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NATO Chief Visits Georgia to Discuss Cooperation, Path to Membership

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg traveled to Georgia Monday where he met with leaders to discuss strengthening cooperation between the nation and the alliance and a path to eventual membership.

Stoltenberg held meetings with both President Salome Zourabichvili and Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze in the capital, Tbilisi. Kobakhidze was elected to his position last month and has, at times, been critical of the West, though he has expressed a desire to join both NATO and the European Union.

At a joint news conference after their talks, Stoltenberg expressed his appreciation for Georgia’s “substantial contributions to NATO,” and said NATO fully supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He said South Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia, despite Russia’s insistence they are independent. The Russian military seized control of the territories in a brief 2008 war.

Stoltenberg also called Russia’s efforts to organize elections in parts of Georgia and Ukraine “completely illegal,” and called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent reelection as “clearly neither free, nor fair.”

“Russia persists its pursuit of its imperial ambitions, and in Ukraine the situation on the battlefield remains difficult,” Stoltenberg said. “So, it is vital that we continue to step up our support.”

Stoltenberg also credited Georgia for hosting thousands of Ukrainian refugees and providing crucial humanitarian and financial aid.

In a statement, NATO said it is stepping up its cooperation with Georgia in areas such as crisis management, cyber security, military engineering and secure communications.

The statement said Stoltenberg stressed NATO’S commitment to support Georgia’s path towards stronger democracy and “full Euro-Atlantic integration,” including the decision made during the 2008 Bucharest NATO summit to invite Georgia to eventually become a NATO member.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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