Georgia says it won’t drag NATO into war

By Ben Birnbaum

Georgia’s second-most-powerful man vows that his country will not drag NATO into a war with Russia if accepted into the Western alliance, saying that the chance of another confrontation with Moscow is far lower than it was before their 2008 conflict.

“We made a unilateral commitment to nonuse of force, so there is no way we will become a problem for NATO in terms of Article 5 or in terms of a possible military confrontation between Georgia and Russia,” David Bakradze, speaker of the Georgia Parliament, said in an interview with The Washington Times.

Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty stipulates that an attack on one member state “shall be considered an attack against them all.”

> Map Of Georgia
“We still have threatening rhetoric on the side of Russian officials,” Mr. Bakradze said, “but I think in the current international situation, it’s not very likely that Russia will dare to use large-scale military force against Georgia, so if one asks me, I would say that the probability of another invasion or large-scale conflict is low, and it’s much lower than it was in 2008.”

Georgia and Russia have had no diplomatic relations since their 2008 conflict, and Mr. Bakradze blamed the situation squarely on Russia.

“The ball is on the Russian side because any moment they decide to talk, we’re ready to talk,” he said.

The 2008 war centered on the rebellious Georgian province of South Ossetia. Only Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and a couple of Pacific island nations have recognized the independence of South Ossetia and its fellow secessionist province of Abkhazia, but the two remain in limbo because of the presence of Russian forces.

Mr. Bakradze argued that the Russian troops in those regions should not preclude Georgia’s NATO membership, pointing to Cold War-era Germany as a potential model for Georgian accession.

“[The Germans] had some specific regulations when they entered NATO addressing the issue of territorial integrity and addressing the presence of Soviet troops in East Germany, so there are already precedents, and in the case of a decision, I don’t think that this is an unresolvable obstacle,” he said.

Mr. Bakradze expressed hoped that NATO’s spring summit in Chicago will bring “progress” and “clarity” to Georgia’s bid. However, he promised that Georgia will continue to deploy troops in Afghanistan, regardless of NATO’s decision.

“We will remain there until the successful end of operations,” he said.

In June, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili agreed to add 750 troops to Georgia’s 950-man force, making it the largest contribution from a non-NATO member.

“We have our guys on a full-scale combat mission in Helmand province. We are not guarding the depots, like some other countries,” Mr. Bakradze said, calling the decade-old war “our common fight.”

The 39-year-old Mr. Bakradze, a party ally of Mr. Saakashvili’s, previously served as Georgia’s foreign minister. Asked whether he would seek to replace the term-limited president in the country’s 2013 elections, Mr. Bakradze hedged.

“I’m interested in remaining in politics, so if you are interested in being in politics, you cannot rule out any possibility,” he said.

“You need to get support inside the party, then you need to get support in the population. If all these elements are in place, I don’t know a single politician who would rule out such a possibility.”