TBILISI: German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday ruled out any fast-track NATO membership for Georgia, ten years after the alliance’s leaders pledged the ex-Soviet nation would join the club.
“I do not see Georgia’s prompt accession to NATO (membership), this is the position of Germany,” Merkel said during a meeting with students at the Tbilisi State University in the Georgian capital.
“Things come gradually,” she said of the country’s NATO integration during the first leg of her regional trip to the South Caucasus.
At a summit in Bucharest in 2008, NATO leaders said Georgia would become a NATO member at some point, but – under pressure from Merkel and France’s then-president Nicolas Sarkozy – refused to put the tiny Black Sea nation on a formal membership path.
Georgia’s bid to join the 29-nation military alliance has infuriated its Soviet-era master Russia.
Years of increasing tensions culminated in August 2008 with a brief war over Georgia’s Moscow-backed separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The war – which saw Russian troops routing Georgia’s small military in just five days – claimed the lives of hundreds of people from both sides.
After the conflict, Russia recognised the two enclaves as independent states and stationed permanent military bases there.
The move constitutes “an occupation of 20% of Georgia’s territory and a great injustice,” Merkel told students.
In a symbolic move, Merkel on Friday also went to the administrative boundary with South Ossetia, where Russian border guards have set up barbed wire fences.
On Friday evening, she will travel to Armenia and on Saturday to Azerbaijan, where she will encourage “a peaceful and consensual solution” to the two countries’ long-running territorial conflict over the Nagorny Karabakh region, her office has said.
In Azerbaijan she is expected to discuss energy cooperation with the oil-rich Caspian nation, which is seen as one option for reducing Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas and oil.