NATO's chief said Moscow does not have veto power over Georgia's potential membership in the military alliance, but he also admonished Tbilisi over its slow implementation of democratic reforms.
NATO head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had tough words for both Russia and Georgia
At the end of a two-day summit in Georgia, NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer asserted Tuesday, Sept. 16, that the alliance would continue to expand towards Russia's borders and declared Moscow had no veto on former Soviet republics' bids to join NATO.
Scheffer led a delegation of ambassadors from the Western alliance's 26 members in a firm show of support for Georgia as Russian troops remained in its rebel regions after the five-day war last month.
"NATO enlargement will continue," Scheffer said. "No other country will have a veto over that process, nor will we allow our strong ties to Georgia to be broken by outside military intervention, and pressures."
NATO not closing its doors to Russia
Russian tanks rolled through South Ossetia in August
Scheffer, who has taken a harsh line toward the Kremlin during the conflict, was more compromising in a speech made earlier on Tuesday at a Tbilisi university.
"NATO will continue to stand by Georgia -- but neither will we close our doors to Russia," he told students. "That would not be the right thing to do, nor would it be in our interest. Russia is a reality that we cannot ignore."
He said it wasn't up to Western nations to punish Russia for marching into Georgia in August, adding that the "international isolation that Russia has got itself into" is punishment enough for Moscow.
Georgia still falls short of NATO’s standards
Scheffer acknowledged that NATO was also not united in its support for Georgia's bid to join Europe's security umbrella.
The former Soviet state needs more democratic reforms, he said, to "foster greater consensus" among alliance members.
Critics have said Saakashvili overplayed his hand against Russia
Georgian politicians have begun to question President Mikhail Saakashvili's failed and costly gambit to reassert control over breakaway South Ossetia and later Abkhazia, which led to the war with Russia. Some opposition members have called for his resignation.
For his part, Saakashvili has said Georgia needs to continue looking West.
"Now more than ever, Georgia's Euro-Atlantic course is on an irreversible track, a track that does not create new dividing lines and does not present any threat to world parties," Saakashvili told reporters at a joint press conference with Scheffer.
Georgia's Western allies were disappointed by Saakashvili, who swept to power in the 2003 Rose Revolution, when he declared emergency rule and ordered riot police to crack down on massive opposition protests last fall.