The internal political crisis of Georgia with the replacement of Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia for the previously held this post Irakli Garibashvili has adjusted the timing of the next meeting of the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Initially scheduled for February 19 in Baku, it will now take place somewhat later, but this tactical hitch will hardly affect the dynamics of the formation of a geopolitical mini- “axis” in the Caucasus under the leadership of Ankara.
The previous meeting of the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia in December 2019, culminating in the signing of the Action Plan for Trilateral Sectoral Cooperation for 2020-2022, became the eighth since the signing of the Trabzon Declaration in June 2012.
Initially, the idea of integrating Azerbaijan and Georgia into a kind of alliance under the auspices of Ankara was expressed after the collapse of the Soviet Union by the then President of Turkey, Suleiman Demirel. The first practical results of cooperation between the heirs of the “Sublime Port” and the two Caucasian states became evident by the second half of the 2000s, with the start of the operation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export oil pipeline supported by the Clinton administration, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, as well as with the signing of an agreement on the construction of the Kars – Akhalkalaki – Tbilisi – Baku railway, stretching for 10 years. The loan taken by Georgia from Azerbaijan for the construction of its section from the Turkish border has further strengthened Tbilisi’s dependence on Baku.
The consistent anti-Russian policy of Saakashvili, the distribution of passports to Turkish citizens posing as ethnic Georgians – chveneburi, contributed to Georgia’s movement into the strong embrace of its western and eastern Turkic neighbors. In addition to commercial interests, Ankara and Baku sought to weaken Armenia as much as possible and cut it off from regional infrastructure and communication projects.
The military component was of no less importance, taking into account the traditional oversight of the Caucasus by Turkey within the framework of NATO. Back in 2004, the Turks reconstructed the former Soviet airbase in Marneuli, and then the facility in Senaki near the borders with Russia-recognized Abkhazia, provided Georgia with free military assistance, including training programs and supplies of equipment.
Comprehensive and multifaceted Azerbaijani-Turkish military-technical cooperation does not need additional introduction. Among recent examples, we will mention the contract for the acquisition of the SOM-class high-precision cruise missiles by the Caspian country.
In March 2018, in Giresun, the defense ministers of the three countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the Governments of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Turkey on cooperation in the defense sector, covering the military-industrial complex, technology, logistics and cyber security, up to military mapping and electronic warfare. Within the framework of the ongoing trilateral military exercises, the issues of interaction of army units are being worked out in solving problems of joint protection of energy facilities and trunk pipelines.
Azerbaijan is a key supplier of fuel to the Georgian market, and Socar Georgia Petroleum, a Georgian subsidiary of the Azerbaijani state oil and gas company SOCAR, is one of the largest taxpayers and a participant in large-scale investment programs. The total volume of Azerbaijani investments in Georgia is estimated at more than $3.5 billion. More than 1000 companies with Azerbaijani capital operate in the country. In 2019, the volume of Georgian-Turkish trade amounted to about $ 1.85 billion. Turkish companies implemented 258 projects in Georgia for almost $5 billion, with about a third of them in Adjara, where the Turkish presence is especially noticeable.
The international airports of Batumi and Tbilisi are managed by the Turkish company TAV Airports Holding, which built them. The presence of Turkish business is noticeable in the energy, financial and other key sectors of the Georgian economy, which to a decisive extent depends on the smooth functioning of communication corridors along the East-West line. Recently, they have been supplemented by the Southern Gas Corridor for the delivery of “blue fuel” from the Caspian Shah Deniz field to the countries of southern Europe, which to some extent corrected the “energy map” of Eurasia.
The flip side of Georgia’s dependence on transit revenues has become a certain loss of sovereignty and national identity. So, for example, the virtually forbidden celebration of the Battle of Didgor, one of the key episodes in the medieval history of the Georgian kingdom, which sometimes successfully resisted the devastating raids of the Seljuk Turks, fell victim to the indestructible charm of Turkish “soft power”.
The results of the hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh in the fall of 2020 gave rise to talks about the resumption of railway communication between Turkey, Nakhichevan autonomy and “mainland” Azerbaijan through the Meghri region, bordering Iran, in southern Armenia. Recently, Ilham Aliyev announced the beginning of the restoration of the railway line from Horadiz to the border with Armenia, which ceased to function and was partially dismantled during the “first Karabakh war” in the early 1990s. In fact, the steel mainline on the left bank of the Araks, the resumption of functioning of which, at best, can be expected in a few years, will mean a slight decrease in the importance of the “Georgian” transit for Ankara and Baku, but there is no doubt that the trilateral format of cooperation has already gained serious scope, and to abandon no one is going to existing developments.
Following a recent meeting of the intergovernmental commission, Turkish Vice President Fuad Ogtay and Azerbaijani Prime Minister Ali Asadov signed a 138-point Action Plan for the Development of Bilateral Relations, aimed at intensifying the dialogue and involving the implementation of new joint projects. A quick glance at the map of the region is enough to make sure that many of them, like those previously implemented, are directly related to the Georgian territory.
It is obvious that Tbilisi’s economic dependence on stronger neighbors could not help transforming into a political one, which is especially important after the breakdown of the status quo in the Caucasus with the actual leveling of the “Armenian factor” of regional politics and security following the joint military-political operation of Ankara and Baku.
Recently, President Erdogan put forward a model of regional integration in the format of the so-called “platform of six” (Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, Iran, Georgia and Armenia). Something similar, only without mentioning Iran, was proposed to them in the midst of the Georgian-Russian confrontation over South Ossetia in August 2008, but remained without consequences. It appears that the current initiative will suffer a similar fate.
“The sphere of our interests includes Iraq, Syria, Libya, Crimea, Karabakh, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and other fraternal regions. Many historians believe that the borders of Turkey should include Cyprus, Aleppo, Mosul, Erbil, Kirkuk, Batumi, Thessaloniki, Varna, Western Thrace and the Aegean Islands, “the Turkish leader said in October 2016, speaking in his” small homeland ” , at the University of Rize (highlighted by us – author). And recently, one of the Turkish TV channels recalled the forecast of the analytical center Stratfor regarding the expansion of Turkey’s influence on neighboring territories, including not only the Caucasus, but also the southern regions of Russia and the Donbass.
The obvious strengthening of Turkey’s positions in the Caucasus will inevitably present Russia, which has deployed a peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh, new challenges, primarily in the security sphere.
Andrey Areshev, political scientist
Location: 103 Kurortniy Prospekt, Sochi, Russia. The Radisson Lazurnaya Hotel
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