180 PCNP 09 E rev 1 - GEORGIA AND NATO
RUI GOMES DA SILVA (PORTUGAL) - RAPPORTEUR AD INTERIM
II. GEORGIA’S ENGAGEMENT WITH NATO
III. THE AUGUST 2008 WAR
IV. IMPLICATIONS OF THE CONFLICT
VI. THE WAY FORWARD
1. The Political Committee, and the Sub-Committee on NATO Partnerships, has closely monitored the developments in the South Caucasus and in Georgia. The short RussianGeorgian war in early August of 2008 only highlighted the region’s strategic importance for Euro-Atlantic security and for NATO. This report examines the recent political developments in Georgia as well as the country’s standing relationship with NATO. The report concludes with some brief suggestions of how NATO and the NATO PA might further assist Georgia.
2. Formal relations between Georgia and the Alliance date back to 1992, when Tbilisi joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), which was renamed the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) in 1997. Co-operation deepened and broadened after Georgia joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme in 1994 and the PfP Planning and Review Process (PARP) in 1999. In the context of PfP, Georgia has provided one light infantry battalion for operations on a case-by-case basis, and has made logistics facilities and a mountain training site available for PfP activities. Georgia participates in the Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism (PAP-T), by sharing intelligence with NATO to enhance national counter-terrorist operations and improve border security. After the country’s Rose Revolution, NATO’s focus on supporting Georgia’s domestic reform process intensified, in particular through the development of Georgia’s first Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) in 2004 which was designed to implement key reforms in the political, military and security sectors.
3. Between 1999 and 2008, Georgia contributed troops to a number of NATO-led operations, such as the Kosovo Force (KFOR) and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Moreover, in 2004 a platoon-sized unit served ISAF alongside a British battalion in order to help secure Afghanistan’s presidential elections. In March 2005, Georgia agreed to provide ISAF key logistical support by allowing the transit of troops and supplies through its territory. Georgian medical personnel also serve ISAF within the Lithuanian Provincial Reconstruction Team. In June 2009, Georgia confirmed that it plans to send 500 soldiers to Afghanistan by 2010 to fight with NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, following its withdrawal of 2,000 troops from Iraq late 2008.
4. NATO Allies, the US in particular, have been instrumental in the transformation of the Georgian armed forces and since the late 1990s, Georgia began to reduce troop numbers significantly in order to create a smaller, more flexible army, as advised by the International Security Advisory Board (ISAB). This was in line with NATO recommendations to build sustainable niche capabilities (to contribute to counter-terror and counter-insurgency operations), rather than to pursue ambitious, but unrealistic, defence plans. As a result, the Georgian army had downsized from 38,000 to 20,000 men by early 2004 - somewhat more than the 13,000 to 15,000 that the ISAB had recommended. However, under President Saakashvili, the size of the Georgian army increased again, to approximately 32,000 personnel at the beginning of August 2008. A month prior to the war, the Georgian parliament had approved plans to add an additional 5,000 soldiers to the national army. The country’s prospective defence budget of approximately US$ 990 million in 2008 would have represented approximately 4.3% of Georgia’s GDP; a strong increase over the 0.60% of GDP that the country spent in 2005 (although many analysts believe that the real 2008 defence expenditures were closer to 6.5% of GDP, when supplemental allocations are considered). The figure was also higher than the 2% per annum that NATO recommends for member states’ annual defence budgets.
5. NATO granted Georgia an Intensified Dialogue (ID) on membership aspirations in September 2006. At the NATO Summit in Bucharest in April 2008 NATO Heads of State and Government stated that Georgia and Ukraine will join NATO in the future. However, there was no agreement on the two countries’ participation in the Membership Action Plan (MAP) programme. As a direct consequence of the Russian military intervention in Georgia in early August 2008 the NATOGeorgia Commission (NGC) was established on 15 September 2008.
6. The war in August must be seen in the historical context in which the country established its independence in the early 1990s. In January 1991, longstanding, simmering tensions in Georgia erupted into violence after the country’s first elected leader, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, pursued policies which generated a strong feeling of hostility against Tbilisi among ethnic minority groups in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Regarding South Ossetia, hostilities broke out in 1990 and lowscale fighting lasted until June 1992, when a ceasefire was signed in Sochi. It is estimated that 1,000 people were killed in the conflict and some 60,000 Ossetians and 10,000 Georgians were displaced. A vast majority of Ossetians fled to North Ossetia or other regions of Russia. At a referendum in 1992, South Ossetians voted overwhelmingly for independence, which was confirmed by another referendum in 2006.
7. In Abkhazia, violence erupted on 14 August 1992, as Georgian forces launched an attack on the region. The Russian Ministry of Defence actively supported the Abkhazian forces on the ground, and Russian airborne troops fired upon the Georgian forces. Fighting lasted until ceasefire accords were signed in April-May 1994. Abkhazia’s separatist war displaced 210,000 ethnic Georgians and the unresolved conflict over South Ossetia played a central role in Georgia’s August 2008 war with Russia. Eduard Shevardnadze led a provisional government following the ousting of Gamsakhurdia in early 1992. By the time he was elected as Georgia’s president in 1995, Abkhazia and South Ossetia had long achieved de facto independence.
8. Georgians generally view Abkhazia and South Ossetia as integral parts of their homeland and their re-integration into Georgia has been considered a patriotic issue. The restoration of Georgia’s territory was always a key goal of Mikhail Saakashvili and he was successful in regaining control of the breakaway region of Adjara in early 2004. Historically, Russia has had an interest in Georgia due to its unique geo-strategic position: Georgia shares common borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan and functions as an economic passage way to Armenia, with which Russia has strong economic ties. During the Cold War, the USSR had military bases in Batumi, Vazani, Akhalkalaki and Gudauta, as well as military ports by the Black Sea which came under Russian control in 1991. Following talks between Moscow and Tbilisi in 2005, Russia agreed to close its military bases in Batumi, Akhalkalaki and Tblisi. These had been the source of great tension between the two countries. Although Moscow had returned all of the bases to Georgia by autumn 2007, more than a year ahead of schedule, the bi-lateral relationship between Russia and Georgia had deteriorated before the August war of 2008.
9. Russia and Georgia disagree over the events that led to this war. Human Rights Watch has criticised both sides for having committed war crimes in the conflict. According to Tbilisi, tensions increased since the spring, due to a series of provocative actions by South Ossetian and Russian authorities. These included the strengthening of political links between Moscow, Tskhinvali and Sukhumi, the massive distribution of Russian passports to residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a Russian military build-up in and around the conflict regions and violations of Georgian airspace, among others. At the beginning of August 2008, Georgian villages, peacekeeping forces and police in South Ossetia came under increased sniper and artillery attacks. The shelling of Georgian villages intensified on 6 and 7 August, and continued into the evening of 7 August, despite a unilateral ceasefire called by Tbilisi. Georgia asserts that Russian peacekeeping troops did not intervene to prevent these attacks and protect the local population.
10. Georgia also claims to have received intelligence reports that armoured vehicles and trucks with Russian soldiers were approaching the Roki tunnel and crossing into Georgia on the night of 7 August. At that point, Georgian authorities ordered their forces to stop the advance of Russian forces into Georgia’s territory. Moscow argues that its forces entered South Ossetia only after Georgia had started its attack on Tskhinvali. It claims that it had an obligation to intervene to protect Russian citizens in South Ossetia and to stop the “genocide” committed by Georgian troops. However, later, the fact of “genocide” was denied by the EU investigations.
11. A report compiled by a group of international experts led by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini on the causes of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008, has established that the large-scale hostilities were sparked by the Georgian action, it also concludes that “there is no way to assign overall responsibility for the conflict to one side alone”. The Commission found, among others, that both sides violated international law; the attack by Georgian forces was not justified; that the Russian military action deep into Georgia was not “even remotely commensurate with the threat to Russian peacekeepers”; and that “continued destruction which came after the ceasefire agreement was not justifiable by any means”.
12. The war caused heavy losses of human life and dealt a heavy blow to the Georgian military and to the country’s civilian infrastructure. According to media reports, large portions of Georgia’s tank forces, artillery and relatively modern anti-aircraft defence units were either destroyed or captured during the fighting and the retreat of Georgia’s armed forces from South Ossetia. Moreover, almost the entire Georgian navy was sunk after Russian forces occupied Georgia’s harbour in Poti. According to then-Defence Minister Davit Kezerashvili, Georgia sustained losses of approximately US$ 250 million in advanced weapons systems and hardware, including an estimated quarter of its 240 battle tanks. It is estimated that more than 400 Georgians were killed, more than half of them civilians. On the South Ossetian side, some 150 persons were killed, while Russia said it had lost 64 soldiers. The war displaced approximately 150,000 people and an estimated 20,000 ethnic Georgians fled South Ossetia and have still not been allowed back into their old homes. Despite efforts by the Georgian government and the international community, which has devoted significant resources and time to providing thousands of temporary houses across the Georgian countryside, the short term outlook for the refugees is not positive. These newly displaced persons from South Ossetia, in combination with the 210,000 Georgian citizens who fled from Abkhazia in the 1990s, represent close to 5% of Georgia’s total population.
13. A joint report by the United Nations and the World Bank estimated the necessary investments to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure at US$ 3.25 billion for the 2008-2010 period. The donors’ conference for Georgia, held in Brussels on 22 October 2008, raised the sum of US$ 4.5 billion in loans and grants to help rebuild the country. The International Monetary Fund approved a US$ 750 million loan for Georgia to help rebuild investor confidence and the United States approved a US$ 1 billion aid package to the country, of which $570 million was made immediately available. Moreover, the EU provided considerable financial and other assistance to Georgia. Nonetheless, the Georgian economy has suffered considerably as a result of the war and Foreign direct investment (FDI) has dried up in the global economic downturn.
14. Another result of the war is that Russia is expanding its military presence in the South Caucasus. In contravention of the Sarkozy-Medvedev agreements of August and September 2008, Russia still has troops in the Georgian village of Perevi, the Akhalgori region and the Kodori Valley. Moreover, in blatant violation of the EU-brokered cease-fire deal, Russia has recently completed key infrastructure for a Russian military base and a military air base in South Ossetia. It has also stated plans to build a naval base in Ochamchire, Abkhazia, near the de facto border with Georgia as well as an air base in Gudauta. Russia has said that it intends to have 7,600 of its troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia on a long-term basis.
15. Russia’s military action in Georgia has also dealt a heavy blow to NATO-Russia relations. Like the international community at large, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) criticised the Russian military action in South Ossetia and Georgia as “disproportionate” and condemned the decision of the Russian Federation to recognise the independence of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which is in contravention of fundamental OSCE principles and United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR). As a consequence, NATO decided to temporarily suspend meetings of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) and only decided in early March 2009 to continue dialogue with Russia in the NRC.
16. NATO Allies want to re-establish closer relations with Russia and the recent decision of the United States not to deploy parts of their anti-missile defence system in Central Europe has sent a positive signal to Russia. Moreover, the new NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has announced that he plans to make NATO-Russia relations one of his priorities. He has also said that the enlargement of the Alliance and closer relations between NATO and Georgia remain on NATO’s agenda. However, independent experts suggest that Moscow wants to stop further eastward enlargement of the Alliance and to limit closer co-operation between NATO and the CIS countries, which Moscow sees as an erosion of its own influence.
17. The long-term consequences of the August war remain unclear. However, at least in the short and medium term, the hostilities have produced negative results for both sides, particularly for Georgia. The war has destabilised the country and the region as a whole. Georgia lost control of the de facto independent regions, in addition to its infrastructure being damaged by the war. The refusal by South Ossetia and Russia to allow the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) to monitor the situation inside South Ossetia creates a dangerous situation. As a result of the hostilities, the chances for a possible re-integration of South Ossetia and Abkhazia into Georgia seem far off. Georgian government officials told the Sub-Committee during the visit in May that their country’s 2009 defence budget is one-third less in comparison to the previous year. The global financial crisis has slowed down the country’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Russia’s military intervention has raised serious questions about its role in the region and beyond. Some critics maintained that Russia is trying to destabilise the Georgian government or even Georgia as an independent country. Moscow has been heavily criticised for its actions by the international community. Despite its diplomatic efforts, only Nicaragua has officially recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent entities, while Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has vowed recognition of them during a recent visit to Moscow. Moreover, the UN General Assembly of 9 September 2009 has defined Abkhazia and South Ossetia as parts of Georgia. The UN General Assembly has also condemned the "forced displacement" of the population from the two territories and strongly upheld the displaced populations' right to return. OSCE heads of State recognised the ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia as such at three summits in Lisbon, Budapest and Istanbul.
18. As to NATO, the war has prompted a debate within the Organisation about the meaning of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty and the need for the Alliance to refocus efforts on territorial defence, which is likely to be reflected in the revision of the 1999 Strategic Concept.
19. In the aftermath of the August war, Georgia faces daunting internal and external challenges. The host of domestic interconnected challenges includes poverty, high unemployment and weak social conditions. The economy remains weak and the infrastructure is poorly developed. Georgia depends heavily on imports and investments from abroad with 80% of the goods consumed in the country imported. However, one must consider these challenges against the backdrop of Georgia’s situation before the current government came into office.
20. Mikhail Saakashvili ushered in a new era of Georgian politics with the Rose Revolution at the end of 2003. Following his election as president in early 2004 he initiated an ambitious agenda, focused on restoring the rule of law, re-establishing fundamental state authority and tackling corruption. His wide-ranging reforms generated a positive momentum which overcame the economic stagnation that had gripped the country since the late 1990s. As a result, the Georgian economy grew by 9.6% in 2005, 9.4% in 2006 and 12% in 2007 - a remarkable increase over the 4.9% average for the 1998-2003 period. FDI, much of it linked to the construction of the Baku Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) and the South Caucasus pipelines, was a major reason for this growth. In 2007, Georgia’s FDI was approximately $1.7 billion. However, economic reforms failed to help many ordinary Georgians and the euphoria that followed the Rose Revolution dissipated. President Saakashvili has come under heavy criticism by the opposition. For example, critics maintained that many reforms in the health and education sectors, where Georgia ranks low in comparison with CIS countries, had been poorly implemented or were unfunded.
21. Critics also said that Saakashvili’s accomplishments had been offset by backsliding on political reform and an excessive concentration of power in his own hands. According to Freedom House, Georgia has regressed in several indices of democratic reform since the events of late 2007, including the electoral process, independent media and national democratic governance. In late 2007, Saakashvili responded to opposition protests with riot police and declared a state of emergency. Shortly thereafter, he called for early elections in January 2008, which he won with 52% of the votes cast; significantly less than the sweeping 96% he had received in the wake of the Rose Revolution.
22. The failed attempt to try to regain authority over the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia has further increased criticism of the country’s President. Even before the August war, a number of his former allies had joined the opposition, including Georgia’s ambassador to the UN, Irakly Alasania. The former ambassador to Moscow, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, accused the President of ignoring earlier peaceful overtures from Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and of planning a military operation against Abkhazia instead. To reassert authority, President Saakashvili reshuffled the cabinet and much of the foreign diplomatic corps. While the opposition has gained increased support, it remains divided. President Saakashvili, whom the constitution bars from running for a third term, has rejected calls for his resignation. In response to the criticism, the government has launched additional economic and social reforms, including a so-called “second wave of democratic reforms”. The Georgian government is also trying to improve the situation for the refugees.
23. Although Georgia is continuing to transform its society, economy and political system, a lot remains to be done. Following an extended period of non-parliamentary demonstrations, including the blocking of the parliament in the spring and early summer 2009, the domestic political situation in the country is in limbo, and the political system is characterised by instability. The party system remains volatile and parties which are no longer in government often disappear rather than continue to operate in the opposition. Independent experts attributed the limits of democratic governance and the weakly established political culture to Georgia’s tumultuous history following its independence and to the fact that Georgia has remained in warlike conditions ever since. The Sub-Committee on NATO Partnership learned of these developments during its visit to Tblisi in May, as well as that there is little trust among the opposition in the government’s willingness to reform. Finding a way out of the domestic political crisis and overcoming the lack of trust between the governing elites and the opposition may require the involvement of an outside mediator, possibly the Council of Europe or the EU. The continued engagement of foundations and political organisations from EU and NATO countries to help strengthen civil society is needed.
VI. THE WAY FORWARD
24. The lack of consensus over Georgia participation in the Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the Bucharest Summit raised the question of how Georgia can best pursue its path to eventual membership of the Alliance. Despite increased domestic criticism of the government, its aspiration for NATO membership continues to be supported by a large majority of Georgians; approximately 70% of the population. NATO’s MAP programme offers advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance. At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, the Alliance’s Heads of State and Government decided to postpone a decision on Georgia’s application for a MAP, while reaffirming that Georgia would one day become a member of NATO. Critics have argued that the discussion over a MAP for Georgia has been disingenuous, as MAP is merely a “technical” programme and that participation does not prejudge membership.
25. As far as eventual membership of the Alliance is concerned, an invitation to join requires a consensus among all Member States. No third country can veto on membership of the Alliance. Whether an applicant country is invited to join is ultimately a political decision. However, applicant countries that want to join are expected to fulfil a number of criteria. These are:
* a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy;
26. In the view of your Rapporteur, the NATO-Georgia Commission (NGC) presents an opportunity for Georgia to take practical steps toward membership-readiness without the political pressures associated with MAP. The Commission, which has already met several times, at the ambassadorial, Defence and Foreign Ministers level, monitors and supports Georgia’s relationship with the Alliance as it pursues its path to future membership. Moreover, it co-ordinates allied support for Georgia’s recovery from the recent conflict. By establishing the Commission, NATO Allies sent a strong signal of solidarity to Georgia and reaffirmed allied support for Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
27. At the meetings, NATO Ministers reaffirmed their support for Georgia’s full independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. They called for the immediate and full implementation of the 12 August 2008 six-point plan and the 8 September 2008 agreement, as agreed by presidents Saakashvili and Medvedev, and expressed their strong support for the international negotiation process in Geneva. They urged all sides to engage constructively in those talks, in the interest of promoting peace and security in the region.
28. At the NGC’s first meeting of Foreign Ministers, the Ministers agreed to maximise NATO’s advice, assistance and support for Georgia’s reform efforts in the framework of the NGC. They decided to reinforce the NATO Liaison Office in Tbilisi and that, under the auspices of the NGC, an Annual National Programme would be developed to advance Georgia’s reforms, which would be annually reviewed by NATO Allies.
29. This approach has two principal advantages: first, Georgia can continue reforming its political and military structures with the assistance of NATO. Second, the NGC affords NATO the flexibility to balance future Georgian membership with the need to manage its relationship and interests with Russia. Therefore, NATO indirectly addresses Moscow’s concerns without backing down from the principles laid out in the Bucharest communiqué.
30. As far as Georgia is concerned, it must apply the lessons learned from the August 2008 war, both in the military and non-military realms. Citing from a classified assessment of the US European Command, the New York Times reported that the performance of Georgian forces during the conflict revealed a number of flaws in Georgia’s planning, supply, co-ordination, air defence and combat communications systems. It also described the Georgian armed forces as over-centralised and lacking a clear chain of command. NATO has encouraged Georgia to continue reforms in the defence and security sphere, starting with a thorough lessons-learned process, based on the recent conflict, followed by an incorporation of those lessons into the planned comprehensive review of security documents. NATO has also suggested that Georgia continue its efforts to improve: its system of personnel management within the military; transparency of the defence budget; and interoperability of its forces with those of NATO Allies. NATO has recommended that Georgia also continues its reform efforts in the nonmilitary realm, particularly in the areas of electoral reform, government transparency and accountability, political pluralism, judicial professionalism and independence, and media freedom.
31. Georgia has made remarkable progress in a number of areas, but it needs to continue its political, military and other reforms. More specifically, Georgia’s performance in democratic and market reforms has been mixed and it is important to advance constitutional reform with the goal to improve the checks and balances in the country’s political system. In this context, the role of the parliament need to be strengthened and the powers of the President limited. Moreover, the quick turnover of senior government officials, particularly in the defence ministry, is slowing down reform. For example, in late August 2009 President Saakashvili named the third Defence Minister in almost one year when he replaced David Sikharulidze by one of his deputies. Defence Minister Bacho Akhalaia is the seventh since the November 2003 Rose Revolution; the longest serving official in this position had two years – barely sufficient to get fully acquainted with the complex and complicated issues relating to defence reform. NATO and the EU need to continue to provide assistance to Georgia, which will eventually lead to its full integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. For example, Georgia has been recently plugged into NATO’s Air Situation Data Exchange (ASDE) as a result of an agreement that was reached before the war, but implemented after August 2008. In addition, the Alliance will have to monitor Georgia’s implementation of reform initiatives.
33. Georgia has experienced a close, longstanding commitment with the Alliance. It has made significant progress in modernising its military, economic and political system. Although the momentum for reform slackened towards the end of 2007 and the country is currently facing a political crisis which has been aggravated by the August 2008 war, it has made great strides towards eventual membership. Despite shortcomings, Georgia remains one of the frontrunners among Partner countries in reforming its military, civilian, and economic systems. Moreover, both the opposition and the government are strongly in favour of NATO membership.
34. The question of NATO membership is not imminent at this point in time. Georgia needs to continue its reform efforts and the government has re-confirmed its willingness to do so in the aftermath of the war. It is important that the government implements its promises and demonstrates a sustained effort to tackle democratic shortcomings. More specifically, judicial independence needs to be improved, overdue constitutional reform initiated, and greater media independence encouraged.
35. Security in and around Georgia remains fragile more than a year after the five-day war with Russia. Tensions have increased this summer after Georgia seized cargo ships heading to and from Abkhazia. In response, Russia has protested against the intercepts and Russian coast-guard vessels have begun patrolling waters off Abkhazia. The lack of trust between Georgia and the two breakaway regions, as well as with Russia, is a major hindrance to improving the stability in the country and the region as a whole. Moscow continues its military build-up in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The biggest risk is that the volatile security situation along the administrative borders could escalate into new violence.
36. The Tagliavini report underscores the importance of the continued engagement of the international community in Georgia and the region. Unfortunately, the EUMM now represents the only involvement of the international community in the conflict zone, after Russia vetoed the continuation of the OSCE mission in South Ossetia and the UN mission in Abkhazia.
37. NATO is Georgia’s prime security partner and the engagement of NATO and the European Union remains important for the stability of the South Caucasus and for Georgia in particular. Both NATO and the EU should keep Georgia on their agenda in their respective relations with Russia. As far as the relationship between the Alliance and Russia is concerned, the implementation of the EU-brokered cease-fire agreement should be made part of the NATO-Russia agenda. Moreover, both organisations remain committed to assisting Georgia in its reform process. In spite of the global financial and economic crisis, NATO Allies have pledged billions of euros in financial assistance to rebuilding the country after the war, in addition to providing other support. The EU has stated that it will continue to support democratic reforms in the country and will be actively involved in seeking a peaceful settlement to the conflict as well as establishing ways of improving the security situation in the region. It is now essential that NATO and EU Member States fulfil their pledges. However, it is eventually up to Georgia to advance the necessary reforms and the Alliance as well as the EU must exert influence in this regard on Tbilisi, if necessary.
38. In addition to NATO, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has significantly helped strengthen the relationship between Georgia and the Alliance. The Assembly has established a close, formal relationship with the Parliament of Georgia and supports the further deepening of this relationship by way of numerous activities. The Assembly and the Political Committee in particular, will closely follow the developments in Georgia.