James Appathurai: NATO is helping Georgia during pandemic and will continue to do so
James Appathurai: NATO is helping Georgia during pandemic and will continue to do so

NATO is handing over a new package of support to Georgia. NATO Foreign Ministers have already made a decision. What does the new package of support include and how does NATO help Georgia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Georgian Radio First Channel FM 102.4 interviewed James Appathurai, NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia.

? NATO Foreign Ministers decided to give a new support package to Georgia and Ukraine. Can you give more specific details about this package? What are the political and practical terms?

– I would say the political reasons are two. First, because Georgia is in the top tier of non-NATO countries that cooperate with us. So, this is our top class of cooperation and we want to continue deepening it. And the second, as we all know the security situation in the Black Sea has deteriorated for Georgia, Ukraine and NATO members because of Russian aggressive actions in Georgia, in Ukraine and staying in Crimea. Russia is using Crimea to project forces in the Black sea. This affects NATO, Georgia, and Ukraine. For all these reasons we want to deepen our cooperation when it comes to the Black Sea. First, we’re going to include Georgia in more activities which regards what we call Hybrid Defense. That means the full collection of tools that in this case, Russia uses against other countries, when it comes to, for example, cyber-attacks, disinformation, use of energy cut-offs, covert intelligence or military activities. Now we look at them as being part of one package. We’ve been working with Ukraine and Georgia on those issues and we are going to step up cooperation to defend them against it. The second step is that we want to improve the air picture that Georgia has in the airspace in its neighbourhood. We have a program which we want to attach to Georgia, our regional airspace security program; With that, Georgia will have a better view of what’s going on in its airspace. Also, we want to have more Ukrainians and Georgians in each other’s schools, particularly because Georgian Defense Institution Building School is so good and so is the Joint Training and Evaluation Centre. I think we’ll see more Ukrainians there and finally our allies, NATO members are going to look at including Georgia more in military exercises, including in the region. So, we have four clear steps that we are looking at taking, to have more Georgians participating in Black Sea security.

? NATO Defense Ministers discussed measures to help each other in times of a pandemic. Can partner countries like Georgia get help from the alliance if need be, and what kind of help could it be?

– Everybody is talking about the pandemic and this became issue number one at NATO headquarters. We are working on all sorts of practical steps for supporting each other and partners as well. Those steps include what has already happened and is happening, which is, for example, NATO transporting medical supplies, helping to build field hospitals. Allies are sending supplies to each other, but this is not just about NATO members. We have the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre. It’s our tool for a civil emergency response right across the euro Atlantic area. So, it’s not only for NATO, it’s about partners too. This centre works 24/7 coordinating requests from allies and partners who are looking for support and it connects them with countries that offer assistance. Other countries that have extra supplies can send to them. The Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre helps to put them together and coordinates the transport of supplies. Georgia made the request in April through this coordination centre and Poland responded. Providing disinfectants and heating devices for field tents to the emergency management service of Georgia. I can tell you that our leadership is also well aware that there are further Georgian requests and we are working on it to see if we can connect donors and recipients. So, NATO has already started helping Georgia and we are going to try doing more.

? Pandemic affects everything everywhere. Will it affect NATO-Georgia joint exercises or other programs?

– NATO baseline is this – we have been very careful to make sure when it comes to NATO’s operational readiness, so our actual requirement to defend our territories, to conduct our operations, including where Georgia is with us in Afghanistan and we are grateful for that, NATO can do what it has to do. There is no question about that. The next question – exercises. As you have seen some of our exercises have been scaled back in the past couple of months. Because we want to make sure that there are efficient measures put in place to protect our forces and also to make sure that there is no risk from our forces to any local population. Those two are very important guidelines for us. We are looking carefully at our exercises to make sure that they meet the standards of safety, that has meant, at least until now, scaling them back a little bit. I don’t know exactly when we are going to get back 100%, but what I can say is that as we do, our exercise program will remain very important and that includes the NATO-Georgia exercises as well. Things are a little bit different right now and we have to adjust, but that doesn’t mean abandoning the Nato-Georgia exercises. It will happen, but exactly when and how it will happen, that will be part of the evolution of how will NATO adjust our exercise schedule going forward.

? In times of pandemic, challenges also include disinformation that spreads globally. It affects our region and Georgia as well. As we see, Russia and also China are trying to take advantage of this situation. What more can NATO do to help Georgia with this?

– Disinformation is substantial and growing. We see a lot of it from China and Russia. It is very much focused on the pandemic, trying to blame the US, the West, trying to show that we can’t manage our security and health. It’s been quite striking and we are responding to it very robustly. First, we monitor it all. Second, NATO press service and our nations are pushing back hard. You have seen for example a fake letter about the withdrawal of allied troops from Lithuania. It was not true at all. It had no effect, but it was only one example of many. This fake letter was supposed to be from Secretary-General and it was pretty well done actually, but it didn’t work at all.  So, yes, we face a lot of disinformation. Georgia has faced it for many years and you know what we are talking about. We’ve been cooperating with Georgia for many years in beefing up our shared ability, including Georgia’s ability to detect disinformation, to respond and we will continue to do so, to consult on that. We also have  NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Latvia. Georgia is connected to it, which is very much focused on disinformation, including disinformation about the pandemic. Georgia can continue to work with them. I hope, we will soon have a consultation with Georgia on this subject.

? Now about Russia’s recent activities in the occupied territories of Georgia. Russia’s illegal actions in the occupied regions of Georgia continue, it includes restriction of movement and borderization. People living in those regions want to get medical care in Tbilisi and they can’t do so. What would be the best answer to this?

– It was already bad, but it’s all the worse when people’s health is at risk. We have seen the borderization activates that Russia and its proxies have conducted over the past few weeks. I put a short statement on Facebook about that, just to make it clear that we see it. We continue not to accept anything else rather than territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its international reconciled borders. NATO can only continue to put pressure on Russia on this subject. It is one of the reasons for which our relations with Russia are in such a slow pace because the allies are united in their criticism of Russia for the steps that it has taken. We support the EU for monitoring this and missions as well. We will continue to bring it up with the Russians.