Georgia ignored last-minute U.S. warnings against provoking Russia over the conflict in South Ossetia, but Washington still supports Georgia’s desire to join NATO, the U.S. envoy to the Western alliance said Thursday.
Ambassador Kurt Volker added that Moscow must redeploy its troops back to South Ossetia and the other pro-Russian province, Abkhazia, and an international peacekeeping force must be stationed in Georgia to protect its “territory, integrity and sovereignty.”
Mr. Volker, in a speech in Norway on Thursday and in interviews earlier this week in Belgium, expressed sympathy for Georgia’s predicament and blamed Russia for inciting Georgia by stirring up resistance in South Ossetia. However, he added, U.S. officials “consistently counseled” Georgia against a military reaction right up to the eve of Georgia’s decision to send troops into South Ossetia on Aug. 7.
“Including the day before Georgian troops went into South Ossetia, we said, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t be drawn into a military conflict. It’s not in your interests,’” he told Norway’s Institute of International Affairs.
“But the pressure on Georgia was too great, and they felt they had to act, and that gave the Russians the excuse they were looking for to launch a massive military operation with over 20,000 troops.”
Mr. Volker noted that Russia had been intimidating Georgia through trade sanctions and a buildup of Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia.
“It’s easy to see the careful preparation and the deliberate pressure put on Georgia, to which they responded unwisely,” he said.
In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Brussels, Mr. Volker warned that the West must help Georgia rebuild its military after the beating it took from Russia troops.
“Georgia has a right to have a military, and we should all be working on how we can help them rebuild after the damage that has been inflicted,” he said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Volker told the German Press Agency that NATO will continue plans to consider Georgia for membership. He also said the alliance is also considering membership for Ukraine over Russian objections.
“We can’t give Russia that veto over Georgia’s aspirations,” he said.
NATO foreign ministers, in an emergency meeting in Brussels this week, created a special commission to coordinate relations with Georgia. They are due to meet again in December with Georgia at the top of their agenda.
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan is worried that the South Asian nation, where NATO forces are battling Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists, is facing a food shortage because too much of its agricultural land is devoted to growing illegal drugs.