NATO calls on Russia to withdraw its troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met with a number of Georgian officials on 25 March, during which time one of his main messages was:
“You are not a member of the Alliance, but you make an enormous contribution to our activities.”
He noted that NATO’s position has not changed concerning Georgia’s eventual and definite membership in the organization.
Stoltenberg repeated that Georgia is an important ally and partner, the fact of which is confirmed by joint training exercises.
Stoltenberg’s visit to Georgia coincides with the current NATO-Georgia Exercise 2019, which is being led, for the first time, by Georgia itself.
“Georgia and NATO will decide together when Georgia is to become a member of NATO, and no other party has the right to interfere,” said Stoltenberg, noting Georgia is a sovereign country, and that no one has the right to dictate its decisions.
He further noted that in order to join NATO, Georgia must carry out reforms, including in the judiciary and the defence sector.
“NATO firmly supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia,” Stoltenberg said at a joint press conference with Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze.
On behalf of NATO, Stoltenberg called on Russia to withdraw its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states and to withdraw troops from their territories.
Bakhtadze said that Stoltenberg’s visit to Georgia is another clear confirmation that NATO supports Georgia’s accession to the Alliance.
He noted that the country’s constitution confirms Georgia’s choice.
“The presence of Georgia on the NATO agenda in this volume indicates the priority of Georgia for NATO,” said Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani.
Stoltenberg’s visit to Georgia is of particular importance since the visit took place before the anniversary of the NATO ministerial, the Georgian Foreign Minister said.
After the meeting with the Secretary General, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili said: “Georgia is a country with an exclusively peaceful policy, it is our strength and this is the way to our victory.”
She noted that the main message during her meeting with Stoltenberg concerned the occupied territories.
Zurabishvili said that due to the actions of Russia, the situation on the line of the occupation has become very tense, with many concerned by the possibility of abductions or threats in connection with the NATO exercises.
“Despite this, Georgia has not changed its peace message. Georgia has no other policy – only [a] peaceful [one]. And this means that the format of the Geneva talks should be intensified – it needs to become politically significant either in Geneva, or in another way.
“We cannot put up with the solution of the issue only at a technical level, since in fact there is no progress in the peaceful resolution of this issue, and there will not be one if our partners do not remind Russia every day that it must fulfill its existing obligations,” the Georgian president said.
Representatives of the parliamentary opposition say Stoltenberg’s visit is an important message for Russia, as it demonstrates the importance of Georgia to the Alliance.
The opposition criticizes the ruling party’s mechanism of cooperation with NATO and states that more effective steps are needed to deepen relations between Georgia and the Alliance.
“The visit is important as are the current exercises. However, more activity is needed as the current government has slightly placed NATO membership on the back burner,” says European Georgia member Elena Khoshtaria.
The opposition has particularly focused on judicial reforms and elections.
Television channel Rustavi-2 asked for Stoltenberg’s assessment of the recent presidential elections. He said that he was familiar with the assessments of international organizations of the latest presidential elections and believes that reforms in the country should be continuous in order to meet the highest standards.
“We really want to see even more progress in these reforms and the strengthening of your democratic institutions in terms of holding elections,” said Stoltenberg.