Caucasus countries to wait for NATO: Turkish army

Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine have a strong desire to join NATO, although they may have to keep waiting, said Turkey's top general, as he faults the recent conflict with Russia for unsettling regional dynamics and increasing tension everywhere.

Turkey’s newly appointed chief of General Staff, Gen. Ilker Basbug said Russia is sensitive to many developments in the region and an expansion of NATO may have to be put on hold until calmer times.

“(Their memberships) could be left to time. Too quick a step might not be appropriate today,” Turkey's top general said last week during his meeting with the media.

Russia's military attacks against Georgia in August refreshed the countries' demands to hasten the process of NATO membership. All three countries, even Armenia – Russia's closest ally in the region – established strong links with the organization and become a part of Partnership for Peace (PfP).

“They are attending some of the [NATO] meetings. I think [NATO] will move in a balanced way here,” Basbug was quoted by the TDN as saying.

Basbug was apparently referring to Russia's reaction to the expansion of NATO to its borders, with an emphasis on “the balanced move". The organization expanded to Eastern Europe, the Baltic countries and to the Black Sea, a move Moscow sees as a “threat”.

“Georgia is important to us... We surely want the protection of Georgia's territorial integrity. But what about Russia? They recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What will happen in the future? Only time will tell,” Basbug said.

Diffusing the tension

“The tension between Russia and Georgia has also caused a conflict between Russia and NATO," a senior Foreign Ministry official told the TDN in line with Basbug's statements.

“Russia considered some recent international developments as against itself: Kosovo's independence, NATO's expansion into the Baltic and Black Sea countries and the United States' deal with Czech Republic on the deployment of anti-ballistic missiles are among them,” the official said.

The official said Turkey was aiming to first diffuse the tension between the parties, and then wanted to establish a regional platform to solve all deep-rooted problems.

“Among all the negative developments, we had to lead to something positive,” the official added.

But obviously both of NATO's assessments regarding postponing their membership and Turkey's proposal of establishing a Caucasus cooperation platform created uneasiness in Georgia, diplomats told TDN. Georgia had expected more support from Turkey, with which it shares a border and has good ties.

“One thing we could not calculate was Russia's decision to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” the official said. “This move has shifted all parameters in the region.”

Two More Members

Meanwhile, NATO will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year with a summit to be held in Bucharest, Romania. Alongside the celebrations and discussions on the future of NATO, the 26-member alliance will probably welcome two new members.

“Probably Croatia and Albania will become full members next year,” Basbug was quoted by the newspaper.

[Source: Hot News, Tur, 24Sep08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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