Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and NATO Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia James Appathurai meet in Tbilisi. (photo: Georgian Ministry of Defense)
NATO officials are in Georgia doing the preliminary work to set up a training facility, an official from the alliance said on a visit to Tbilisi.
The establishment of the joint training facility, announced in September, was the main component of the "substantial package" that NATO had long promised Georgia for continuing to be a good ally. James Appathurai, NATO's special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, was in Tbilisi this week meeting with officials including Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to discuss the implementation of the package.
“We welcome very much the speed with which Georgia has been working to define this new joint training center,” Appathurai said, according to Civil.ge, and he added that NATO defense planning experts are already in Georgia, working closely with the Georgian colleagues on this issue.
"NATO is already participating very actively and we are already identifying the people who will be coming in here, defining where the joint training center will be – that’s a Georgian decision of course, hopefully we can define it together," Appathurai said. "There will be further high-level visits to focus on implementation.”
Appathurai's visit followed a visit two weeks ago by Garibashvili to NATO headquarters in Brussels, where NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the package will "move Georgia closer to NATO":
“The Substantial NATO-Georgia Package will strengthen your country’s defence capabilities. And it will help you to move closer to NATO,” Mr Stoltenberg said. The Secretary General welcomed Georgia’s agreement to host a new NATO-Georgia Training Centre, and noted that the Alliance will support defence capacity-building with embedded trainers. The Secretary General underlined that Georgia has also been invited to join NATO’s initiative to enhance interoperability with key partners who make significant contributions to the Alliance.
During his visit, Appathurai was asked about the controversy surrounding the November firing of former defense minister Irakli Alasania as part of a corruption scandal; Alasania said his removal was "an attack on Georgia's Euro-Atlantic choice." Appathurai said that the perception that it was a politically motivated move could hurt Georgia's NATO prospects.
"Appathurai said it is important not only to avoid political retribution, but also avoid the perception of such cases being politically motivated," Democracy and Freedom Watch reported. "If there is a perception that political retribution is widespread in a partner country, this will create a barrier for Georgia on the way to NATO integration, Appathurai said."
There was a similar issue just last year, when NATO was concerned about the perception that the then-newly elected Georgian Dream coalition was pursuing politically motivated criminal charges against the former United National Movement coalition. Georgia diplomats worked overtime to battle that perception and, given the granting of the "substantial package," their efforts appear to have been a success.
And given the apparent fast pace of the establishment of NATO's training center in Georgia it would seem that the country's integration into the alliance, given new energy by the crisis with Russia, has easily survived Alasania's departure.