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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia Spurns Russia on NATO

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgia could be on collision course with Russia after President Eduard Shevardnadze said this week he wants the former Soviet republic to join NATO, analysts said Friday.

The former Soviet foreign minister, known in the West for his role in ending the Cold War, has also strongly supported NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia after attending the military alliance's 50th anniversary celebrations in Washington last week.

Political analysts say Shevardnadze is motivated by a desire for international help in Georgia's own ethnic conflicts and by frustration with Russia's failure to rein in the separatist leaders in control of Georgia's Ab-khazia region since 1993.

Moscow has made clear it does not want any former Soviet republics to become members of its former Cold War foe NATO and although Georgian membership of the alliance is unlikely soon, Shevardnadze's decision risks damaging relations with Russia.

"Shevardnadze clearly sees you have to choose either Russia or NATO," said Gia Tarkhan-Mouravi, director of the Tbilisi-based Center for Geopolitical Studies.

"He hopes that after the conflicts in the Balkans are over, NATO will switch its focus to the Caucasus region, and that the West might replace Russian involvement in Abkhazia. He has nothing to lose."

Georgia shares a long northern border with Russia, has several Russian military bases on its territory and many Russian officials regard Georgia as part of Moscow's strategic underbelly.

A Russian official said earlier this year that chances for cooperation between Moscow and NATO would be ruined if the alliance expanded beyond a "red line" into countries of the former Soviet Union.

Since then relations with NATO have been further damaged by the alliance's bombing of Yugoslavia over the Kosovo crisis.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said this week Russia would never agree to the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia becoming members.

Moscow is also particularly anxious to prevent Ukraine from falling into NATO's embrace.

Shevardnadze played the role of dove as one of the last foreign ministers of the now-defunct Soviet Union, helping to end the Cold War. Germans credit him with being instrumental in allowing the unification of their country.

But this week the white-haired, 71-year-old leader has sounded as hawkish as NATO heads of state in his firm support for the alliance in the Kosovo crisis.

"After the end of the Cold War we cannot allow genocide and ethnic cleansing, either in Kosovo, Albania or Abkhazia, and diplomacy which is not backed by real power can exist only on the level of phrases and declarations," he said.

Shevardnadze had talks with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana while in Washington.

"When I met with Javier Solana, I asked him: 'When will you finally admit Georgia to NATO?' He whispered his answer in my ear, but I can't reveal what he told me," the Georgian president said.

"For this, time is needed. But possibly this will happen sooner than we assume," he said.

The political analysts said Shevardnadze's view reflects frustration with the failure of the United Nations and other international organizations to help restore peace in Abkhazia after the 1992-93 war that killed about 10,000 people.

Abkhaz leaders have rejected autonomy and want full independence instead.

They have not allowed the return of more than 150,000 ethnic Georgian refugees in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

Russia has 1,500 peacekeepers in Abkhazia and has led efforts to find a political settlement, but none is in sight.

For Georgia, joining international pan-European organizations has great symbolic importance.

This week it became the first of eight newly independent countries along the southern rim of the former Soviet Union to gain admission to the Council of Europe.