In a high profile visit to Tbilisi, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reiterated the alliance’s backing for Georgia in the aftermath of its brief August war with Russia. The NATO visit is seen as an important step towards Georgia’s eventual membership in the alliance, though reservations about Georgia’s democratic credentials in light of last year’s crackdown on opposition groups have prevented them from making any firm commitments as of yet. Russia has called the timing of the visit “inappropriate,” and warned last week that it might end all cooperation with NATO if it grants Georgia membership.
The Secretary General also condemned last week’s EU-brokered peace deal, which would replace Russian troops in the buffer zone between Georgia and the breakaway enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia with EU monitors. According to the Secretary General, the fact that the deal did not require Russia to remove its forces from the enclaves was “not acceptable”.
Russia has recognized the independence of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, though NATO has insisted that they remain part of Georgia. The presence of nearly 8,000 Russian troops in the enclaves is meant to deter any attempts by Georgia to reclaim control of the provinces militarily, as they aimed to do in early August with an attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali.
Georgia is reportedly eying a much larger military force in the wake of last month’s devastating defeat at the hands of the dramatically larger, but aging, military force. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has vowed to reclaim the separatist regions and restore Georgia’s “territorial integrity”. Russia has called for an arms embargo on the Caucasus nation, but US officials have repeated said they expect to help rebuild the nation’s military.
In a visit earlier this month to the region, Vice President Dick Cheney declared America’s support for Georgia’s membership in NATO. During a visit to Turkey today, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen said that if Georgia was a NATO member the United States and other NATO members would be obligated to defend Georgia militarily in any future conflict with Russia.
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