offer the West to convince the Alliance member states to make decision on Georgia joining NATO?

We do make significant contribution to international security. I would note that our contribution is distinguished not only by its scale but also by the professionalism of our military and their dedication to assigned tasks and objectives. They played a significant role in increasing the interoperability of the Georgian armed forces with NATO.

It is also worth mentioning that at different NATO meetings, including the Wales Summit, apart from recommendations and encouragements, Georgia received the highly positive assessment of democratic and institutional reforms implemented in the country, which significantly contributes to our further advancement on the path of Euro-Atlantic integration.

As for the question about the timing of membership, I do not think that setting any time-frames or deadlines for Georgia’s membership in the Alliance would be reasonable. It is also very important to avoid creating any exaggerated expectations of the quick NATO membership among the Georgian people as the disappointments often follow, which in turn might have an adverse effect on the over-all processes.

We have to foster the democratic development of the country; strengthen our defense and security system; take further rational steps in pursuing our foreign policy goals and be ready for the momentum when the so-called “window of opportunity” opens, which will allow us to take decisive steps.

–  Is this a decisive period  for Georgia?

The security environment in the region is rather complicated and obviously, in addition to the steps towards the annexation of Georgia’s occupied territories Russia further consolidates the use of so-called soft power vis-à-vis Georgia.

It would be wrong generating any anxiety in this regard, though I believe that at this stage we really need the correct analysis of the emerged situation; consolidation around the essential interests of the country as well as the coordinated and efficient performance of the state institutions. At the same time, we should correct our past mistakes without emotions, strengthen the rule of law and build on the progress made. In parallel with the steps on the path of European integration through important reforms, we should instill European elements in our everyday life that first of all should be reflected in government’s attitude towards civil society and in relations between political forces. The country should only take the steps forward and never go back to its past, no matter how close it might be!