The United States and Georgia will sign a “strategic partnership treaty” in the New Year, AFP reports.

“Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Grigol Vashadze and the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will sign a strategic partnership treaty on January 4 in Washington,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Khatuna Iosava told AFP. 

The accord, similar to a strategic agreement Washington has recently signed with Ukraine, risks raising tensions with Russia, which earlier this year fought a brief war with Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Post-war tensions between Russia and Georgia are already running high, a fact underlined Wednesday when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev launched an extraordinary personal attack on his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili. “We suspected that our Georgian colleague had problems in his brains but we did not realise that it would be as serious as that,” Medvedev said in an end-of-year television interview.

Saakashvili has hailed the US-Georgia treaty as a “historic” move that will allow the two countries’ relations to progress towards a new stage. “The United States has never before said that Georgia is its strategic partner,” he said on December 22.

Georgian opposition politicians and analysts agreed that the accord was a positive step but warned not to get carried away by its importance.  “No doubt it is a step forwards in strengthening Georgia’s security. But Saakashvili is exaggerating its importance,” the leader of the Georgian Republican Party, Levan Berdzenishvili, told AFP. “This accord is not a substitute for NATO membership, which is the only way to ensure Georgia’s security,” he added.

Radio Free Europe reports that the State Department has confirmed the report.  I agree that the move is largely symbolic and a sign that the Bush administration realizes that Georgia will not be offered MAP any time soon and that token gestures are the best that can be offered at this point.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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