During a NATO summit in Romania on Thursday the 26-member bloc voted to postpone offering the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine the chance to join the alliance's Membership Action Plan (MAP). However, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that the alliance had agreed to grant admission to Ukraine and Georgia in the future.
"At the NATO summit in Bucharest Georgia failed to join MAP, but received a promise that the country will eventually become a NATO member," Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze said at a news conference in Bucharest. "This is a historic event."
In his turn, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called the decision a "victory," adding, "For the first time in our history NATO said "Georgia will become a NATO member." I could only dream of it."
For countries to join MAP, a precursor to full membership in the military alliance, all 26 allies must give their approval.
Although President George Bush was in favor of Georgia and Ukraine joining the alliance, visiting Kiev just prior to the summit, France and Germany were reluctant to push ahead with NATO's further eastward expansion and antagonize Russia, which has spoken out against the move.
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's NATO envoy to the alliance, said referring to Georgia's application that countries with "blurry" borders are not admitted to NATO, since the North Atlantic alliance "does not consider it appropriate to have to deal with Georgia's territorial disputes."
Georgia does not fully control its territory due to so called frozen conflicts in its breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both regions recently appealed to Russia and international institutions for recognition.
"We will manage to assure them [NATO] that Georgia's NATO membership is the best way of settling conflicts," the Georgian foreign minister added.
With 2,000 troops Georgia has the third largest peacekeeping contingent in Iraq after the U.S. and Britain.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, also called the decision 'historic,' despite the fact that the majority of the country opposes NATO membership.
He pointed out that Ukraine is the only non-NATO state, deploying troops in all NATO's peacekeeping operations: "We are a reliable strategic partner [of NATO]."
Moscow has consistently expressed its opposition to membership of NATO for neighboring Ukraine and Georgia. Russian President Vladimir Putin had earlier threatened to retarget Russian missiles at Kiev if Ukraine joined the alliance.