PRO-WESTERN GEORGIA AND NATO SUPPORT

Washington Times on September 5, 2016, in a commentary by Luke Coffey of the Heritage Foundation reported on the staunchly pro-Western country of Georgia in the southern Caucasus. Excerpts below:

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and a bevy of ambassadors from NATO’s main political decision-making body are visiting Georgia in September.

Given the regional security challenges posed by resurgent Russia, post-coup Turkey, a newly confident Iran and the Islamist terror threat, they’ll have lots to talk about.

Georgia is strategically important for a variety of military and economic reasons. Pipelines run through it, carrying oil and gas to European markets. As the West tries to become less dependent on Russian energy sources, these pipelines will become increasingly important.

…the country remains firmly committed to Euro-Atlantic integration under the current Georgian Dream coalition led by Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and President Giorgi Margvelashvili. It preserved its democratic achievements, and it is in America’s interest to keep it this way.

Russia is not happy about this. President Vladimir Putin feels that Georgia rightfully belongs in Moscow’s sphere of influence, and he has used overwhelming force to bring it back.

In 2008 Russian troops invaded Georgia and advanced within mere miles of the capital. Russia still occupies the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia…

Despite the ever-looming threat from Russia, the Georgian people remain committed to its westward orientation.

At the height of the war in Afghanistan, Georgia had almost 2,000 soldiers in the dangerous southern part of the country. On a per capita basis, it contributed more troops and suffered more casualties than any other nation in the coalition. It still maintains 860 troops in Afghanistan as part of the coalition’s post-combat training mission.

The current government [of Georgia] has pursued an agenda of liberalizing the economy, cutting bureaucracy and fighting corruption.

The 2016 Index of Economic Freedom, published annually by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, ranked Georgia 23rd out of 184 countries in terms of economic freedom. Just 20 years ago it ranked 123rd.

In Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, a riverside park features a bronze statue of Ronald Reagan. The reforms taking place in modern Georgia reflect Reagan’s belief in democracy, free markets, a strong defense and liberty.

For Georgians, the statue stands as a reminder of how far they have come since regaining their independence from the Soviet Union 25 years ago. To the West, the statue is a reminder that the Cold War did not just end — it was won.

NATO should live up to its 2008 promise and keep Georgia on the track to NATO membership.

This small country may seem insignificant and distant to policymakers in Washington, but a free and strong Georgia is in America’s best interest. If the U.S. gives it short shrift, it does neither itself, nor millions of freedom-loving Europeans, any favors.

Luke Coffey is the director of The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.

Comment: At the invitation of the Georgian authorities, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) chaired by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is visiting Georgia on 7 and 8 September 2016.

Stoltenberg will on September 7 chair a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission in Tbilisi, with the participation of the Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili.

On 8 September, in Tbilisi, the NATO Ambassadors and the Secretary General will also meet the President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili and Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia David Usupashvili and members of the Parliament. They will also have a meeting with The Minister of Defence of Georgia Levan Izoria and the Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze.

During the visit, the NATO Secretary General will deliver a speech at the National Library.

Stoltenberg has earlier in 2016 said that Georgia is moving closer to the military alliance by making reforms and major contributions to “our shared security.”

The alliance is committed to helping Georgia move toward NATO membership.

Georgia was designated by NATO as an “aspirant country” in 2011, three years after the alliance pledged to eventually grant the country membership.

EU should also intensify contacts with Georgia to support the wishes of this small country to join the Western community.

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