Can the Golden Card buy the Golden Dream?

Can the Golden Card buy the Golden Dream?

Not surprisingly, the recent NATO summit in Wales has dominated headlines in the Georgian press. Unlike in previous years, officials in Tbilisi stuck to promises that Georgia was primed to receive something “better than a MAP.” Russia’s involvement in shaping a “frozen conflict” in Ukraine only raised expectations that the alliance would offer Georgia greater integration. More importantly, however, Moscow’s new “deniable warfare” has prompted NATO members to finally follow their own rules - devote at least 2% of their countries’ GDP for their militaries - and not rely solely on Article 5. Ukraine’s fate notwithstanding, Russia’s recent aggression may be a blessing in disguise for Georgia’s security: a wakeup call within NATO and the realization that words of assurance continue to have zero value.

I was personally very intrigued as to what kind of formal award Georgia could obtain and its long and costly NATO membership aspirations. It tuned out being the “Gold Card,” which was also granted to Sweden, Finland, Australia and Jordan, symbolizing a new and elevated format of cooperation with the alliance. It is enough to keep enemies at bay? Of course not! Some new NATO members are very concerned with the Ukrainian variant of invasion enough to evoke the famous words: “A specter is haunting Europe — the specter of communism.”

NATO and EU

GORBI has been continuously measuring public attitudes towards NATO over the last 10 years. During this period, a large majority of Georgians was highly supportive towards integration with the alliance, a sentiment not damaged by the Georgian-Russian war in 2008 or democratic regime change of power in 2012 in the country.

Similarly, Georgians do not consider any alternative to joining the EU. In fact, the public is even more supportive of EU integration as it is a less irritating prospect for Russia and Georgians consider the EU its future. GORBI’s recent survey reveals that favorability ratings towards both the EU and NATO are still very high, though it dropped by four percentage points for EU and by four points for NATO compared January 2014. Support for the EU and NATO now stands at “only” 78% and 75%, respectively.

Chart 1. Positive attitudes towards EU and NATO (%)

Source: GORBI nationwide surveys. NB. “Very favorable” and “favorable” answers are combined.

Russia and USA

Based on GORBI’s late August public opinion survey, over half of the Georgian public (51%) has a favorable rating towards Russia. (This should not be confused with the Russian government or directly to Mr. Putin’s rating, which is way lower in Georgia. I will present comparative ratings of several countries’ leaders in the next weeks’ column.) Also, over the last six years this was not at all stable (it reached its maximum (83%) before 2008 war; after regime change in 2012 it started growing again (as it is said - hope dies last) but decreased in parallel with the conflict in Ukraine. However, there are positive signs as well (and this not only includes restored trade links): in July, Georgia signed the EU Association Agreement, a process that was accelerated in following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It remains to be seen how much this new “free trade” involves “fair trade” and what the benefits will be. Likely much is discussed behind closed doors, while the public tags along.

In contrast the United States enjoys a stable high favorability rating among the Georgian public with small fluctuations.  Georgians still regard the US as their #1 political ally and the only country we can ring up 24/7 if we see unrecognized fighting objects or “little green man” close to our borders or in the occupied regions. More seriously – the US has been a steadfast supporter of Georgia during over two decades of difficult political or institutional reforms. 

Chart 2. Positive attitudes towards Russia and USA (%)

Source: GORBI nationwide surveys. NB. “Very favorable” and “favorable” answers are combined.

The bottom line is that Georgia now has the “Gold Card.” I too have a gold card but it dries up if I don’t top it up every month. Just as I am not protected financially by possessing a golden credit card, Georgia is not protected physically with its new NATO enshrined card status. We will both continue to live the same life as before the summit – a somewhat fragile one. The recent NATO summit actually was a good thing for the alliance, as its members now cannot deny having a 3D picture of the specter that is haunting Europe. As for Georgians, I only wish that they will be more favorably disposed towards the US, Russia, EU and NATO than they are now.

As a regional hub for partner organizations and international clients, since 2003, GORBI is the only Georgian member of the Gallup International research network to have over two decades of experience in survey research in post-Soviet Union countries, as well as Mongolia and Iraq. All surveys were conducted on a national representative sample of 1,000 respondents; data retains a 3% margin of error, with confidence at 95%. This data was provided exclusively to the Financial. Please do not visit our site (www.gorbi.com); it is under construction.