Millions of words have been written about the creeping encroachment of NATO eastward towards the border of the Russian Federation.
Recent media reports suggest the Turkey will soon drop its objections to Finland joining the bloc with only Hungary’s objections yet to be overcome. One can only imagine the pressure Hungarian politicians will endure as the sole ‘hold-out’ but those tribulations will almost certainly be soothed by assorted inducement.
It is well established that the raison d’etre of NATO was largely to contain Russia but since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO’s purpose of existence has not changed significantly. In fact, NATO over the ensuing years has been very accommodating to those former Soviet bloc nations that wished to join.
But didn’t the Americans agree not to expand NATO eastward?
The answer to that question is mired in assorted recollections but there was never any formal agreement. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a treaty signed in 1990 extended NATO into East Germany, which had been zoned to the Soviet Union.
James Baker, former Secretary of State told CNN during a 2009 interview “there was a discussion about whether the unified Germany would be a member of NATO, and that was the only discussion we ever had. There was never any discussion of anything but East Germany.”
But others have said that assurances were made, including Jack Matlock, the last U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, and Robert Gates, the deputy national security adviser at the time. Gates said the Soviets “were led to believe” NATO would not expand eastward.
Even Gorbachev seemed confused. He once insisted he was promised NATO would not “move one centimetre further east” but in 2014, he said the question never came up, yet added that NATO’s eventual expansion was “a violation of the spirit of the statements and assurances made in 1990.”
In any event, it’s now moot. Historians may continue to debate what, if any, comments were made by the negotiating parties during that 1989-90 period but NATO made no written pledge. There was ‘possibly’ a tacit understanding, but no more than that.
Which brings us to Georgia.
Hands up all those that think the American CIA fermented the recent disturbances in Georgia. Yeah, me too.
Georgia is a small and comparatively insignificant country on Russia’s southern flank but it jumped into world news following several days of protests that were triggered by a bill on the ‘Transparency of Foreign Influence’, that had been initially adopted by the Georgian parliament.
The bill proposed a national register of “foreign influence agents.” The register would have listed all non-profit legal entities and media organizations which receive 20% or more of their funding from overseas.
The reaction to something relatively innocuous may be surprising until you realise the sheer numbers of foreign NGO/NPOs active in Georgia. In 2020, a report by the Asian Development Bank indicated that of the 12,800 organizations registered in Georgia, the vast majority rely on foreign funding and 7,972 of those operated with foreign founders. For a nation with a population of only 3.7 million, that equates to around 300 people per foreign NPO/NGO.
Perhaps not so surprising that many of the foreign (and influential) NGOs immediately understood the potential existential threat of the legislation and acted accordingly. Their cloak of anonymity would be gone.
Now we get to the guts of the matter. For the past 30 years, Georgia has become a recipient of US aid receiving an average of (officially) ~$US120m per annum through the US State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
However, the annual budgets of the most influential Georgian NGOs are comparable to the turnover of medium-sized commercial entities. The Soros Foundation alone invested more than $10 million and the CIA-linked National Endowment for Democracy distributed $1.2 million in grants in one year among a handful of Georgian NGOs. The main areas of their work were ‘media support’, election monitoring and civil influence over the activities of the executive branch, among others things.
So, we have influence, money and now threats.
During the recent unrest, the US and the EU warned Georgian authorities that the successful adoption of the law would likely “deprive the country of the chance to acquire EU candidate status and join NATO”. The bill was dropped although the protests continued for a few more days.
Georgia’s eventual joining with NATO would serve the alliance by creating a border link with Turkey to access Russia via the south. Covering an area almost identical to Tasmania, Georgia has the right to self-determination but needs to be mindful of the lessons from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The voices of some NGOs do not necessarily have Georgia’s best interests at heart. Beware those offering trinkets and promises of gold – there is a much larger geopolitical game afoot.