MOSCOW, May 13 (RIA Novosti) - The Defense Minister of NATO "aspirant" member state Georgia has urged the military alliance to expand eastward while the ongoing Ukraine crisis can serve as a smokescreen, says Rick Rozoff, the owner and manager of the StopNATO website.
The defense minister of Georgia, Irakli Alasania, recently concluded an eight-day visit to Washington, D.C., which began at the Toward a Europe Whole and Free conference of the Atlantic Council and ended at the Pentagon.
The first event commemorated the fifteenth, tenth and fifth anniversaries of North Atlantic Treaty Organization expansion in the post-Cold War era: The incorporation of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999; the absorption of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004; and the accession of Albania and Croatia is 2009. In all, a 75 percent increase in the military bloc's membership from 16 to 28 members, the twelve new members all in Eastern Europe and all either former Warsaw Pact member states, including three former Soviet republics, or former Yugoslav federal republics.
The Atlantic Council event was co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, the former also head of the National Democratic Institute, and included addresses by Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso as well as the attendance of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel received the Council's Distinguished International Leadership Award, with other leadership awards being granted to Barroso and Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., top commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
According to a Georgian news account of the above event, Defense Minister Alasania stated that, "in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine," NATO should deploy military assets in his nation, which fought a five-day war with Russia in 2008, including "antiarmor, antiaircraft and antitank" capabilities, as "this is something we need to put in Georgia and Russians will understand that you are serious."
Delivering these comments as part of a panel discussion that included NATO's Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, an American and former U.S. ambassador to Russia, as well as the defense chiefs of the Czech Republic, Estonia and Montenegro, Alasania lamented the fact that the crisis in Ukraine might eventually subside, that sanctions would be lifted and that, to lend the most plausible interpretation to his words, a precious opportunity may be missed to exploit the tragedy in Ukraine, so to avoid that lapse "we should do something that will have strategic importance - this is expansion of NATO." He also offered his sponsors in Brussels and Washington the opportunity for increased "exercises from the NATO countries [in order] to have a footprint in Georgia," according to Civil Georgia, the source for most of the above quotes as well as for Alasania's contention that "these joint exercises may have a regional context with involvement of troops from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey with a focus on protecting energy and pipeline infrastructure."
He also demanded, or rather perhaps voiced his masters' demands, that NATO boost the deployment of military personnel and equipment to the other, as NATO calls them, aspirant countries, the next in line for full Alliance membership: Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen promised to take the matter under advisement and back with him to the bloc's headquarters in Brussels.
Alasania's fellow panelist Vershbow identified Russia "as more of an enemy than a partner," perhaps the first public admission of what any sensible observer could have discerned about NATO not only during but ever since the (formal) end of the Cold War. His Georgian colleague hastened to chime in that he "certainly" concurred.
The Georgian defense minister also met tête-à-tête with Vice President Biden, who had been the first major American official to fly into Georgia after the war with Russia almost six years ago, then promising the Mikheil Saakashvili regime one billion dollars in aid.
The day after the Atlantic Council conference ended, James Appathurai, NATO Secretary General's Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, was in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi where, again according to a report from Civil Georgia, the military bloc is now examining the "next steps" to bring the country "even closer" to NATO.
Alasania also met with members of the U.S. Senate and House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Subcommittees on Defense to discuss deeper military cooperation and Georgia's NATO membership.
On May 7 he was the guest of his American counterpart Chick Hagel at the latter's haunts, the Pentagon, where the two deliberated over NATO's war in Afghanistan (where Georgia is the largest troop contributor of any non-full Alliance member) and NATO interoperability.
According to Civil Georgia once again:
"The two leaders also discussed the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. They reviewed the efforts by allies and partners in the region to reinforce our international commitments and to continue to apply diplomatic and economic pressure on Moscow."
The Georgian Ministry of Defence website reported that after the meeting Alasania issued the following statement (verbatim):
"Meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defence was very productive. We continue dialogue what steps the USA and Georgia should make forward for increasing Georgia's security and defence capability. I'd like to outline that we have progress in this direction and this meeting once more confirms that strategic partnership in defence and security sphere between Georgia and USA is strengthening."
The following day British Foreign Secretary William Hague arrived in the Georgian capital and pledged full support to the host nation's incorporation into both NATO and the European Union. Hague's itinerary started with visits to Moldova and Ukraine, which with Georgia constitute three-quarters of the U.S.-initiated Georgia-Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova (GUAM) bloc, established in the 1990s to further NATO integration of post-Soviet space, the "resolution" of so-called frozen conflicts (Georgia with Abkhazia, Adjara and South Ossetia; Ukraine with Crimea; Azerbaijan with Nagorno-Karabakh; Moldova with Transdniester and Gagauzia), transport corridors for future wars in the south and east and transit routes for Caspian Sea oil and natural gas to Europe, circumventing and squeezing out Russia and Iran. All but Azerbaijan have been the victims of successful "color revolutions" as well.
During the Atlantic Council conference, NATO's Alexander Vershbow also stated, apropos the above:
"We need to step up our support for defense reforms and military modernization of Russia's neighbors, and not just of Ukraine, but also Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan."
Armenia is at loggerheads with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and it is no secret that Washington and Brussels would prefer to absorb all three former Soviet South Caucasus republics - Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia - en bloc.