Georgian Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani, who is visiting London on December 3-4, participated in “NATO Engages: Innovating the Alliance” conference held on the sidelines of NATO Leaders Meeting yesterday.
At a discussion on the security situation on NATO’s frontlines from the Baltic to the Black Sea, FM Zalkaliani said that “the full integration in NATO” is Georgia’s top foreign policy priority.
According to FM Zalkaliani, Georgia is one of the most advanced NATO aspirant countries, and “it’s a well recognized fact” that all practical tools that the country has, help speed up “the eventual goal” of Georgia “which is full membership” of the Alliance.
Zalkaliani also noted that Georgia’s way to NATO integration “is not directed against third parties,” but it’s for strengthening the defense capabilities and resilience of the country. “In the Black Sea region, which is becoming more and more important place of attention to NATO, one of the main security challenges comes from Russia,” he said.
Zalkaliani also noted that the decision made at the Bucharest Summit in 2008, “clearly describes that Georgia will become the NATO member.” “We realize the current situation in NATO that there is no political decision made yet, but we are fully using all the existing practical tools… to speed up the process of Georgia’s full integration, moving Georgia closer to eventual membership,” Zalkaliani stated.
He then added that, nevertheless, Georgia is “already acting like an ally,” and is following the NATO standards, for example in burden sharing in 2% of GDP defense spending. “When country like Georgia delivers, it has to be reciprocated,” the Georgian FM said, adding that Georgia needs “a practical political solution.”
Zalkaliani, however, added that Georgia is “not discouraged” by that but is rather continuing its efforts, and is working bilaterally with all the members of the Alliance to increase its defense and security capabilities, as well as its resilience. “We are doing everything possible to prepare the country for the momentum. When this momentum will come, we have to be ready,” he noted.
Calling the situation in occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia “humanitarian disaster,” the Georgian FM referred to ongoing Russian occupation of Georgia, which, among others, includes “illegal process of borderization, installation of barbed wire fences and artificial barriers across the occupation line.”
“People are kidnapped, they are detained in illegal custody. The normal people are suffering there, and just recently the famous Georgian doctor was kidnapped and sentenced to illegal custody,” Zalkaliani said, referring to Vazha Gaprindashvili, who remains in Tskhinvali custody for the 25th consecutive day now.
Relations with Turkey
In his remarks, FM Zalkaliani also spoke of Turkey as “an important country in the Black Sea region.” He said Georgia is “developing very strong strategic partnership” with Turkey, which is “a very strong ally to Georgia.” He said “Turkey still continues and will continue to support Georgia’s NATO aspirations,” as well as its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“It’s in our interest to stabilize the security situation in the region, with taking into consideration all legitimate interests of all NATO member states and the littoral states of the Black Sea region, because without secure Black Sea there will be no security in the Euro-Atlantic security space,” he noted.
Speaking of importance of solidarity among the NATO members and allies, FM Zalkaliani said “Turkey is a really important player in the region,” and that is Turkey is making important contribution for strengthening of the European security.
It was organized by the Atlantic Council, GLOBSEC, King’s College London, the Munich Security Conference and the Royal United Services Institute, in partnership with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division and the UK Government.
FM Zalkaliani said following the conference that it is important that Georgia “as a partner country is present at the Leaders Meeting.” “It underscores our special relations with NATO, and the progress that we have on the path to NATO integration,” he stated.
According to Zalkaliani, 2019 has been “really unprecedented” year in NATO-Georgia relation, and their relations had never been on “such a high level.”
As part of his visit to London, the Georgian Foreign Minister held a meeting with Christopher Pincher, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom as well.
NATO Secretary General on Georgia
At an earlier conversation with BBC’s Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet at NATO Engage, the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke of Georgia as well.
Stoltenberg responded to a question from an Associate Fellow at Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Natia Seskuria, whether the countries like Georgia and Ukraine, “that suffered the most from the Russian occupation,” might be offered NATO membership “in any foreseeable future.”
Reiterating the Bucharest Summit decision that Ukraine and Georgia would become members of NATO, Stoltenberg said “this decision still stands,” however, “we are not putting in place any exact timetable.”
“What we focus on now is how we can help both Georgia and Ukraine moving towards Euro-Atlantic integration. Implementing reforms, modernizing their defense and security institutions,” he stated.
According to Stoltenberg, there is “more NATO presence in Georgia now than ever before.” Noting that NATO is working with both, Georgia and Ukraine, the Secretary General said “there’s a lot between full membership and nothing.”
“What we do is that while we are helping Georgia and Ukraine moving towards NATO, we are also delivering more cooperation. That’s good for Georgia and Ukraine, but it’s also good for NATO,” he concluded.