NATO has demanded that Russia withdraw its troops from two separatist republics bordering Georgia, which has expressed a desire to join the Western military alliance.
Speaking on the last day of NATO's foreign ministers' conference in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the alliance was committed to the security of Georgia, a former Soviet republic that has fought against the separatist movements backed by Russia of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The two northern states have been recognized by a handful of states, but the United States and its Western European allies have accused Russia of undermining Georgia's sovereignty with its support for these regions, an accusation that has also been launched against Moscow for its participation in Ukraine. 1
"We discussed NATO's strong commitment to Georgia security and territorial integrity and reviewed the many ways in which Georgia and the alliance are working together, "said Stoltenberg.
"We remain concerned about the deepening of Russia's relations with the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia, and we call on Russia to end its recognition of these regions and withdraw its forces from Georgian territory," he added.
When the Soviet Union began to collapse in 1991, Georgia declared its independence, but pro-Moscow Abkhazia and South Ossetia were forcibly separated. Russia continued to support the two rebel administrations throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, as intermittent clashes between Georgia and the separatists worsened. In 2008, Georgia launched a full military campaign to reclaim the territories that were finally repelled with the support of Russia.
That same year, NATO undertook to eventually make Georgia a full member, but fears of Russian reprisals have delayed its entry. After Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and sponsored separatist movements in the midst of a political upheaval in 2014 in neighboring Ukraine – another candidate for coalition membership – NATO has taken a tougher stand against Moscow and has strengthened support for the allies with Russia, especially the Baltic states and Poland.
Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that NATO supported "Georgia's successful efforts to modernize its armed forces", which have operated under NATO command in Afghanistan and would take part in a joint NATO-Georgia military exercise in 2019. Movements have been seen by Russia as an expansionist project led by the United States, whose main diplomat also appeared at the meeting.
Despite Trump's alleged relationship with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the failure of the administration to appoint ambassadors to Belgium or the EU, Tillerson assured the multinational conference the White House's commitment to its Western European allies and condemned Russia for alleged meddling in foreign affairs, something that Moscow has denied.
"I think there is a broad consensus among all NATO members that today there is no normalization of dialogue with Russia," Tillerson said. according to Reuters.