Friday, April 04, 2008

Pivoting on a dime

RFE/RL's Brian Whitmore, on the mood swings on Day 3 of the NATO summit in Romania:

NATO appeared to have caved in the face of Russian pressure.

By lunchtime on April 3, everything had changed.

Rumors had been swirling through the cavernous corridors and vast halls of Bucharest's Palace of Parliament all morning that something was in the works.

By the time NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer addressed the media in the early afternoon (hours later than scheduled), it appeared that Georgia and Ukraine would get more than they hoped for.

There would be no MAP at this time, that was true. But there would be what sounded like a pretty firm commitment of eventual membership. Not a firm commitment for MAPs -- but actual membership. All the key players who famously opposed the MAP this time around were on board, including Germany and France.

Moreover, NATO foreign ministers have been instructed to assess Kyiv and Tbilisi's progress in December 2008 and have authority to issue formal MAPs as early as then -- provided the progress was sufficient. It would all be in an official protocol by the evening, we were told.

The mood in the Georgian and Ukrainian delegations pivoted on a dime, from bitter disappointment to unexpected elation. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said Ukraine had "broken the sound barrier." Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili called the announcement a "geopolitical coup."

One top Georgian official, speaking on background, told my colleagues from RFE/RL's Georgian Service that the decision was even better than getting a MAP. They would be admitted to NATO after all. The only question was when.

One can't help but wonder whether this was what was supposed to happen all along. Given German and French objections, few expected Georgia and Ukraine to get MAPs here in Bucharest. I expected them to come no sooner than at NATO's 60th anniversary summit next year.
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