Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli has called on NATO to take tangible steps toward eventual membership for Tbilisi when the alliance meets in Warsaw next year.
Speaking to RFE/RL in Washington on August 20, Khidasheli said any tentativeness by NATO to fulfill its membership promises risks encouraging Russia to continue pursuing aggressive policies.
"By putting an Iron Curtain on Article 5 countries and closing up, they are opening doors widely to everybody...[to] say, 'Well, that's where the NATO limits are. That's how far we can go.'"
The 28 NATO countries are bound under Article 5 of their mutual defense treaty to come to the aid of any alliance state that is attacked if so requested. Georgia and other nations hoping to join NATO are not covered by that security umbrella until they become members.
Georgia was promised eventual membership at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008 but did not receive what it hoped would be a clear first step toward membership -- a Membership Action Plan (MAP) -- at either of NATO's two most recent summits, in 2012 in Chicago and 2014 in Wales.
Khidasheli said this sends "a very wrong message" to Moscow.
"A strong decision on [NATO enlargement] looks like, today at least, the only deterrence policy," she said. "And not only for Russia but for anybody who might get this wrong idea, looking at Russia's behavior, advancement, and progress in Ukraine, that they can get away with things like that."
The Georgian official spoke during a state visit to Washington this week on which she met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Tbilisi has said her visit aimed to "strengthen the partnership"' with the United States and "search for answers, advice, and support" for Georgia's NATO path.
She has said previously that Tbilisi would like to see the NATO Warsaw summit recognize that Georgia already has put in place all of the mechanisms for cooperation with the alliance that are envisioned by a MAP, which offers assistance and support to countries wishing to join the alliance. She has also called for the Warsaw summit to make a "political statement that Georgia has passed one step and now is on the membership track."
Khidasheli told RFE/RL that Russia's occupation of the two Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, composing 20 percent of Georgia's territory, poses a continuing threat to her country's security and to regional stability.
"We have Russians standing 20 minutes' drive from the capital city [Tbilisi]," she said. "There are 6,000 Russian troops back [on Georgian territory], those that were driven out after the Rose Revolution (November 2003) with the closure of the Russian military bases."
Tensions have risen higher this year as Moscow-backed security forces in occupied South Ossetia have pushed forward the administrative boundary dividing it from the rest of Georgia, encroaching further on Georgian territory.
The Georgian defense minister, who has been a leading voice inside Georgia for closer ties with the United States and NATO, discounted any concerns that more NATO enlargement might be seen as a provocation by Moscow.
"The perception that somebody might be provoked or might get angry because of NATO's or the European Union's actions does not create a legitimate space for no action when that someone is conquering territories on a daily basis, is occupying independent states, and changing the entire international order," she said.
The NATO summit in Warsaw is scheduled for July 8-9, 2016.