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Volume 2 - Issue 1, January 2012


NATO and Russia: Prospects and challenges for relations Atlantic Voices is the monthly publication of the Atlantic Treaty Association. It aims to inform the

debate on key issues that affect

the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, its goals and its future. The work published in Atlantic Voices is written by young professionals and researchers. In this issue Atlantic Voices aims to examine the current state of relations between NATO and the Russian Federation. The issue also aims to look at some of the key issues facing NATO-Russia relations and puts forwards proposals which seek to tackle these. We hope you find the following pages both informative and thought provoking, As part of our goal in promoting and informing the public debate upon these topics, Atlantic Voices is happy to accept responses to the issue

NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen meets President of the Russian Federation, Dmitri Medvedev in Sochi, Russian Federation. July 2011.

Contents: NATO-Russia forecast

Relations: An



Anthony Spota examines the current state of NATO-Russian relations assessing both areas of conflict and also areas of cooperation. Anthony Spota examines closely issues such as missile defence and the ongoing Afghan conflict, concluding with an assessment of how relations may proceed in the future.

and articles we have selected.

NATO’s Future Role in the Abkhazia Dispute Simon A. Miles examines the unresolved question of Abkhazia. Already demonstrably of key importance to NATO, with the 2008 war fought between Russia and Georgia, Simon A. Miles looks at how NATO can approach the issue, recommending a policy of engagement without recognition in pursuit of a positive outcome for NATO in the region.

Atlantic Voices Volume 2 Issue 1


Upcoming Events

Youth Atlantic Summits and Working Group In May 2012, Chicago will be the center of the economic

Applications from exceptional young professionals, aged

and political world as heads of state and government, top diplo-

25-35, are being sought. Individuals should have started careers

mats, military figures, and others convene for the G8 and NATO

in the fields of international relations, electoral politics, defense/

Summits. The Atlantic Council of the United States and the

security, journalism, international business, and academia. Suc-

Chicago Council on Global Affairs, in collaboration with the

cessful candidates will possess a strong passion for international

Atlantic Treaty Association and the Slovak Atlantic Commission,

engagement and have demonstrated leadership abilities.

is seeking to engage leading young minds within the Alliance and

Details of how to apply and application requirements are

partner countries in a series of activities in the run up to the

available from the Atlantic Treaty Association website (www.ata

Chicago Summits. These include:, and the Young Atlanticist website (http://

The Young Atlanticist NATO Working Group, alongside a detailed explanation of the

The Bratislava Young Atlanticist Summit at GLOBSEC

program and its running schedule.

The Chicago Young Atlanticist Summit at the NATO and ***

G8 Summits

About the Authors Anthony Spota

Simon A. Miles

Anthony Spota received a Master in International Poli-

Simon Miles holds a Bachelors Degree in “History” for

cies and Crisis Management from The University of Rome

the University of Toronto and a Masters Degree in

"La Sapienza" and holds a BA in Political Science from

“International History” from the London School of

Pennsylvania State University. He has interned at the Euro-

Economics and Political Science. Simon Miles Currently

pean Investment Bank, the American Embassy and the Eu-

works as a Research Analyst with the Atlantic Council of

ropean Commission's Representation in Italy. In 2010 he


was a researcher for the Italian Atlantic Committee. Anthony is Italian-American and grew up in Luxembourg. Atlantic Voices Volume 2 Issue 1


NATO-Russia Relations: an Assessment and Forecast by Anthony Spota the press. In late November, Medvedev opened a new anti-


missile radar system facility in Kaliningrad, declaring that it was any consider January a month when new

in response to the advancement of NATO's European Theatre

pages are turned and the past is left behind.

Missile Defense system.

However, while the beginning of 2011 bode

Western leaders have also been particularly critical of the

well for NATO-Russia relations, in January 2012 the atmos-

Russian political system, criticizing Putin's announcement that he

phere does not seem as optimistic as it was a year ago. This

would run again for President in 2012 and the apparent ballot

proves that, new-year’s resolutions notwithstanding, sometimes

stuffing that took place during the December legislative vote.

old habits and attitudes are not so easily changed.

For instance, during a high level conference of the OSCE in De-

Looking back, 2011 started on a positive note. Following

cember, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized the

NATO's Lisbon Summit of November 2010, many political

Duma election as "flawed" and criticized the authorities’ efforts

commentators thought that a new era was about to begin. "We

to halt the election monitoring by Golos, an independent civil

will leave behind us not only the Cold War, but also the post

society organization. Following large-scale public protests in

Cold War period... and will move forward," noted NATO's

Russia in December, Putin accused Clinton's comments as hav-

Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a BBC interview in

ing given a "signal" that started "active work" by opposition

November 20101. During the Lisbon Summit, the Heads of State

activists. He also expressed some veiled threats by affirming that:

and Government of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) had af-

"We should think of forms of defense of our sovereignty, de-

firmed that they would increase cooperation on such issues as

fense from interference from abroad".

Theatre Missile Defense, Arms Control and the intervention in

However, one would err to conclude that there have not

Afghanistan. Thus, many saw the Summit as a step forward in

been any steps forward in the Russia-NATO relationship during

the "reset" of US-Russia relations under President Barack

the year or so since Lisbon. Instead it seems that, as has been

Obama's administration. They argued that the warming of rela-

mostly the case since the fall of Communism and the launching

tions was also a result of a "new Russia" under the presidency of

of the Partnership for Peace program in 1994, NATO and Russia

Dmitry Medvedev, who seemed more open to NATO than Vladimir Putin's presidency. "All that we wanted to tell each other, but were afraid to earlier, was said today, and this makes me optimistic" Medvedev himself told journalists after the Summit. The logic was that as

are once again collaborat-

...2012 has started in quite a different manner.The last months have seen a distancing of positions between the two camps...

long as delicate issues such as the presence of Russian

ing in some areas and remain at odds with each other in others. As a matter of fact, if one briefly goes over the his-

troops in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia and

tory of NATO-Russia relations after the end of the Soviet Un-

the Transnistrian region of Moldova were not addressed head on,

ion, one can detect a pattern of alternating successes and set-

progress could be made in other areas of contention through the

backs. Right from the beginning, the Permanent Joint Council

NRC. "We underscore that the NRC is a forum for political

that was the predecessor of the NATO-Russia Council did not

cooperation at all times and on all issues, including where we

prove strong enough to overcome major confrontations. This

disagree" the NRC's Joint Statement of the Lisbon Summit

first appeared on the occasion of the March 1999 NATO’s


bombing campaign in Serbia. However, the breakdown was

Unfortunately, 2012 has started in quite a different manner.

short lived as both parties realized that it was necessary to con-

The last months have seen a distancing of positions between the

tinue their cooperation and to work together on common issues

two camps, as reflected by negative commentaries reported in

of strategic importance. Soon thereafter, the events of Septem-

Atlantic Voices Volume 2 Issue 1


ber 11th demonstrated the need for NATO to re-focus its strate-

the Treaty until Russia fulfilled the political commitments it

gy on the fight against terrorism. In this new perspective, the

undertook on the occasion of the Summit, namely withdrawing

participation of important global actors, such as Russia, was

its forces from Georgia and Moldova. Russia maintained that it

considered essential, due to its strategic position, strong military

had already fulfilled its Istanbul commitments, and eventually in

and significant political weight. Thus, the solidarity originating

November 2007 it withdrew from the Treaty. Another major

from 9/11 was fundamental in creating the conditions for the

setback was NRC’s inability to avoid the Georgian crisis in 2008.

NATO-Russia collaboration to resume under a more advanced

In that case, Russia’s intervention led to another halting of


NRC’s operation and the suspension for some time of the dia-

In establishing the NATO Russia Council, the 2002 declara-

logue with NATO. In much the same way that the PJC had not

tion entitled "NATO-Russia Relations: a New Quality" rein-

been able to prevent the crisis in the Balkans in the late 1990's,

forced the principle of consensus and offered a mechanism with-

in Georgia the NRC was not able to function as an early warning

in which NATO and Russia could cooperate in nine areas: strug-

mechanism, nor as a forum for negotiation. Nonetheless, after

gle against terrorism, crisis management, non proliferation of

the end of the conflict, NATO-Russia relations quickly returned

weapons of mass destruction, small arms control, theatre missile

to normal in early 2009.


defense, research and maritime rescue, military co-operation and

An assessment of the current state of Russia-NATO relation-

defense reform, civil emergencies and new threats to security.

ship must be set against this historical background. In summary,

And looking at the ensuing decade or so of NATO-Russia rela-

it appears that, even though there has been progress on some

tions, one can conclude that the NRC achieved several of the

initiatives since Lisbon, the major breakthrough that was hoped

above goals, most notably in the fight against terrorism. In 2003

for still did not happen.

for example, the Cooperative Airspace Initiative (CAI) was

The area of strategic armaments appears to be the most deli-

launched to increase air traffic information exchange and help

cate aspect of the relationship. As stated in its 2010 Strategic

build confidence in case of airspace infringements. CAI greatly

Concept, NATO seeks cooperation on missile defense with Rus-

increased air traffic transparency serving as an early notification

sia and other Euro-Atlantic partners. Under President George

system of a terrorist hijacking. The system reached full opera-

W. Bush, the United States planned to place several ground-

tional capacity in 2011 and has seen some important operative

based interceptors in Poland and an advanced radar system in the

progress. A NATO-Russia project on Counter-Narcotics training

Czech Republic, a move that was strongly opposed by the Russian government. As a consequence of the "reset" of

for Afghan, Central Asian and Pakistani personnel has also been carried out, and by June 2011 over 1500



...Russia is pushing for a unified, jointly controlled shield whereas NATO wants two systems that would work together and share information

trained. The illegal drug

relations with Russia, President Obama decided to explore the possibility of creating a European missile defense system that included the participation of Russia. This would include interceptors in Romania and Poland, a radar system in Turkey and reliance on missile defense-

business has traditionally been an important financial resource

capable Aegis-class ships3. This so-called Theatre Missile Defense

for terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda, and the Counter-

(TMD) could protect against a missile attack coming from a

Narcotics Initiative has succeeded in reducing this type of financ-

rogue state such as Iran or North Korea and would be of great


use to both NATO members and Russia. Notwithstanding these achievements, as said before the NRC

The controversy stems from the fact that Russia is pushing

has also clearly shown its inability to deal with major political

for a unified, jointly controlled shield whereas NATO wants two

issues. One of its biggest failures was the incapacity to bring the

systems that would work together and share information. The

NATO members to ratify the Adapted Conventional Forces in

impasse between these two different positions was demonstrated

Europe Treaty, signed on the occasion of the 1999 Istanbul

on the occasion of a summit that took place in Sochi, Russia in

OSCE Summit. NATO member states were unwilling to ratify

July 2011, when Medvedev asked NATO for a formal guarantee

Atlantic Voices Volume 2 Issue 1


that the TMD would not neutralize Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

that relaxation on the TMD could compromise national security

Anders Rasmussen replied that a legal guarantee would not be

and urging the administration not to share information about

necessary, since the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act already

missile interceptors with Moscow. Such fears were recently

included a non-aggression obligation.

reiterated in December, when the US Senate delayed the nomi-

Russia is also at odds with the US Department of Defense

nation of Michael McFaul as ambassador of Russia. Republican

"Phased Adaptive Approach" (PAA) to develop the TMD. This

Senator Mark Kirk voiced his concern that the US might provide

consists of a flexible system structured to respond to

Moscow with sensitive

...Russian military elites (and most Russian citizens for that matter) still view NATO as an instrumentality of the US and ultimately an enemy.

current threats, but which can also incorporate relevant technologies quickly and cost-effectively in order to respond to new threats. The PAA is to be implemented in four phases, the details and timing of which can be adapted to advances in technology or future changes in

information and sought assurances that this would not happen. The White House responded with a letter formally providing

the threats to be addressed. The Kremlin is made uneasy by the

such assurances. Likewise, the National Defense Authorization

anticipated appearance of missile interceptors near Russia's bor-

Act for 2012 was amended to specify that if the administration

ders to take place during phases 2-4, which it maintains it would

decided to give classified data to Russia, it would first give 60

hamper the capacity of Russian intercontinental missiles.

days notice and devise a system so that it will not end up in the

The US representatives insist that the PAA would not be a

hands of rogue States6. Subsequently, the Senate confirmed Mr.

threat to Russia because, as the missiles would be located near its

McFaul on December 18th. Being one of the principal architects

border, they would not be able to intercept the trajectory of

of the Obama administration's "reset" of relations with Russia,

Russia’s intercontinental missiles. In a statement to the press in

his appointment is a clear message to the Kremlin that Washing-

June 2011, Rogozin made clear that "Russia always has and will

ton is hoping to improve the relationship in the year of Presiden-

continue to maintain its national security, and that includes with

tial elections7.

the assistance of new weapons."4 He noted that if NATO wants

Contrary to the TMD, Afghanistan is an area of cooperation

to reduce tensions with Russia, it should cancel the PAA. "We

targeted during the Lisbon Summit, which saw some progress in

have always criticized these plans as deeply anti-Russian," he

2011. So far Russia has indirectly taken advantage of the war in

said. On the occasion of the Sochi Summit, Rogozin indicated

Afghanistan as a buffer against the growth of extremist move-

that NATO’s disregard for Russia’s requests on the TMD could

ments near its borders. When the ISAF forces will eventually

lead to a Russian withdrawal from the 2010 New Strategic Arms

leave, Russia will have to make sure that Afghanistan and the

Reduction Treaty and to a deployment of Russian missiles closer

surrounding region remain stable. A politically troubled area

to NATO borders. More recently Rogozin also threatened to

near Russia’s borders would constitute a breeding ground for

close ISAF's Northern Distribution Network, which uses Russian

Islamic fundamentalism and would aggravate the already delicate

territory to transport troops to Afghanistan.

situation in Chechnya. Instability would also lead to more prob-


Of course, the essential aspect underlined by such statements is that the Russian military elites (and most Russian citizens for

lems involving regional drug trafficking and organized crime that would directly affect Russia.

that matter) still view NATO as an instrumentality of the US and

In this context, NATO and Russia have increased collabora-

ultimately an enemy. Moreover, Russian apprehension over a

tion regarding the transit of NATO's forces fighting in Afghani-

possible NATO membership of Georgia and Ukraine is still very

stan. Indeed, today over 20% of American cargo flies over Rus-

relevant. In fact, the 2010 Russian Military Doctrine lists NATO

sia (up from 5% two years ago) as well as half of America's

expansion on its borders as one of the most important external

troops. This has been very important for NATO's mission since

threats to Russian security. Mistrust is also clearly present on the

Pakistan is no longer considered as a viable transit country.

US side, and was manifested when a group of 39 Republican

Nonetheless, Russia is careful with collaborating too much with

senators sent a letter to President Obama in April 2011 warning

an organization it considers an adversary. It worries that

Atlantic Voices Volume 2 Issue 1


NATO’s presence in Afghanistan will lead to the long-term

Source and Owner: The Moscow Times

spread of its influence in Central Asia. In order to counter such expansion, Russian authorities have pushed for the closing of American military bases in Central Asian states such as the one established in Manas, Kyrgyzstan. In this perspective, in December 2011 a meeting of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (“CSTO”), that includes several Central Asian States, decided that from now on foreign countries would only be able to have military bases in the organization’s territory with the permission of all the member states. This development makes it more difficult for NATO members to open bases in the Central Asian region. But of course, NATO’s most visible operation in 2011 was the intervention in Libya. Russia's posture regarding the international resolutions that underpinned such intervention gives a

other hand, the Russian authorities realized that it would be in

good example of the ambivalent character of Russian relations

their best interest to keep good relations with the new Libyan

with NATO. Following international condemnation of Gaddafi's

regime. Had Russia vetoed the UN resolutions, there would

use of lethal force on Libyan civilians, United Nations Security

have been no guarantee that a non-UN mandated coalition of

Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 were passed in February and

France, the UK and the USA would have not intervened all the

March 2011. As known, NATO implemented these two resolu-

same. A veto would also have caused a drastic cooling of rela-

tions with determination, and its intervention was pivotal in the

tions with all western countries, a particularly untimely move as

defeat of Gaddafi. Russia voted in favor of UN Resolution 1970

a meeting of NRC’s Foreign Ministers was about to take place

that established a travel ban and asset freeze and abstained from

shortly after the UN vote.

voting on UN Resolution 1973 that authorized NATO to “use all

To sum up, the status of NATO-Russia relations at the be-

necessary means” to protect civilians. This was hailed by some

ginning of 2012 seems quite uncertain. Both sides remain aware

political commentators as an indication that the "reset" of Rus-

of the necessity to cooperate, given by the fact that modern day

sian relations was indeed working. Nevertheless, the response to

politics remain global in nature. Furthermore, the many areas of

NATO's intervention in the Russian media was critical. At one

mutual interest identified at the establishment of NRC still exist.

point Putin even went so far as to compare the UN Security

However, whether the steps taken at the 2010 Lisbon Summit

Council resolution to a medieval call for a crusade. In an inter-

will have a major impact on the relationship and make it less

view with the EU Observer on September 1st, 2011 the Russian

unstable, is a point that remains to be seen.

Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin affirmed: "The war is

Following the meeting of the NRC Defense Ministers in June

the end-stage of NATO's eastern expansion. From now on,

2011, Secretary General Rasmussen noted that there was still

NATO will expand toward its Southern borders, it will project

some time to reach agreement on the Theatre Missile Defense.

its efforts toward the South, toward traditional Islamic socie-

During the Sochi meeting in July 2011, the next scheduled Sum-


mit in May 2012 was mentioned as the proposed timeline. "My

These seemingly inconsistent Russian postures have some

hope is that we can all meet again in less than a year at the

strategic reasons. Under the Gaddafi regime Russia had im-

NATO Summit in Chicago, and that we will be able to agree on

portant economic interests in Libya.

More in general, the

a solution on missile defense that can make the security of

Kremlin was also worried that the Arab Spring might have a

NATO territory and of Russian territory more effective. Let's

spillover effect in Russia, already subject to strong separatist and

build the path of partnership together, from Sochi to Chicago"

Islamist movements in North Caucasus and Central Asia. On the

Rasmussen said. In these words there seems to be a genuine hope

Atlantic Voices Volume 2 Issue 1


Rasmussen said. In these words there seems to be a genuine hope

will eventually prove right.

that in Obama's home city progress can be made and no one is advocating this more than NATO's Secretary General. But the clock is ticking, and unless both sides are able to make some concessions, there is an increased possibility that the TMD negotiation will fail. The question is how the US elections will affect NATO’s relationship with Russia. Obama cannot afford to appear amongst the American public as too yielding to Russia. And if a Republican candidate prevails, one should expect a harder time to reach agreement with Russia. The announcement in September 2011 that Putin will run for president in 2012 does not substantially change the perspectives on the Russian side. Following the Lisbon Summit some commentators speculated that, since Medvedev was more "western leaning" than Putin, he was more open to collaboration

Notes 1 Galpin, Richard. "Nato and Russia Promise 'fresh Start' at Lisbon Summit." BBC News. BBC, 20 Nov. 2010. Web. 1 Jan. 2011. <http://>. 2“NATO-Russia Relations: A New Quality” signed by NATO Member and Russian Heads of State at the Rome Summit on 28th May 2002. 3The White House. Office of the Press Secretary. Fact Sheet: Implementing Missile Defense in Europe. 15 Sept. 2011. Web. 20 Sept. 2011. <http://>. 4"Russia, NATO Still Differ over Missile Shield | New Europe." New Europe. New Europe, 19 June 2011. Web. 1 July 2011. <http://>. 5


Rogin, Josh “Defense bill: Administration must tell congress before giving missile defense info to Russia” Foreign Policy 13 December 2011. Web 30 December 2011 < _administration_must_tell_congress_before_giving_missile_defense_info_t> 6

7 Borger, Julian. "US Appoints Moscow Ambassador." The Guardian. The Guardian, 29 May 2011. Web. 1 Dec. 2011. < world/2011/may/29/us-appoints-moscow-ambassador>.

with NATO. The course of events has proven that Putin fully controls Medvedev, and that the two have engaged in a "good cop/bad cop" strategy when dealing with the West. Should the Russian leadership nurture the hostile sentiment held by the majority of its electorate, no substantial step forward will be made. In recent times NATO and the Obama administration have extended a hand, yet it appears that Russia still views cooperation as a zero-sum game. In this case, the pattern of progress

The views expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. They

and setback that has been described above will continue. Quite

do not necessarily represent the views of the Atlantic Treaty Association,

on the contrary, let’s hope that Rasmussen’s stated optimism

it’s members, affiliates or staff.

NATO’s Future Role in the Abkhazia Dispute by Simon A. Miles


boundary between Georgia and Abkhazia – most recently the wounding of two Georgian civilians on 18 May 2011. Secondly,

ollowing the 2008 war between Russia and Geor-

the Abkhazian question has broader policy implications, raising

gia, President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia declared

questions of how the international community should respond to

the Georgian breakaway republics of South Ossetia

such bids for independence. While Kosovo and South Sudan

and Abkhazia, and even Georgia itself, to be within Russia’s

were successful, unresolved disputes surrounding Nagorno-

sphere of influence. Though Russia has deescalated to a war of

Karabakh in Azerbaijan, the Republika Srpska in Bosnia-

words, the dispute over Abkhazia remains an important concern

Herzegovina, along with Abkhazia and South Ossetia continue to

for the Atlantic community in three key ways. Firstly, the vola-

destabilize already turbulent regions. Thirdly, this dispute be-

tility of the conflict poses a considerable threat to regional secu-

tween Russia and Georgia impacts two key international institu-

rity, with clear implications to both NATO and the European

tions: the EU and NATO. This article will first present the his-

Union (EU).

torical background to the current situation. Second, NATO and

Incidents occur regularly along the disputed

Atlantic Voices Volume 2 Issue 1


EU engagement with both Georgia and Russia since the 2008

surprisingly, relations between Russia and Georgia are acrimoni-

conflict will be analyzed. Third, the international response to

ous to say the least, with both sides exchanging insults and accu-

the recent Abkhazian elections will be discussed. Fourth and

sations of backing terrorists3. Recent procurement decisions by

finally, several policy options for NATO, both unilateral and in

the Kremlin indicate that Russia’s military presence in Abkhazia

concert with the EU, will be presented.

is a priority for Moscow4. Georgia continues to insist that Russia

Abkhazia emerged as an independent kingdom in 756, was

is not complying with the terms of the EU-brokered cease fire,

subsumed into Georgia in 985, and eventually annexed by Russia in 1863. Soviet authorities incorporated Abkhazia into the

most recently accusing Russian of overflying Georgian

Recent procurement decisions by the Kremlin indicate that Russia’s military presence in Abkhazia is a priority for Moscow.

Georgian Soviet Socialist

territory illegally5. Georgia is presently blocking Russia’s bid to join the WTO, demanding that the border between the two states – as Georgia defines it – must be respected and properly demarcated6. Nevertheless, the two countries have reached agreements on transporta-

Republic in 1931; and following the dissolution of the USSR,

tion and energy since the war ended, mediated by the Swiss, so

Georgia sent troops to maintain possession of Abkhazia. Russian

there is a basis for increased cooperation. A renewal of diplo-

involvement continued thereafter as the principal contributor to

matic relations, however, is yet to come.

United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces in the region. The

Georgian relations with NATO, on the other hand, are far

critical turning-point for the purposes of this article, however,

more positive. At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, Allied

was the 2008 conflict which precipitated active international

Heads of State and Government agreed that Georgia will become

participation in the issue. First and foremost, it was the EU

a member of NATO, a pronouncement reaffirmed following the

which brokered the ceasefire agreements of 12 August and 8

conflict with Russia at the Strasbourg-Kehl and Lisbon Summits

September 2008. Thereafter, on 15 September 2008, the Coun-

in 2009 and 2010, respectively. The NATO-Georgia Commis-

cil of Europe initiated the European Monitoring Mission in

sion, founded in the immediate aftermath of the Russo-Georgian

Georgia and appointed an EU Special Representative for the

conflict established a framework for cooperation between

Georgian crisis1. NATO, too, escalated its cooperation with

NATO and Georgia; and serves as a forum for political consulta-

Georgia, the full details of which are examined below. In retali-

tions and practical cooperation7. Thereafter, a NATO Liaison

ation, Russia formally recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as

Office in Tbilisi was established. NATO and Georgia primarily

independent states, joined only by Nicaragua, Venezuela, and

cooperate on security and defense reform. In terms of security,

the island nation of Nauru – all persuaded by bilateral deals

Georgian troops worked alongside NATO in Kosovo from 1999

promising Russian aid or broader investment in their respective

to 2008 and at present 937 Georgian troops participate in the

energy sectors .

International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan – the


highest per-capita rate of participation in the mission8.

A regional hegemon?

This support was evident during the 2008 conflict, in which

At present, Russia finances over 50% of Abkhazia’s budget

NATO publically and unequivocally backed Georgia. Most re-

(which does pale in comparison to some 99% for the South Os-

cently, the USS Monterey (a guided-missile cruiser) visited Batumi

setian government). Between 7,000 and 9,000 Russian troops

in June 2011, to considerable Russian outrage – which com-

are presently in Abkhazia under a bilateral agreement in place

pounded upon Moscow’s anger in general at the “Sea Breeze”

until 2059, with the possibility of extension until 2074. Their

exercises she was participating in. Militarily, Georgia requires

facilities are being actively upgraded by the Russian Ministry of

any assistance NATO can offer, with its defense budget at only

Defense, which is providing considerable quantities of materiel

50% of 2008 levels and only three working aircraft. Georgia's

to the “peacekeepers” stationed in both secessionist republics,

economy, too, has slowed its growth since the 2008 war as for-

including rocket artillery capable of striking the capital of Tbilisi,

eign investment has fallen by some 75%9. However, NATO

as well as major military installations at Senaki and Gori. Not

members are only willing to assist Georgia to a point, for two

Atlantic Voices Volume 2 Issue 1


reasons. First is a pervasive fear of irking Russia, which for ex-

2008 decision by Abkhaz leaders to required all residents to

ample prevented the US from selling Georgia anti-tank weapons.

obtain Abkhaz passports in order to exercise rights such as, seek-

Second is a series of blunders on Georgia’s part, including the

ing public employment, voting, earning a secondary school di-

misplacing of a considerable quantity of US-donated equipment.

ploma, buying and selling property, or travel freely across the

In terms of NATO’s policy towards Georgia, it is clear that

administrative boundary with Georgia. For ethnic Georgians,

modernization assistance is of the essence. Not only will Georgia

however, obtaining an Abkhaz passport is, according to Human

benefit in general from external expertise, but also as a future

Rights Watch, frequently hampered by discrimination11. The

member of NATO this will greatly boost the interoperability and

impact of these policies and the general harassment meted out by

combat effectiveness of Georgia’s future contributions to NATO

Russian peacekeepers against ethnic Georgians is clear from the

operations – building on the already strong foundation lain in

statistics. According to census data collected in 1989, ethnic

Afghanistan. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Abkhaz comprised 18% of the 525,000 residents of Abkhazia,

and members of the North Atlantic Council will visit Georgia

while ethnic Georgians accounted for 46%. By 2003, the ethnic

from November 9 to 10 to observe firsthand what progress

Georgian population had decreased by 81%, Armenians by 41%,

Georgia has made, what remains to be made, and what role

Russians by 69%, Greeks by 87%, and others (such as Ukraini-

NATO can play in facilitating this.

ans, Belarusians, Estonians, and Jews) by 81%. The Abkhaz, on the other hand, was the only ethnic group to increase in numbers

More than platitudes

and at present constitutes some 50% of the population through a

The sum total of this amounts to, regrettably, little more

process denounced as “ethnic cleansing” by the UN and the Or-

than platitudes. While NATO, the EU, and much of the interna-

ganization for Security and Co-operation in Europe12.

tional community insist that Abkhazia is a part of sovereign

NATO, the EU, and the rest of the Euro-Atlantic communi-

Georgia, practically speaking this is not the case. Russian troops

ty are therefore faced with a choice. One option is to continue

are officially above local laws and immune from prosecution.

the present pattern of minimal action which has failed to achieve

The local currency is the Ruble, not the Georgian Lari. The rail

any great progress over the course of three years. This article,

network and airport are operated by Russian firms. Finally, the

however, will demonstrate that there is another option open to

region uses Russian, not Georgian, telephone codes . The argu-

NATO and its members – one which supports the rule of law,

ment that Abkhazia is a part of Georgia rests, therefore, on ten-

states’ sovereignty, and human rights with more than just plati-

ets of international law which no state is defending with more

tudes. This approach borrows heavily from Cooley and Mitch-

than rhetoric. The member states of the EU, declarations of

ell’s concept of “engagement without recognition” and applies it


support for Georgia notwithstanding, have made it clear that ultimately they prioritize economic ties with Russia and the profit that brings over taking a principled stand over Georgian territorial integrity. Just as international laws on sovereignty are being challenged, so too are internationally-accepted norms on human rights being flaunted, with equally minimal concrete response from the international community. The conflicts of the 1990s displaced thousands of ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia, who are at present beginning to return to their homes. A recent report by Human Rights Watch, however, illustrates that they face considerable violations of their civil and political rights, driving some to leave yet again and creating a serious obstacle to the restoration of normalcy in the region. At the root of this is a Atlantic Voices Volume 2 Issue 1

NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses Georgian Military Personnel.


not only to the US, but to NATO and the EU as well. As they

vo. The Kosovo situation is certainly a different one, however,

define it, the US “must engage with Abkhazia while making it

and it would be wrong of the international community to treat it

clear that they will not recognize its independence.”13 This is

as analogous to the situation in Abkhazia. The extent to which

one part of a three-track approach NATO, the EU, and the rest

global governance organs were involved in the former is never-

of the international community should embark on to facilitate a

theless something to which the international community should

return to normalcy in Abkhazia.

aspire in its efforts at resolving the latter. Furthermore, the

The first track is to insist that all parties honor the 2008 EU-

Alliance and its members saw firsthand the destruction which can

brokered ceasefire agreement, whose chief tenet is the with-

be wrought when ethnic conflicts are not resolved peacefully,

drawal of all Russian troops from what is legally Georgia’s terri-

and will hopefully do all it can to prevent further bloodshed in

tory. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visiting Tbilisi in the

the already unstable Caucuses. The key goal of these efforts

summer of 2010, described Russia’s military action in August

should be to demonstrate to the Abkhaz people and their leaders

2008 as an “invasion” and an “occupation.” She announced in a

that there are other alternatives to being a Russian client state;

briefing with top-level Georgian officials: “I want to say publicly

ultimately eroding Russian domination of the region. Introduc-

what I have said privately. I came to Georgia with a clear mes-

ing Abkhaz policy-makers to international civil society – the

sage from President Obama and myself. The United States is

Atlantic Treaty Association, for example – through travel abroad

steadfast in its commitment to Georgia’s sovereignty and territo-

would demonstrate that there are others who share their concern

rial integrity. The United States does not recognize spheres of

outside of Moscow, and who will not demand significant eco-


nomic concession for their support. Environmental organiza-


Lip-service to the rule of international law will not suffice –

tions, for example, can find common cause internationally over

what is needed is a considered diplomatic effort to ensure com-

the development and deforestation of the region in preparation

pliance with the cease-fire. NATO is uniquely poised to take the

for the 2014 Olympics in nearby Sochi. Abkhaz businessmen

lead in this matter, as the Alliance has a strong framework for

and entrepreneurs will find new markets for their goods and

dialogue with both Russia and Georgia – internally and through

services and reduce the region’s economic dependence on Rus-

its members’ participation in other international institutions.

sia, whose recent conclusion of a customs agreement with Ab-

Furthermore, it (or rather the sum total of its membership) has

khazia only solidify its economic dominance15. NATO and EU

the required clout to bring the required diplomatic pressure to

member states have a history of involvement in the region and in

bear on an intransigent Russia. This is by no means to suggest that the conflict of August 2008 should be resurrected, but rather the opposite: it should be finally laid to rest. Once Georgian President Saakashvili is out of power following the 2013 elections in which he is consti-

many cases benefit from

The key goal of these efforts should be to demonstrate to the Abkhaz people ... that there are other alternatives to being a Russian client state.

tutionally barred from running, Russia will hopefully be

geographic proximity as well. Furthermore, both organizations


many of the world’s leading economies in which

open to ameliorating relations with his successor. The new

Abkhazia without a doubt would find opportunities for trade.

Georgian President will hopefully echo Mr. Saakashvili’s pro-

Reducing the province’s dependence on Russia is both an end in

NATO and Atlanticist outlook, but also be willing to make the

and of itself, and will also facilitate success in the first track, as

compromises needed to achieve stability. At this point, NATO

when Russia negotiates it will do so from a position of dimin-

and EU diplomatic efforts will position both organizations and

ished strength.

their members to play a key role as mediators between the two parties.

The third track calls for the continuation of NATO’s plans to welcome Georgia into the Alliance. There are many, such as

The second track is direct engagement in Abkhazia by

Germany and France, who are wary of bringing in a new mem-

NATO. The Alliance has no small amount of experience dealing

ber with so uncertain a future as Georgia. However, to abandon

with similar matters through its extensive involvement in Koso-

plans for Georgia’s inclusion would be tantamount to conceding

Atlantic Voices Volume 2 Issue 1


to Russia that they have a de facto veto over who will be included

on its countless iterations of support for human rights and inter-

in NATO at a time when the Alliance is focusing its sights to on

national law.

Eastern Europe for new members. It is clear that Georgia shares common ideals with the Atlantic community. This should be


publically rewarded and fostered, which inclusion in NATO would certainly achieve. Both Greece and Turkey had unresolved territorial questions when they were admitted to NATO in 1952 which is a clear precedent for the inclu-

“Presentation of the report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia, The Council of the European Union, 30 September 2009, http:// er/110370.pdf. 1

Both Greece and Turkey had unresolved territorial questions when they were admitted to NATO in 1952...

sion of Georgia at present.

Alexander Cooley and Lincoln Mitchell, “Engagement Without Recognition: A New Strategy Toward Abkhazia and Eurasia’s Unrecognized States,” The Washington Quarterly 33: 62. 2

“The Russia-Georgia war, three years on: Can't we all just get along?” The Economist, 9 August 2011, easternapproaches/2011/08/russia-georgia-war-three-years. 3

“На россиискои военнои базе в Абхазии введен в строи тренажер противотанковых ракетных комплексов (New Missile Simulators Commis-

Not only will Georgia’s strength be bolstered in negotiations


with Russia as a result, but Russia too will certainly behave in a

sioned by Russian Military Base in Abkhazia),” ITAR-TASS, 10 January 2012,

more responsible manner vis-à-vis Abkhazia once the international community’s support for Georgian territorial integrity is no longer an abstract concept.

“МИД Грузии заявляет о нарушении воздушного пространства россиискими вертолетами (Georgian Foreign Ministry Alleges Violation of 5

Airspace by Russian Helicopters),” RIA Novosti, 8 September 2011, http:// “Грузия – за вступление России в ВТО при условии соблюдения правил (Georgia – Russian Accession to WTO Subject to Conditions,” RIA Novosti, 29 August 2011, 6

Conclusion It has been clearly demonstrated in this article that the time has come for a new policy of engagement vis-à-vis the conflict in Abkhazia.

The pattern of Russia’s behavior as a would-be

hegemon needs to be checked, and this article has demonstrated that international organizations such as NATO and the EU are uniquely poised to work together to meet this challenge. This

151490065.html. “NATO’s Relations with Georgia,” The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 7

“Georgia: Troop Numbers and Contributions,” International Security Assistance Force, index.php. 8

Lionel Beehner, “Letter From Tbilisi: Georgia's Confidence Game,” Foreign Affairs, 11 August 2009, letter-from-tbilisi-georgias-confidence-game?page=show 9

goal would be best served, it is suggested, by adopting a three-


track approach. First, NATO, the EU, and their allies should


intensify what is at present a weak diplomatic effort to ensure compliance with the 2008 ceasefire agreement, which Russia is in clear violation of. Second, NATO member states – alone and in concert – should engage the people of Abkhazia, their leaders, and local business interests. This will erode Russian political and economic dominance of the province and open its denizens to interaction with others than Moscow through fruitful collaboration. Third, NATO should not shy away from Georgia’s accession in the future – not as an abstract concept, but rather by producing a concrete plan for so doing. Not only will Georgia, a

Cooley and Mitchell, “Engagement Without Recognition,” 65.

“Georgia/Abkhazia: Back Home, but in Limbo,” Human Rights Watch, 15 July 2011, Andrei Illarionov, “Abkhazia's Independence Farce,” Foreign Policy, 16 September 2011, abkhazias_independence_farce 12

Alexander Cooley and Lincoln Mitchell, “Action Memorandum: Georgia’s Territorial Integrity,” The American Interest 5: 71. 13

“In Tbilisi, Clinton Raps Russia Over Bases,” The Moscow Times, 6 July 2010, 14

“Дмитрий Медведев внёс в Госдуму на ратификацию Соглашение между Россией и Абхазией о сотрудничестве в таможенных делах 15

(Agreement between Russia and Abkhazia on cooperation in customs has been submitted to the State Duma for ratification),” Kremlin News, 29 July 2011,

nation which has already made clear its volition and commitment to the Alliance’s ideals, be strengthened, but Russia will be confronted with proof of opposition to its aspirations of regional

The views expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. They

domination. In this way, not only will NATO gain a valuable

do not necessarily represent the views of the Atlantic Treaty Association,

new member; but the international community will make good

it’s members, affiliates or staff.

Atlantic Voices Volume 2 Issue 1


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Atlantic Voices - Vol. 2 no. 1  

The first 2012 issue of the Atlantic Treaty Association's publication Atlantic Voices. This issue examines the NATO- Russia Relationship, wi...

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