WASHINGTON – Russia’s warning that the opening of a NATO training center in the Republic of Georgia is a “serious destabilizing factor” in the region that arises from a “provocative policy” should be taken seriously as a threat reminiscent of the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, contends a prominent Georgian parliamentarian in a new report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a news conference Aug. 27 in Moscow that the opening of the NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Center outside the Georgian capital of Tbilisi represented a continuation of NATO’s “provocative policy” to bring countries of the former Soviet Union into the Western alliance.
“Those who actively continue dragging Tbilisi into NATO should realize their share of responsibility taking into account (the) regrettable experience from 2008,” Zakharova said.
“We consider this step as a continuation of the alliance’s provocative policy, which aims at expanding its geopolitical influence,” she said. “Deployment of such a military facility of the North Atlantic alliance in Georgia will become a serious destabilizing factor for the security in the region.”
The warning has grabbed the attention of a prominent Georgian parliamentarian.
“This is a warning that what happened in 2008 may be repeated in the future,” said Tedo Japaridze, chairman of the Georgian parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs. “In 2008, there was an invasion in which Georgia lost 20 percent of its territory, so that is a threat. Russian military are literally just 40 kilometers from Tbilisi, capital of Georgia.”
In August 2008, Russian troops captured much of Georgia, resulting in the military occupation of Georgia’s breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which Moscow wants to annex.
At the time, Georgia, under its then-president, Mikheil Saakashvili, was actively seeking entry into NATO. While the U.S. under then-President George W. Bush backed the effort, other NATO members, particularly Germany and France, objected out of concern that it would prompt Russian military action.
There also was a push to include Ukraine in NATO as part of the Western alliance’s post-Cold War eastern expansion. But the prospect of Ukraine’s entry also raised concern of a Russian reaction.
By then, NATO had welcomed as members a number of former East Bloc countries, which Moscow regarded as a threat. Since then, Russia has sought to create a buffer between itself and NATO, which has been part of the rationale for its intervention in Ukraine.
Russian ‘soft power’
In an exclusive interview with G2Bulletin, Japaridze, who was the Georgian ambassador to the U.S., Canada and Mexico from 1994 to 2002, said he doubted Russia would intervene “with a scope or scale that would add to the cost of an already dear standoff with the West, especially if there is no clear benefit at all, other than disruption of Georgian governance for the strategic ‘pleasure’ of making this point.”
“But such exercises are never neat,” he said. “On the other hand, Russia would intensify the use of so-called ‘soft power,’ (through its) ‘weaponized’ propaganda machine.”
Japaridze said the “bottom line” is that Georgia is not a threat to Russia “and will never be a threat to Russia.”
He pointed out that Georgia, as a small country, has a national defense posture founded on deterrence, reinforced through cooperation with the international community and especially “Euro-Atlantic allies.”
“As a strong ally and friend of Georgia,” he said, “the United States can be expected to take a leading role in this regard. We are confident that Georgia remains a priority for the United States with respect to NATO. Our relationship benefits from sustained bipartisan support for a number of years in Congress, as well as successive administrations. For that we are, of course, grateful.”
Despite Japardize’s optimism of U.S. support, repeated requests by G2Bulletin to the U.S. State Department for comment on the Russian threat to Georgia went unanswered.
Japaridze said the NATO training facility “builds on the experience Georgia has developed through its engagement in NATO operations, whilst aiding Georgia to develop a niche capability of value to NATO.”
He said the training center builds an interoperability scope that isn’t threatening to Russia “in any way,” since Georgia has made “abundantly clear at all times” that such a capability focuses on deterrence.
“Russia clearly does not fear Georgia as a threat to its territorial integrity,” Japaridze said. “That would be absurd. Each step Georgia takes toward NATO and European integration is seen by Russia as a threat, not to its security. Our objective is to reinforce our defense posture, to contribute to regional stability, not to provoke Russia.”
Japaridze said the development of Georgia as a modern European state “is not a danger to our neighbors.”
“Inversely, it will bring prosperity and growth to the region, for the benefit of all, including Russia.”
Yet, Russia threatens countries in its periphery “that do not put their policies in the Kremlin’s orbit,” Japaridze said.
“This is the case from Finland to Georgia. Sometimes, this is about reminding the world that it can do so. Sometimes, it is about an interest it considers ‘vital,’ as in the case of the Crimea,” he said.
The former diplomat said that he didn’t think Georgia fit into the category of Crimea, which Russia annexed in March 2014. But the Caucasus country has become an issue for Moscow, since it is involved with NATO “in the space it considers ‘Near Abroad,’ from Lithuania to Georgia.”
He said Moscow could take “action – whatever that is – if it has a calculable and limited cost with a verifiably beneficial effect.”
“‘Beneficial’ is key here,” Japaridze said. “Russia is motivated to disrupt Georgia’s relative economic and institutional success; but a broader standoff would fail that ‘calculable’ part of the equation, which in the short-to-medium term is a significant factor.
“So, if we speak about Georgia, the reasons of Russia’s irritation are not only about Georgia’s commitment to join (NATO or the European Union) but Georgia’s success to become a capable, strong state,” he said. “Russia prefers to have a weak neighborhood and control, dominate it that way.”