NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during a June 25 press conference in Brussels. (John Thys / AFP)
BRUSSELS — NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday the alliance will shortly offer Georgia closer ties, but ruled out membership this year amid growing concerns over Russia’s intentions in Ukraine.
NATO leaders agreed at a 2008 summit shortly after Georgia fought a brief war with Russia that Tbilisi could join at an unspecified future date.
However, they decided against giving Georgia pre-membership status for fear of unduly provoking a Russia bitterly opposed to NATO expansion into former Soviet-era states.
“The summit in Wales will not be about the membership action plan, but about more support to bring Georgia close to NATO,” Rasmussen confirmed at a press conference.
He insisted it would be a “substantive package” which NATO would draw up in “close cooperation” with Georgia ahead of September’s NATO summit in Cardiff, without giving details.
And he insisted the package “will bring Georgia closer to NATO” provided Tbilisi fulfilled all the necessary conditions.
The Ukraine crisis has forced NATO to reconsider its security needs in eastern Europe, offering extra help and support to new members such as Poland and the Baltic countries.
But other allies remain hesitant to go ahead with Georgia’s membership for fear of unduly provoking Moscow.
Diplomatic sources said the package for Georgia will likely focus on increased cooperation to bolster its defenses but not go further than that.
Rasmussen insisted, in a clear reference to Russia, that the alliance’s Open Door policy “remains open and no third country has a veto over NATO enlargement.”
NATO would also review the position on Montenegro “at the latest by the end of 2015 whether to invite (it) to join the alliance,” he added.
Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are also seeking NATO membership.