TBILISI --- During a visit to Georgia, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has again said that the South Caucasus country will eventually join the Western military alliance, despite the Kremlin's fierce opposition.
Stoltenberg was in Tbilisi on March 25 to hold meetings with Georgian officials and attend joint NATO-Georgia military exercises.
Speaking alongside Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze, he said that the 29 NATO member states had "clearly stated that Georgia will become a member of NATO."
"We will continue working together to prepare for Georgia's NATO membership," Stoltenberg said, adding that no country has the right to influence NATO's open-door policy.
"We are not accepting that Russia or any other power can decide what members can do," he said.
Bakhtadze said that "NATO membership is the choice of the Georgian people."
At a 2008 summit in Bucharest, NATO agreed that Georgia will eventually become a member, but no firm date has been set, although the membership perspective for the country has been reconfirmed at every summit ever since.
The country of some 3.7 million people fought a brief war with Russia in August 2008, and Moscow’s continued military presence on the country’s territory adds to tensions in the region.
After the war, Russia left thousands of troops in Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and recognized both as independent countries.
In Tbilisi, Stoltenberg held talks with Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, during which he hailed Georgia's commitment to reforms.
The NATO chief also reiterated the allies’ support for Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Held at the Krtsanisi National Training Center near Tbilisi, the 12-day joint military exercises involve around 350 personnel from 24 NATO member states and partner countries.
The drills, dubbed NATO-Georgia Exercise 2019, will last until March 29.