Although Congress continues to move rapidly to appropriate the final portion of its billion-dollar aid pledge to Georgia (made in the aftermath of its short, but brutal war with Russia last August), the commitment of the Obama Administration toward Tbilisi remains unclear. Georgia’s Minister for defense, Vasil Sikharulidze visits Washington this week following the conclusion of NATO exercises in the Republic. The military and peacekeeping exercises, conducted under NATO’s long-running Partnership for Peace program, are just part of Georgia’s growing relationship with the transatlantic security alliance.

The NATO-Georgia Commission, constituted in 2008, is effectively acting in place of the formal Membership Action Plan (MAP), which Georgia was denied at the Bucharest Summit under heavy Russian pressure. Although the Commission is working successfully toward reforming Georgia’s military and defense structures and increasing interoperability with NATO, the political significance of granting MAP should not be underestimated. Georgia’s aspirations to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic family are as strong as ever, and when President Obama visits Moscow next month, he must take the message that Georgia is not a bargaining chip that can be played to secure Russia’s cooperation on other matters.

Through its foreign aid and other programs, the United States is sending the message that it wants Georgia to succeed. Therefore it needs to build momentum in favor of granting Georgia MAP status and maintain the political thrust for Tbilisi’s Westwards integration. As a U.S. Senator and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, President Obama was a supporter of Georgia’s accelerated accession to MAP. Russia’s invasion of Georgia and its annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia should not change that.