Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General of NATO has called for Russia to end its recognition of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, stating that Russia should withdraw its forces from the regions.
Since 2005, Georgia has sought to join the NATO alliance. Therefore, relations between the two have come closer over the years, leading to the recent meeting with Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia at NATO headquarters.
Stoltenberg added that “NATO supports Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders.” And he encouraged Georgia “to continue to make full use of all the opportunities for coming closer to NATO. And to prepare for membership.”
Speaking with Reuters, Russian senator Aleksey Pushkov, said that the potential induction of Georgia as a member means that NATO sees Russia as its main opponent.
Since the 2008 five-day war, Russia has maintained a strong military presence within the de-facto states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, states which have only been recognized by Russia and a handful of other nations. The majority of the international community along with Georgia regard these states to be frozen conflicts and therefore, remain a part of Georgia. In recent years, Georgia has continued to draw closer to the West as they implement democratic elections and continue their bid for NATO and the EU as Georgia aims to become a burgeoning economic hub within the region.
For NATO, this presents a strategic opportunity to set foot into the Caucasus where there is close proximity to Russia and access to the Black Sea. Furthermore, with Russia occupying approximately 20% of Georgian territory (with troops in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia) the NATO partnership may be the counterbalance Georgia is looking for whilst being the opportunity for NATO to keep a better eye on Russia. However, it will also see tensions in the region rise.
According to a report from the Intelligence and Security Committee of the United Kingdom Parliament, Russia is “seemingly fed by paranoia, believing that Western institutions such as NATO and the EU have a far more aggressive posture towards it than they do in reality.” Consequently, the possible ascension of Georgia to NATO poses a threat of instability to Russia, for if tensions rise and Russia is to be blamed, it provides NATO with an excuse to access the region and defend Georgia, sparking a potential war in the Caucasus.
Therefore, a solution may lie in the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Following his election in March, the Abkhazian President Aslan Bzhania has voiced his wish to see an Abkhazian-Georgian dialogue. These talks, he suggested, would run parallel to the current Geneva format of dialogue whose make-up includes Georgian, Russian, U.S., Abkhazian, and South Ossetian representatives whilst being co-chaired by the EU, OSCE, and the UN, stating that Abkhazian and Georgian officials need a separate “small avenue” for bilateral talks on “problems related to border.”
These proposed talks will be the first time that Abkhazia has taken the call for recognition off the table. Previously, officials in the de-facto state have specified that a precondition to bilateral talks is the recognition of Abkhazia as an independent nation. Therefore, this marked change in tone could provide Georgia the opportunity to repair relations with both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a way of reclaiming the relationship and making steps to diversify or shift the reliance from Russia. For Georgia, this could also be an opening to creating Georgian friendly relations between the de-facto states and demonstrate their support for Georgians within the breakaway regions.
Tensions between Georgia and Russia erupted in 2008 when Russia supported the self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (which had been disputed regions since the break-up of the Soviet Union). This prompted a short-lived five-day war between Russia and Georgia, resulting in a Russian-led military victory.
Georgia holds numerous strategic points that make it a desirable region to gain access to. With a heavy Russian presence in the country, NATO may be the ideal counterbalance point for Georgia. However, in doing so it can also be a threat to Russia who has a long history against the alliance. Therefore, Georgia should look to find a way in which it can cooperate with the de-facto states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Particularly as Abkhazia has removed the demand for Georgia to officially recognize the state. By opening bilateral relations between the regions, it may allow for the beginnings of a more diverse relationship.