Georgia's prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has said that he intends to get a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) next year. Getting MAP -- which would be a substantial step towards eventually gaining membership in the alliance -- has been the Holy Grail for Ivanishvili's foe, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. But Saakashvili and his allies have spared no effort to tar Ivanishvili as a crypto-Russian agent who will lead Georgia away from its Western geopolitical orientation. And while Ivanishvili has repeatedly declared his intention to continue to work towards NATO integration, this is the first time that Ivanishvili has laid out such a specific goal vis-a-vis the alliance. He made his comments at an event celebrating Georgian Armed Forces Day on Tuesday, reports Civil.ge:
“Next year we should undertake a very vigorous step and get at least MAP,” PM Ivanishvili told the audience...
“We probably won’t be able to get more than that, but we have strictly set MAP as a target and next year when there is a gathering of NATO [leaders] we should undertake a powerful step in this direction,” Ivanishvili said drawing applause from the audience.
Saakashvili's United National Movement party, of course, couldn't disagree with that:
“Receiving MAP would really be a step forward and we fully share and support what the Prime Minister has stated,” UNM MP Giorgi Gabashvili said on May 1. “The country should do everything possible both in internal and foreign policy… in order to get membership action plan in 2014.”
So, is getting MAP by the end of next year a realistic goal? Saakashvili claimed last year that NATO had been close to offering MAP to Georgia, but it's not clear whether that was wishful thinking. Leading up to Georgia's parliamentary elections last year, NATO officials repeatedly said that a successful conduct of the vote would be rewarded. The elections went off better than almost anyone expected, with a peaceful transfer of power, and so Georgia would seem to stand to get something for that. But on the other hand, there is still significant institutional resistance to Georgia becoming a full member of NATO, no matter who is in charge.
Saakashvili is now in Washington and met yesterday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and of course NATO was on his agenda:
President Saakashvili said in his remarks before the meeting: "Of course we are here to talk about NATO."
"We want American support for NATO. We want America’s support of further Euro-Atlantic integration at this very difficult and crucial moment for Georgia’s democracy and Georgia’s survival," said Saakashvili.
Saakashvili's UNM continues to accuse Ivanishvili of serving Russian interests; most recently over comments he made about a mysterious military operation last year near the Russian border. Ivanishvili said the incident needs to be investigated and hinted that the previous government may have "cooperated with terrorists." The UNM shot back, saying such statements gave ammunition to Georgia's enemies in Russia.
In a good roundup of the current state of Georgia-Russia relations, RFE/RL notes that so far, the Georgian public seems to trust Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream to better navigate these tricky shoals:
And for the time being, the approach has overwhelming public support. According to a recent poll commissioned by the U.S. National Democratic Institute, 68 percent of Georgians believe the Georgian Dream coalition can best handle relations with Russia and 54 percent trust it to steer the country into NATO.
So will this end up with Georgia getting a NATO MAP?