The NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg inaugurated a new NATO-Georgia joint military training and evaluation centre in Krtsanisi, 20km south of Tbilisi, on 27 August. The opening of the training centre had been announced at the beginning of 2015. Russia views NATO military support to its neighbours as well as deployments and exercises as threatening and provocative, a perception that contributed to Russian military intervention in Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014).
Russia’s military doctrine identifies NATO’s reinforced capabilities and presence at its borders as the main foreign military threat to Russian security. Some member states, such as Germany and France, think that NATO expansion will increase the risk of a confrontation with Russia, and strongly oppose Georgia’s accession. Russia has been particularly active in conducting military exercises in recent months, and we assess that the most probable Russian response is a further such drills at Georgia’s borders.
The last Russian military drill in Georgia’s border region was in March. However, this month, Russia also moved the demarcation line in South Ossetia by several hundred metres into Georgian territory. While further such developments are possible, we assess that NATO’s apparent unwillingness to grant Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP) and Russia’s fiscal constraints are likely to limit the risk of a broader hostile Russian military action towards Georgia in the medium term.
These constraints are also likely to affect Russia’s foreign policy towards NATO and its near abroad. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said on 24 August that Russia’s policy, both domestic and foreign, currently derives from the fact that sanctions and low oil prices ‘are here for a long time’. The value of the rouble fell sharply this month, returning to its December 2014 level. Meanwhile, oil prices have fallen below $50 a barrel in August, further reducing Russian revenues.
There is already some evidence that the economic crisis is already limiting Russia’s ambitions abroad and its opportunities for pursuing higher risk policies. This includes delays in fulfilling its army modernisation plan and the Kremlin’s apparent willingness to comply with the Minsk agreements on Ukraine by the end of the year.
For its part, the current Georgian administration, since it took office in 2012, has promoted better relations with Russia while continuing to advocate for NATO and EU accessions. On 19 August, the Georgian prime minister made it clear that Georgia was opening a training centre for its own troops and not a NATO military base. The prime minister added yesterday that the training centre ‘was not aimed against any country’, in what appears to be a message directed to Russia.
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