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Durbin Wants To Put Georgia On Pathway To NATO Membership

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin has been supportive of how the U.S. froze bank accounts and barred visas of Russian officials over that country’s action in Ukraine.  

But the Illinois Democrat wants to send a stronger message to Russia by taking initial steps to admit the Republic of Georgia into NATO.

“They’ll anticipate this fall, I believe, a memorandum of agreement that is the next step toward membership in NATO,” Durbin said, during an interview at Scott Air Force Base last week. “It is a process that takes some time. And it takes a required investment by the host country that they are going to build up a military – a professional military – to defend themselves and help defend others. So I want to stand behind Georgia.”

While emphasizing that its too early to give Georgia full NATO membership, Durbin added that he wants to forge an agreement to improve Georgia’s military. Russia invaded Georgia in 2008.

If Georgia ever obtains NATO membership, Durbin said, it could serve as a strict bulwark against Russian intervention.

“The fact is under the NATO agreement, we have a mutual defense agreement. If one allied nation is attacked under NATO, we all come to the defense,” Durbin said. “That is what NATO’s all about. So anytime (Russian President Vladimir) Putin crosses that line, if he ever dares to, he runs the risk that the entire NATO alliance will turn on him. He hasn’t done it yet. I hope he never does.”

During his appearance on the Politically Speaking podcast, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, suggested that initial steps should be taken to bring Ukraine and Moldova into NATO.

Durbin said it’s too early to make an offer to those countries. The focus, he said, should be on Georgia.

“There are things we can do. We can, with other NATO allies, help Georgia establish a professional military,” Durbin said. “They should have that anyway. That doesn’t mean American troops on the ground. I don’t see that. But providing that with the basics in terms of training and organization, that’s desperately needed right now.”

After President Barack Obama issued the sanctions against Russian officials, Russia retaliated by instituting a travel ban against American political figures. Durbin didn’t make the list, and he quipped “under the Soviet style system, I don’t think I can ask for a recount.”

But Durbin did say that the U.S. and its European allies should coordinate to offer additional sanction against Russia. If America acts alone, he said, it wouldn’t be terribly effective.

“In this situation, I think we can do more. But we need to do it with other nations,” Durbin said. “Unilateral sanctions don’t have much impact. But if we can have sanctions that are backed up by Europe and other countries, yes. We can have more of an impact on Russia. And we should.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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