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Diverging Paths? Ukraine and Georgia at NATO Vilnius Summit

Ukraine’s impending progress?

The Washington Post reported on June 15 that “the Biden administration is said to be “comfortable” with a plan that would remove barriers to Kyiv’s eventual membership in the Alliance.”

  • The report by Politico specified that “according to two U.S. officials, Biden would welcome the removal of a Membership Action Plan, or MAP, for Ukraine’s entry into the military alliance.
  • The proposal reportedly comes from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and would permit Ukraine to forgo a formal candidacy process in a move that could accelerate its entry.
  • A formal announcement would most likely come at the NATO Summit in Vilnius this July.

What is MAP?

The MAP requires a candidate nation (or an “aspirant” in NATO language) to make military and democratic reforms, with NATO’s advice and assistance, before a decision on membership can be made. The NATO Charter does not mention MAP as a formal part of the accession process, although it has been considered the irreversible “home stretch” toward membership since the late 1990s. Still, Finland, the Alliance’s newest member, and Sweden, the likely runner-up, were not required to have MAP to accede.

What’s going on?

The idea of expediting Ukraine’s NATO accession and/or providing security guarantees ahead of full membership seems to be gaining ground.

  • President Emmanuel Macron called for clear and tangible security guarantees for Ukraine.
  • The European Parliament passed the widely supported resolution on June 15, expressing hope that the “accession process will start after the war is over and be finalized as soon as possible.” The Parliament also said that until full membership, the EU and its member states, along with NATO Allies and like-minded partners, must work closely with Ukraine to develop a temporary framework for security guarantees.

What about Georgia?

Georgia and Ukraine received the so-called Bucharest commitment for eventual membership at the same time, at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008. The Allies then stopped short of granting the MAP to two countries, due to strong objections by Germany and France.

  • In Bucharest, the Allies said the eventual membership would come “with MAP being an integral part of the process.” This formula has been repeated by the NATO summits ever since.
  • Both Georgia and Ukraine, since 2008 have been granted practical instruments for boosting their resilience, defense capabilities, and interoperability. Yet, they did not get MAP due to the fears that this would irritate Russia.
  • Georgia had tried to push for a decision to omit the mention of MAP from the NATO summits’ final language. Despite the support from some Allies, no consensus emerged. Georgia dropped these attempts for fear that opening the Bucharest Summit’s language for discussion would result in a worse formula. But this was before Russia attacked Ukraine in 2022.

What now?

Throughout the past decade, Georgia moved close to being aligned with NATO and has more integration instruments than any other aspirant country.

  • The Annual National Programme that Georgia has implemented since 2009 mirrors the programme that countries with MAP implement.
  • Alliance has said that Georgia has “all practical instruments to prepare for the membership.”

The MAP became a mere political symbol; however, without it, Ukraine and Georgia were stuck in an accession limbo. Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine has changed that. Previously cautious European states saw clearly that Russia’s neighbors were vulnerable without credible protection from the aggressor.

Slowdown in enthusiasm

There are the noticeable signs of a slowdown of Georgia’s NATO integration momentum:

  • The discussion of Ukraine’s potential membership has, so far, excluded Georgia.
  • Georgian officials have been silent on the issue, in stark contrast to their Ukrainian counterparts.
  • The initial reports suggest that Tbilisi will be represented by the Foreign Minister, rather than the Prime Minister in Vilnius, which may indicate that the officials do not expect a significant breakthrough.
  • On June 16, during the “Minister’s Hour” at the Parliament Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiasvhili did not mention the possibility of simplifying Georgia’s NATO membership path, saying only that that Georgia would be mentioned in the Summit communiqué.
  • Speaking to MPs, FM Darchiashvili also seemed to endorse the plan to construct Tbilisi’s new airport at the site of the current Vaziani military base. Some military experts warn that civilian infrastructure would undermine unique strategic and military importance of Vaziani base that hosts NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Center (JTEC) as well as Georgia-NATO exercises.

Removing Georgia from the same “enlargement basket” as Ukraine could signal Georgia’s vulnerability to the Kremlin and increase security risks.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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