WASHINGTON - Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania has justified his recent call for NATO to position "defensive capabilities" within his country amid growing concerns in Tbilisi about Russia’s role in Ukraine’s escalating crisis.
Speaking in Washington before talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Alasania told RFE/RL that “It is the right time now” to take “another step” in parallel with enhanced military cooperation with the NATO alliance.
"We don't want Europeans and other guys to see -- or take note -- that we are [waiting] to get security guarantees from our integration to NATO until we are going to get membership," Alasania told RFE/RL. "This is why enhanced security cooperation will mean we are going to need more defensive capabilities."
The Pentagon says Hagel on May 7 promised to continue U.S. military cooperation with Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia in August 2008 over Georgian separatist regions.
The Pentagon’s spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, said Hagel had “reaffirmed the importance of the U.S. partnership with Georgia, and pledged to continue” Washington’s “strong defense cooperation.
Kirby also said that Hagel had encouraged the Georgian government to continue with defense reforms and efforts to enable its forces to operate together with NATO forces.
Alasania dismissed the idea that enhanced military cooperation between Tbilisi and NATO would provoke Russia.
"That's the pre-Crimea thinking. There is a new reality. Russians are creating new realities on the ground," he said.
"They are breaking and tearing up all the agreements that you had with them and U.K. over the Ukraine. They violated international law and sovereignty in 2008. That's erroneous thinking that there's anything we can do to more irritate Russia."
Alasania on May 1 called for enhanced defensive assets from NATO during a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington.
Specifically, Alasania called for "antiarmor, antiaircraft and antitank" capabilities that would be "purely defensive weapons."
'Rational Dialogue' With Russia
When asked about NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow's recent comments that NATO should see "Russia no longer as a partner but as more of an adversary than a partner," he said he "certainly" agreed with him.
Alasania, however, held out hope for better relations with Russia in the long run, agreeing with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili's recent comments to RFE/RL that he sees hope for a "rational dialogue" with Russia.
"Georgia has a rational outlook in the long run, in the coming 10-15 years, that we may talk with Russians and explain to them that we are not posing any threat to Russia's national security interest," he said.
On Ukraine, Alasania ruled out a military option with assisting Kyiv, but said that Georgia would offer "lessons learned" after its own war with Russia in 2008.
"How to confront them, how to fight them, how to see the signatures that indicate they are going to go for more military option, and how to confront the infiltration, because they have a problem of infiltration in the state institutions," he said.
"We have a vested interest in Ukraine to be successful because they have been great friends for Georgia for all of these times. They came to help us when we were in a hard way. We are open for helping them in any way we can."
Alasania also ruled out a military solution to the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Russia recognized as independent states following the August 2008 war with Georgia. Only a few countries followed Russia's lead.
"There is no way we are going to start solving the de-occupation problem with military force -- it's well communicated with the Abkhaz and Ossetians," he said.
"We are going to demonstrate that we are open to relationship with them on health care, humanitarian affairs, trade, economy. I think the only key to gain the trust between war-torn societies is to make them communicate with each other."