“Russia is still undecided on the level of its participation in the NATO summit, which will take place in a month in Chicago,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said. This statement reflects a whole series of problems, most of them not of Russia’s making. There are at least three major irritants which can make Russia’s presence in Chicago undesirable for both Moscow and NATO.
First, the disagreements over Syria. Most of NATO’s capital show absolutely no enthusiasm about a relative easing of violence in Syria, blaming all the problems on the government and turning a blind eye to even the most obnoxious terrorist acts from the other side. Even today’s terrorist explosion of a bomb planted at a side of a highway near Quneitra, a Syrian town on the border with Israel, that killed 10 Syrian policemen, did not move Western capitals an inch towards a more balanced view of the situation. At the recent ministerial meeting of the so called Friends of Syria in Paris, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came up with a new possible pretext for NATO’s intervention in Syria – she said Turkey could invoke NATO Charter which binds NATO’s members to rescue any member of the organization who becomes a subject of an attack. The fact that Turkey has a much more powerful army than Syria and that the so called Free Syrian Army operates against the Syrian government forces from the Turkish territory does not alter anything in Mrs. Clinton’s desire to see Turkey as a victim of attack.
The second irritant hampering Russia’s full participation in the Chicago summit of NATO is the prospect of the organization’s membership which is still formally offered to Mikheil Saakashvili’s Georgia. The prospect, offered at NATO’s Bucharest summit in spring 2008, was de facto shelved by Mikheil Saakashvili’s attempt at violent “reintegration” of South Ossetia in August of the same year. This territory, once part of Soviet Georgia, was recognized by Russia as an independent state after it repealed Saakashvili’s attack with Russia’s military assistance. Georgia, however, declares this territory “occupied” and never misses an opportunity to sour Russia-NATO relations by raising the issue.
“Back in 2008, the European countries realized what kind of burden they would take upon themselves if Georgia became a NATO member. The organization then would become a hostage to Saakashvili’s penchant for conflict with Russia,” Anatoly Tsygankov, an analyst of the Moscow-based Institute for Military Analysis said at a press conference in the RIA Novosti news agency. “However, public opinion in NATO members is formed mostly by anti-Russian media, so the NATO governments have to make a balancing act between genuine concern for their countries’ security and lip service to Georgia’s purportedly threatened security.”
Recently, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov again expressed surprise at the fact that Tbilisi was still being offered a perspective of NATO membership, citing the speedy “remilitarization” of Georgia. In 2008, having cleared South Ossetia of the invading Georgian troops, the Russian army destroyed a lot of Georgian military infrastructure in the areas surrounding South Ossetia, incapacitating Georgian troops for another attack.
“Georgia, as a sovereign state, has the right to choose alliances and organizations which it wants to join,” Georgia’s foreign minister Grigol Vashadze retorted. Mikheil Saakashvili prides himself on participating in NATO’s operation in Afghanistan and several times let it be understood that he expects NATO membership or at least some kind of rapprochement with NATO in return. The Georgian foreign minister Vashadze, having met Hillary Clinton in Brussels, claimed that they had agreed on some kind of a “joint statement” to be made in the aftermath of the 20-22 May NATO summit in Chicago.
Russia, however, being a transit country for a lion’s share of ISAF’s (International Security Assistance Force) supplies in Afghanistan, continues its contribution to the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan no less significant than Georgia’s. Lavrov cited the fact that Russia is not invited to experts’ meetings on Afghanistan in Brussels as one more reason making Moscow unwilling to attend the summit in Chicago.
“If NATO is still interested in us as in a partner in Afghanistan, I just cannot understand why we are not invited [to Brussels],” Lavrov said. “We don’t offer ISAF military contingents, but we offer transit opportunities, which are highly valued by our NATO partners.” In Lavrov’s words, Moscow was disappointed when it realized what kind of event it will be attending in Chicago. “Instead of an invitation to regular meetings on Afghanistan in Brussels, we were invited to a one-time celebration of great successes in Afghanistan,” Lavrov remarked sourly.
As for a possible joint US-Georgian declaration at the summit, it will most likely boil down to pressuring Russia to leave former Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, exposing them to a possible new Georgian attack. So far, such appeals brought zero results.