Many NATO analysts are saying off the record that it may take the alliance several years to accept Georgia. But let's face the facts: Tbilisi is bound to join NATO under Saakashvili or his successor.
This seems inevitable, unless some pro-Russian government takes over and severs all relations with NATO, or if the alliance is disbanded so as not to irritate Moscow.
It appears that both scenarios are far-fetched.
A framework agreement on setting up the NATO-Georgia Commission was signed at a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. But even Scheffer could not promise that the alliance will propose a Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia at its regular summit this December in Strasbourg and Cologne.
Nevertheless, NATO stands by Georgia.
Russia should not be misled by a provision in the NATO Charter stating expressly that the alliance does not accept countries facing territorial problems. The entire post-Soviet period shows that Brussels changes rules, promises and commitments depending on the situation.
Saakashvili invited all NATO ambassadors to Gori, showing what he called evidence of an "unprovoked" Russian aggression and "barbaric outrages" perpetrated by the Russian military.
Even though Georgia may sign a Membership Action Plan either this December or at a later deadline, the final decision will largely depend on Russia's stand on the rather contradictory Caucasian peace settlement, initiated August 12 in Moscow by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, now presiding over the European Union.
Both leaders signed a six-point document, known as the Medvedev-Sarkozy Plan, that called for the belligerents not to resort to force, for a definitive halt to hostilities, that stipulated free access for humanitarian assistance and called for the withdrawal of Georgian military forces to their bases.
Under the plan, Russian armed forces must withdraw to their initial positions. Russian peacekeeping forces will implement additional security measures, while awaiting an international mechanism. Furthermore, international discussions on security and stability mechanisms for Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be launched.
Moscow has unilaterally withdrawn its forces ahead of schedule; but the other parties are not meeting it halfway.
Many people who do not like this contradictory process want to direct it away from Moscow's interests and desires. The U.S. Administration is more irritated than other governments.
On September 15, Scheffer told the Financial Times that "the option of keeping Russian forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia is not acceptable." Commenting on a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week that Moscow would base about 7,600 troops in the breakaway Georgian regions - more than double the number stationed there before last month's conflict - the NATO Secretary-General said "that is very difficult to swallow."
Although Scheffer could not make any other statements, Moscow responded that NATO was undermining the EU-brokered troop pull-out deal, perceiving this as an outrageous attack upon the organization.
The peace process is marked by some unusual transformations. The latest talks in Moscow and Tbilisi and follow-up statements create the impression that Russia and the West exist in two parallel worlds separated by a time warp, and that they are walking along the Moebius Strip, a non-orientable two-dimensional surface, discovered by German mathematician August Moebius (1790-1868), that has only one side when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space.
Two people can simultaneously walk normally or upside down along the Moebius strip in zero gravity. The same can be said about the Caucasian peace process when normal talks are held in Moscow, but everything turns topsy-turvy after Sarkozi arrives in Tbilisi or returns home.
It may be a paradox, but formal peace agreements for the Caucasus reached in Moscow are either misinterpreted or distorted in Tbilisi.
Any peace settlement is a jigsaw puzzle that can only be assembled in months or even years. However, the current incoherent talks are disturbing, causing Moscow to gradually lose trust in EU mediators.
At first, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the above-mentioned Medvedev-Sarkozy peace plan had been incorrectly translated into French and English, that the Russian text had mentioned "the security of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," rather than "security in Abkhazia and South Ossetia" as was contained in Tbilisi's French and English versions.
Although official documents have repeatedly been forged, it is hard to believe that the translators made such a major mistake.
On September 8, President Saakashvili signed addenda to the Medvedev-Sarkozy peace plan brought by the EU delegation from Moscow. Tbilisi interprets the document so that EU observers will stay not only in the buffer zone around South Ossetia and Abkhazia but also in both republics.
According to Sarkozy, this matches the spirit of the latest agreements.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.