Joint press conference
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of Georgia, Mamuka Bakhtadze
MAMUKA BAKHTADZE [Prime Minister of Georgia]: Let me greet you all, dear friends, it is our great honour to host, in Georgia, Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. And primarily I want to start by saying that Georgia and NATO relations have never been so high. The Secretary General’s visit to Georgia is clear evidence that NATO is supporting membership of Georgia in the Alliance, and it is supporting us in this process. We highly appreciate the visit of the Secretary General and his attendance at the joint exercise which is aimed at improving the defence capacity of Georgia further and its interoperability with NATO. I want to use this opportunity to once again thank every participating country in this joint exercise and wish them every success. Membership in NATO is a most significant priority of the security and defence agenda of Georgia. The majority of Georgia supports the aspiration to become a member of NATO, and this is once again evidence that it’s not only a political choice but that it’s a value-based choice of Georgia to become a member of NATO, ultimately. You may well be aware that in the new constitution of Georgia, we have a new provision, prioritising this aim which is clearly manifesting that this is a solid and irreversible choice of the nation of Georgia. At the meeting, we discussed the progress towards membership aspirations. Integration, of course, implies a number of fundamental and substantial reforms to be carried out by Georgia. It was noted that commitments are delivered by Georgia and this helps the ultimate membership of Georgia into NATO. From the NATO side, it was once again reaffirmed that NATO remains loyal towards our aspiration to ultimately welcome us in NATO, and once again let me express my enormous gratitude to the Secretary General for this tremendous support that NATO is demonstrating towards Georgia. NATO has always been stressing its support towards territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia. At the same time, we discussed all the issues and challenges related to the occupation of the Russian Federation of two historic territories of Georgia. It is a challenge on this territory, in every dimension of it, including human rights violations at the occupied territories, fundamental rights are violated there. At the same time we discussed the peace initiative that we developed within the government of Georgia. It is very gratifying that at the meeting we mentioned that Georgia has contributed significantly towards our mission; the professionalism and heroic nature of our servicemen has been stressed. Black Sea security has been significantly stressed at the meeting and this is an issue that we have been raising with our friends – claiming that without Black Sea security, it is impossible to imagine any sustainable security for NATO. It is gratifying to see that Black Sea is becoming a higher priority for NATO. We also discussed the Brussels summit’s resolution on Black Sea cooperation, within this segment for Georgia; and we defined ways to cooperate further. We once again want to thank the Secretary General for his visit to Georgia and for the support of our country. Mr Stoltenberg is an ardent and loyal friend of Georgia and I want to thank him personally for his loyalty. Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]:
Prime Minister Bakhtadze,
It is a great pleasure to be back in Tbilisi.
And to visit Georgia during the NATO-Georgia exercise.
This is the second time that Georgia hosts this important event.
Demonstrating the ability of the Georgian armed forces to operate side-by-side with the Allies and other partners.
This exercise is hosted by the NATO-Georgia Joint Training Centre. Which has been working to strengthen your country’s defences since it was inaugurated back in 2015.
I visited many times and it’s always good to be back.
This time, I’m going to be visiting the NATO GEO exercise.
Georgia is a unique partner for NATO.
Last summer in Brussels all NATO leaders reconfirmed the Bucharest decision from 2008 that Georgia will become a member of NATO.
You are the largest non-NATO contributor to our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.
You contribute to the NATO Response Force.
And the NATO-Georgia exercise this week demonstrates that we are stepping up our cooperation.
Georgia has made a lot of progress in important reforms.
Including strengthening Parliament’s role in overseeing the security sector.
And the reform of Georgia’s judiciary. I was glad to hear that these efforts will continue.
Your efforts to modernise the armed forces and to build more effective defence institutions have also been very impressive.
I also welcome your commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence.
And I congratulate Georgia for spending 20% of GDP on equipment and modernisation.
This strengthens your military.
And your contribution to regional security.
I welcome your efforts in all these areas.
And I encourage you to continue making full use of all the opportunities for coming closer to the Alliance.
And to prepare for membership.
NATO fully supports Georgia’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders.
We call on Russia to end its recognition of the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and to withdraw its forces.
We also share your concerns about Russia’s military build-up in the Black Sea region.
That is why we are strengthening the cooperation between Georgian and NATO naval forces.
Why we are providing training for Georgian Coast Guard boarding teams.
And why NATO’s Maritime Command is cooperating with Georgia’s Joint Maritime Operations Centre.
And during our meeting today we discussed how we can increase our cooperation, not least between our maritime forces.
Prime Minister, let me thank you for your hospitality.
We will continue working together to prepare Georgia for NATO membership.
Georgia is a reliable contributor to our shared security.
And I look forward to continue working with you as Georgia moves closer to NATO.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. We’ve now moved to the question and answer session. Public broadcaster gets the first question.
QUESTION: Let me greet you all [inaudible] is my name. Let me greet you. Public broadcaster of Georgia, [inaudible] is my name. My question is related to the integration of Georgia to NATO. Within this process what is the role assigned to Russia? We know Russia is saying that they will never agree to membership of Georgia in NATO. And Georgia, as mentioned here, and at many international platforms, Georgia is delivering on its commitments. We do understand as international partners are saying that Georgia needs to get rewarded for this commitment and deliveries. But then again Russian factor gets into play. What is the solution?
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: Well, for NATO it is an absolute fundamental principle that every nation has the right to choose its own path. Georgia is a sovereign nation. Georgia has the right to choose its own path, including what kind of security arrangements you’d like to be part of. And this is not only something which is stated clearly by NATO, but it is actually a fundamental principle which has been assigned to or agreed to by all nations in Europe. Even Russia has assigned, has signed, or subscribed to the Helsinki Final Act and many other documents, which clearly states that every nation has the right to choose its own path, including whether it would like to become member of a military alliance or not. So the reality is that it is for Georgia to decide what Georgia wants. And then it is for 29 Allies to decide when we are ready to accept you as a member. No one else have any say in that process, because this is about not accepting that big powers have any right to decide what neighbours can do or not do. And for me, coming from a small mountainous country bordering Russia in the north, Norway, of course for us it is extremely important that we are not accepting that Russia or any other power can decide what neighbours can do. Norway joined NATO in 1949. At that time Joseph Stalin didn’t like that Norway joined NATO. But, of course, the NATO Allies, the United States, Great Britain, France they said, ‘No, but it’s not Joseph Stalin that will decide whether NATO can . . . whether Norway can join NATO or not. That’s Norway and the NATO Allies.’ And that’s exactly the same principle today. So it is up to you and up to the 29 Allies to decide. And the 29 Allies have clearly stated that Georgia will become a member of NATO. And that’s no provocation against anyone, it’s a sovereign right of every sovereign nation to decide. Then you have to implement reforms. And that’s exactly what we have discussed today; that’s exactly what we are working on every day together: modernising your defence institutions, judiciary and meeting NATO standards. So you have made a lot of progress, we are impressed by that, we recognise that progress and we encourage you to do even more. We work with you, that’s good for Georgia, it’s good for NATO, because the interoperability, the fact that we are working together in Afghanistan, in the NATO Response Force, in the NATO exercise here today, all of that is good for NATO and for Georgia. We will continue to do that. And then at the end it’s NATO Allies and Georgia that decide when Georgia is becoming a member – no one else.
MODERATOR: The prime minister is requested to comment on this question.
MAMUKA BAKHTADZE: Thank you for the question. We are once again hearing today a very strong message, or set of messages, from the Secretary General. NATO continues its open door policy and the main message, what we heard right now from Mr Stoltenberg, is that no other country can limit or restrict its choice as a sovereign country, an independent country. It’s the choice of the Georgian nation to be a fully-fledged member of NATO one day. And this is up to the Allies and Georgia. No one can interfere in this and create barriers. We continue, effectively, our progress towards this integration. We understand fully that we cannot take decisions overnight. But, at the same time, we once again heard a very strong message that Georgia will eventually become a member of NATO. NATO continues to have an open door policy. And let me remind you about the decisions made towards Macedonia. At the same time, we have a package of reforms that we wish to implement and this will make us even closer to NATO’s standards and increase our inter-comparability with NATO. I’m sure that this decision, this principled decision of Georgia, will ensure that one day we will meet NATO members as a fully-fledged member.
QUESTION: Rustavi 2, I have a question to both of you gentlemen. Let me start with Black Sea security. Secretary General, this question is to you. Stability and security is very important for NATO including towards the Black Sea region. This is one of the priorities that has been mentioned. Within this context, what would you say about the strategically important project of the deep sea port of Anaklia, construction of which is planned in Georgia? And Prime Minister, what would you say when there is a number of questions on the construction of this deep sea port of Anaklia: what is the position of the authorities towards the prospects of construction? Another question to you, General Secretary: this is the latest election, and membership to NATO is attuned with democracy. We consider the most recent conclusion of ODIHR and OSCE. It was quite critical and the Department of State also was critical towards buying votes in Georgia at the presidential elections, for the second round. Do you believe that these comments will hamper membership of NATO, Georgia to NATO?
JENS STOLTENBERG: First on the Black Sea. The Black Sea is of great importance for NATO and for Georgia. We have to realise that we have seen a significant Russian build-up in the Black Sea region, especially after the illegal annexation of Crimea. And we are also seeing the aggressive action of Russia against Ukrainian ships near the Sea of Azov, near the Kerch Strait. NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea and we are working with Georgia to address the security challenges in the Black Sea region. NATO has more ships, more presence in the air with air policing, and also more presence on the ground. for instance in Romania, but also by working together with partners, as Georgia, in the Black Sea region. Actually now there are two NATO ships in the Black Sea, one from the UK and one French ship. And just a few days ago, several NATO ships from NATO’s Standing Naval Group participated in Exercise Poseidon, which is a NATO exercise, about how to counter mines. We have three littoral states: Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania, which of course also have a presence in the Black Sea. So all in all, there is an increased NATO presence in the Black Sea region. And we work, not least with Georgia, to address the challenges we see. And therefore I welcome that we have also stepped up cooperation, for instance with the Georgian Coast Guard. We have trained their boarding teams and we are now looking into what more we can do to work with Georgia on naval capabilities.
When it comes to the reports about the elections, I just take note of what the OSCE has stated and I think this just highlights the importance of continuing to reform and continuing to make sure that your democratic processes meet the highest standards. That’s always important. It’s good for Georgia, but it’s also good for your efforts to move towards NATO membership or full Euro-Atlantic integration. Because we would very much like to see even more progress on these reforms and to strengthen your democratic institutions, especially the way you are conducting elections.
MAMUKA BAKHTADZE: Thank you so much for the question. Black Sea is today one of the key priorities of NATO and we welcome this. Georgia understands that very well, Georgia has a unique role for the security concept of the Black Sea and it is an unprecedented role for Georgia. We have planned joint steps, together with NATO, to make sure that, in the Black Sea region, security is sustainable. This will be very vivid in the coming years. As for the deep sea ports of Anaklia, Georgia has a unique geographic position and location. It is part of our economic policy to turn Georgia into a regional hub for transport, and logistics also, which covers every dimension. And, of course, Georgia will, by all means, have a deep sea port in Anaklia. We fully support the Anaklia Consortium to make sure that they deliver their investment commitments. We took a very active part in soliciting European and US partners. They give a very significant weight to this port, and Georgia will, by all means, have a deep sea port. Let me also respond to the second part of your question. Georgia is a leader for democratic transformation and we will continue. We’re pledged to continue the consolidation of our democracy. We received specific recommendations. This is a normal process. You may well be aware that our team in power is working at the parliament as well to improve legislation, to make amendments to specific laws that have been subject to direct recommendations, from the OSCE and others. Thank you.
QUESTION: inaudible… Georgia and NATO towards resolving the issue of Russia’s occupation of Georgian territory and what progress has been made?
JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, NATO calls on Russia to end its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and to withdraw its forces from these regions, because these regions are part of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders. And we will never recognise these regions as anything else. They are part of Georgia and we strongly support the territorial integrity of Georgia, including Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Then, the way to solve this is by conducting political talks, is to negotiate. And it’s not easy and we haven’t seen that much progress. But the framework to address this issue is the talks which are going on in Geneva. And I think I will leave it to the Prime Minister to reflect on the progress and the status of those talks, but NATO supports those efforts to find a peaceful and negotiated solution to the issue of the 2 regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are part of Georgia.
MAMUKA BAKHTADZE: Thank you so much for the question. Unfortunately Russia continues to occupy 20 percent of the Georgian territory. We have very devastating situation at the occupied territories in terms of human rights. We are loyal towards our peace initiative. We are loyal towards resolving this conflict by engaging the international community. We are trying, and we do our best, to make sure that we implement the peace initiative that we have developed within the government of Georgia on how to stop the humanitarian disaster that is witnessed in both regions. The population has been decreased by five or six times compared to the pre-occupation times. These statistics evidences very clearly what is the current state within the occupied territories. Russia should deliver on its commitment that they made in ’08 and retrieve its troops from the territory of Georgia. We are loyal towards the peace policy of Georgia. We have the full support of our friendly nations, claiming that all the peace initiatives that were designed by the government of Georgia are the only correct and proper response to the mainly painful challenges that we have at the occupied territories.
QUESTION: Is there a viable and realistic solution for Georgia joining NATO before the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is solved?
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO Allies have clearly stated that Georgia will become a member of the Alliance and we are supporting, helping Georgia to meet NATO standards, to continue to reform and then to be ready to join. I am also certain that we will find a way to address and to deal with the issue of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I’ll not go into details about that now, but we will continue to provide support and Georgia will become a member of the Alliance.
MAMUKA BAKHTADZE: [48 seconds uninterpreted]… concept of security in our region. This challenge is not only Georgia’s exclusive challenge and pain – they say it’s the challenge of the EU as well, and of every member state of NATO. Therefore we try to mobilise the efforts of all our partner countries to start realistic peace initiatives, to be implemented at the occupied territories. We are fully loyal and committed to the idea that our friendly nations and their efforts, through the mobilised effort, will make us overcome this challenge. Once again let me stress that at this stage, it is very important to stop the humanitarian disaster that we witness in the occupied territories in terms of grave violations of human rights, torture and killings. We need to give access to our citizens living in the occupied territories, to gain access to decent health care and education and all the other aspects and benefits listed in our peace initiative. We are fully focused on this concept. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Joint press conference is now over. Thank you.