U.S. President George W. Bush said at a meeting with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili that Washington will push for Georgian membership in NATO at the alliance's summit April 2. This directly contradicts Russia's wishes at a time when Russia and the United States are already in a standoff over Kosovo and NATO expansion.
U.S. President George W. Bush said at a meeting with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili that the United States will push for Georgia's NATO membership at the alliance's summit April 2. This assurance flies directly in the face of Russia during a tough standoff between Moscow and Washington over Kosovo and NATO expansion. The NATO issue is at the front of Russia's mind as it attempts to re-establish control over its periphery and reclaim its status as an international power player. During Russia's weakness after the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO expanded right up to the former Soviet Union's doorstep, even admitting a few former Soviet states. But Russia has consolidated its power and returned to the international scene. Now it not only wants to push back at the West's expansion of power, it also wants to prevent any further expansion. Georgia and Ukraine are the two states that Russia simply and plainly cannot allow to fall into the West's hands, or it will lose most of its western flank and part of its southern flank. Both states have had pro-Western color revolutions and have fervently pushed to join the Western institutions of the European Union and/or NATO. But both the European Union and NATO have held back, weighing such memberships against Russia's reaction. NATO expansion was the main topic when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with their Russian counterparts, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, on March 17. The talks were aimed at gaining ground on key issues related to the United States' plans for ballistic missile defense (BMD) in Europe. However, both sides knew that talks on BMD would go nowhere, and instead concentrated on the NATO expansion issue and whether Russia would retaliate against the West for ignoring its views on Kosovar independence. STRATFOR sources say that Russia wanted to make sure that both sides were on the same page before the NATO summit and that Russia would not look for payback on Kosovo if the alliance does not push for Ukrainian and Georgian membership. Bush's statement seems to indicate that such an agreement was not reached. However, Bush did caveat his statement carefully, leaving room for Georgia's membership plan to not be finalized at the summit — and leaving room for the membership plan to be very long term. In the end though, Bush has laid the threat down before the Kremlin. Either Moscow can back off from retaliation over Kosovo or it can lash out at the West for Kosovo and for threatening to take turf it feels belongs to Russia.