Russia’s prime minister said Tuesday that any attempt to bring Georgia into NATO would risk "horrible" conflict.
Dmitry Medvedev, speaking in an interview with the Kommersant daily broadcast by Russian state television, called NATO’s plans to offer membership to Georgia in the future "absolutely irresponsible" and a "threat to peace," the Associated Press reports.
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"There is an unresolved territorial conflict … and would they bring such a country into the military alliance?" Medvedev said. "Do they understand the possible implications? It could provoke a horrible conflict."
Military conflict between Russia and Georgia erupted in 2008 after Georgian troops attempted to regain control of South Ossetia, a breakaway province supported by Russia. Medvedev, who was Russia’s president at the time, sent soldiers which defeated the Georgian military in five days. Georgia ultimately lost control of both South Ossetia and a province known as Abkhazia.
NATO currently supports Georgia through the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package, a set of initiatives that provides resources to strengthen Georgia’s defenses. The NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Center, started in 2015, strives to help reform and modernize Georgia’s security forces through cooperative, multi-national training exercises. Georgia also contributes to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.
Medvedev added that NATO’s expansion is a threat to Russia. "Whatever our colleagues from the alliance may say, NATO countries see Russia as a potential enemy. We can’t help getting worried when the circle around our country keeps narrowing as more and more countries join NATO. NATO’s expansion clearly poses a threat to the Russian Federation."
The Russian prime minister's comments come as the U.S. and Georgian militaries team up with 11 other allied nations for Exercise Noble Partner, an exercise in its fourth iteration that will run through Aug. 15 in Georgia. The Georgian Armed Forces and U.S. Army Europe cooperatively-led exercise is "intended to support and enhance the readiness and interoperability of Georgia, the U.S. and participating nations during a multinational training operation," according to U.S. Army Europe.
Since its foundation in 1949, NATO has expanded deeper into Eastern Europe. Ten countries have joined NATO since 2004, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Albania, Croatia, and, most recently, Montenegro. The alliance now consists of 29 countries.
Despite his reservations, the president has also said "the United States commitment to NATO is very strong, remains very strong."