NATO will most likely not extend membership invitations to any new countries in the next several years, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics (Unity) said in an interview with LETA. Experts of Latvian think tank the Latvian Institute of International Affairs (LIIA) echo this sentiment, whereas Estonian Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand believes that Georgia may in fact be close to attaining membership.
Rinkevics, currently attending the NATO summit in Warsaw, stated that currently the existing NATO members have starkly opposing opinions on prospective admission of Georgia.
"We can speak about more serious, more extensive co-operation, and this is not just lip service. Several exercises have been held in Georgia, and NATO advisors are working there. A lot of things are being done on the practical level,” the Latvian minister explained.
No new countries are likely to be invited to join NATO in the near future, however, he said, adding that Montenegro had been the most recent nation on whose admission the Alliance had been able to agree.
"It is absolutely clear that NATO membership for either Ukraine or Georgia is not a matter of the next few years,” Rinkevics said. The two nations must put work into strengthening themselves from the internal political aspect, so that NATO is able provide them all the required defense assistance, he said.
Nations with unsolved territorial conflicts and possible risk of war with Russia are not likely to be admitted to NATO, even if they have met all official membership requirements, experts of the LIIA determined in a study called “NATO-Russia Relations: Latvian Interests in the Context of Formal Frameworks and Transformation of Relationship.”
NATO leaders at the Bucharest summit in 2008 said that Ukraine and Georgia would be allowed into the Alliance some time in the future, but with frozen conflicts in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Eastern Ukraine, and Crimea de facto under Russian control, NATO membership for the two nations is significantly less probable than ever before.
When co-operating with Ukraine and Georgia, NATO needs to consider that Russia may maintain notable influence over the future of the countries, as resolving the conflicts started in their respective territories by Russia and getting back the breakaway regions is unlikely in the near future.
Granted most NATO member states’ reluctance to use military means to support Georgia and Ukraine during the conflicts and for their admission into the Alliance, any further statements about prospective NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine will remain only lip service, according to the Latvian experts.
However, according to Estonian Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand, Georgia is at the brink of NATO and EU membership due to its to successful reforms.
Kaljurand on Friday attended a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission at the foreign ministers' level held in the framework of the NATO summit in Warsaw, at which the tightening of co-operation between the Alliance and Georgia and regional security challenges were discussed, spokespeople for the Foreign Ministry in Tallinn said.
A joint statement adopted at the meeting embraced the concrete steps taken since the 2014 Wales summit to heighten relations. NATO has backed Georgian institutional reforms with more than 30 experts and aided in the launch of a joint training and evaluation centre.
"Georgia is an important partner of NATO and it's a pleasure to note that the implementation of the co-operation package approved at the Wales summit continues," the Estonian minister stated. "Estonia has in the framework of the package supported Georgia in cyber security development, providing expert advice and conducting joint trainings on a regular basis."
Kaljurand said Georgia illustrates a country that shares democratic values, has implemented numerous difficult but essential reforms, and has thereby moved significantly closer to membership in NATO and the European Union.
The NATO-Georgia Commission was founded in 2008 to support Georgia's aspirations towards Alliance membership. At the Bucharest summit in the same year the allies agreed that Georgia will become a NATO member. That decision was reasserted in the statement adopted in Warsaw.