WASHINGTON -- Senior Georgian officials say "bold" action is needed on Tbilisi's NATO aspirations and that the Western military alliance should be "desperate" for it to gain membership to demonstrate that Russia is not dictating its policies.
Georgian Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli said at a June 8 panel discussion in Washington that her country’s security "is very much a fundamental issue for the security of Europe" and that "there is no Europe in peace without Georgia being in peace and being part of that security architecture."
She was among several officials from Eastern Europe who spoke about NATO enlargement at the event hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank ahead of the alliance’s July 8-9 summit in Warsaw.
Georgia is hoping for progress on its bid for membership at the summit, despite strong opposition from Russia.
Khidasheli said the West "should be more desperate to get us in NATO than Georgia is" to join.
"Georgia is an opportunity for you to prove to Russians that they do not have a veto power, they do not guide your policies, they do not make decisions instead of you," she said. "Because everybody knows in this room [and] outside this room: The only reason Georgia is not a member so far is because Russia does not want it so."
Analysts say one of Moscow’s main motives in its five-day war with Tbilisi in 2008 was to keep the nation out of the Western military alliance. Despite that, NATO indicated at a summit earlier that year that Georgia would eventually become a member.
Russia's 2014 military seizure and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backing for separatists fighting Kyiv’s forces in eastern Ukraine have triggered concerns over potential further Russian expansionism among alliance members, particularly on NATO's eastern flank.
The chairman of NATO's Military Committee, General Petr Pavel, told RFE/RL last month that the alliance's planned buildup on its eastern flank is a direct response to Russian military actions in Georgia -- where Moscow sponsors the breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions -- as well as in Ukraine and Syria.
Russia has long been angered by NATO's eastward expansion, calling its move into Moscow's Soviet-era domain a destabilizing factor in the region -- an accusation the alliance rejects.
Speaking at the Atlantic Council event, Georgian Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze said NATO "has only benefited from the enlargement and has become only stronger after each enlargement process" and that this would be true of Georgian membership, as well.
"But we need to make a decision on the tactics of how to achieve this. And it is critical that in tactics we are decisive and we make bold steps," he said.
Montenegrin Defense Minister Milica Pejanovic Djurisic, whose country last month signed a protocol with NATO on its accession to the alliance, voiced support for further enlargement at the June 8 event and "filling the gaps" in the Balkan nation's region.
"If you geographically see what is the NATO alliance in our region now, there are a number of gaps -- illogical ones. So we’ve got to have [them] filled somehow," she said.
Ukrainian parliament member Hanna Hopko, meanwhile, told the event that she hopes that the alliance will "be more pragmatic in supporting new members, new potential candidates to become members of [the] NATO community, this free world that we belong to..."
NATO dealt a blow to Georgia’s membership aspirations in December 2015 by requiring that the country complete a Membership Action Plan (MAP) -- a stage of accession that Tbilisi had actively lobbied to skip.
The alliance, however, has yet to offer Georgia a MAP.
One stumbling block on Georgia’s path to NATO accession is the Russian troop presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which Russia recognized as independent countries after the war in 2008.
Khidasheli said Georgia will "keep knocking on [NATO’s] door, whether anybody likes it or not, and you are going to open that door for us eventually."
"If you really believe that now giving up -- officially, openly, publicly -- on Georgia will stop Russia there at the Caucasus Mountains, this is where exactly you get Russia wrong," she added.