Will the U.S. extend security guarantees to Georgia and Ukraine on a bilateral basis? With NATO MAPs not on the table for the foreseeable future, pacts with the U.S. are emerging in both countries. However, Ukraine’s is nonbinding, and as my colleague James Joyner points out, Georgia’s seems largely symbolic. RFE/RL ran two articles about the deals late last week.
Brian Whitmore on Georgia:
Georgian officials say they hope a bilateral arrangement could not only enhance their security, but also jump-start their NATO bid. But analysts say it could also significantly raise the stakes in the South Caucasus by bringing the United States closer to a direct confrontation with Russia, which is solidifying its military and political presence in the pro-Moscow breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Officials close to the negotiations say the pact will closely follow a model established by the Baltic states in the late 1990s. After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were seeking to join NATO in the face of fierce opposition from Moscow. In January 1998, the three countries and the United States signed the U.S.-Baltic Charter.
The State Department has now confirmed the strategic partnership pact with Georgia (see Joyner’s piece from yesterday). Although the details of the pact are still cloudy, the Baltic model at least has the potential to be successful. While the deal with the Baltics did not include a security guarantee from Washington, it did commit the U.S. to assisting with a series of military, political, and economic reforms that helped the three countries realize their Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Georgia clearly has the will to integrate with the West as well, but whether this will endure the several years that are likely to pass before a MAP is again even considered for Tbilisi remains to be seen.
Ukraine also signed a deal on December 19 that was similarly intended to reassure Kyiv of the U.S. commitment to its eventual NATO membership. Heather Maher of RFE/RL:
The agreement signed in Washington by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ogryzko is nonbinding, but it mentions broad areas of cooperation, including economic development and defense. It also contains promises to enhance the United States’ training and equipping of Ukraine’s military through NATO.
Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Merkel said the new agreement is meant to “break Moscow’s narrative that it has laid out markers saying that the direction has to be reversed, the direction of U.S. involvement has to be blunted.”
The agreement also includes a statement by Ukraine welcoming the U.S. intention to open a new “diplomatic presence” on the Crimean peninsula, the Ukrainian region where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States is “considering opening an American presence post in the Crimean capital of Simferopol to expand … exchanges and promote mutual understanding between the United States and the Crimean region.”
Most of the 2 million residents of Crimea are ethnic Russians. Although Russian officials have denied claims that Moscow is a threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty, its move against Georgia in August has elevated fears of a separatist movement on the peninsula. Russia’s lease on its Soviet-era naval base in Sevastopol runs out in 2017, and Ukraine says it will not be extended.
The move is very much a symbolic measure meant to show solidarity with Ukraine after its bid for a MAP was rejected. Ukrainian analyst Olexander Sushko noted that the strategic partnership was the best option after a MAP but did not provide the security of either NATO or a stronger bilateral treaty, like the U.S.-South Korea one. An interesting area to watch will be the reception of the U.S. presence in Crimea, where Russian sympathies remain high.
Peter Cassata is an assistant editor at the Atlantic Council.