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The Price of Opportunism: Georgia’s Saakashvilli and the Lessons of History

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Modern diplomacy does not imply one should ignore the lessons of contemporary history. Nor should one sacrifice prudent long-term policies for the perception of short-term national gains. Both may have taken root in Mikhiel Saakashvilli’s reign in the Republic of Georgia. An observer might wonder why Georgia has put itself in positions that have reduced its sovereignty.

Sovereignty does not simply represent the relative extent to which the military and economic power of a state is measured, but rather it is the capacity of a state’s power and right to act. Clearly, sovereignty can be projected beyond the recognized physical bounds of a state.

In January 2004, Saakashvilli became the president of Georgia, riding the wave of the Rose Revolution, predicated on ridding the country of endemic corruption, removing Russian military bases from Georgian territory, and centering on European integration and NATO membership. While many of these goals might be laudable, what appears as an underlying assumption by Saakashvilli and others is by acting the part of a surrogate, the west will automatically embrace all that is in Georgia’s interest. The folly of such assumption was made clear in 2008 when events in South Ossetia degenerated into a short mini-war between Russia and Georgia. With Georgia on its own, it lost sovereignty over South Ossetia and Russia recognized the independent status of former Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

During the Saakashvilli years, citizens of Turkey were given Georgian citizenship by claiming they were of Georgian ethnicity by, for example, speaking a few words in Georgian. [1] Many of these dual citizens set up shop in Batumi on the Georgian Black Sea coast where there is a clear Turkish flavor to Batumi today. Others opened businesses throughout Georgia, mainly in Tbilisi. In the short term this might not be an issue. However, Saakashvilli set up conditions in Batumi something akin to what took place in the region of Alexandretta, the once French-administered, mainly Arab populated Mediterranean coastal province of post-WWI Syria. Saakshvilli’s policies did not take two important items into account: the very dynamic nature of states in regional relations, and the existential expansionist tendency of Turkey. The latter is expressed today as neo-Ottomanism, which has always existed since the very early 1920s. In 2004, who would have thought the somewhat secular nature of Turkey would be transformed into a near-Islamic state within a decade? In any case, it should have been predicted. Part of national strategic planning is to understand the forces, sometimes hidden just under the surface, which could potentially end up working against state interests, decades in the future. In Georgia, such planning was firmly centered on NATO membership, uber alles. Saakashvilli’s strategic long-term planning was in fact short-term opportunism.

Turkish Policies

Since the 1920s, Turks have claimed lands as far apart as Bosnia, Bulgaria, Crimea, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Syria, and all of Cyprus. [2] This was based on what was known as Misak-ı Millî, or National Pact. See map. Only last year, Turkish President Erdogan questioned Greek sovereignty over the Dodecanese Islands and the mayor of Ankara added all of the Greek Aegean to Erdogan’s list. [3] All these claims could be dismissed as political rhetoric, but Turks have traditionally used such statements as trial balloons, gauging the degree of international response. Countries with transformational or expansionist agendas wait for opportunities to execute their plans, and Turkey has been rather successful with this strategic policy; its trail is briefly reviewed below.

turkmap1

The Republic of Turkeys borders according to the National Pact [4]

Alexandretta cum Hatay

During the lead-up to WWII, anti-fascist powers sought political allies, for much of the world was fracturing between fascist and non-fascist camps. With French officials looking the other way, a fraudulent referendum employing also Turkish soldiers and tens of thousands of imported Turkish citizens, a joint French- and Turkish-administered pseudo-republic of Hatay was “voted” into being in 1938. This pseudo-republic was formerly known as the Mediterranean coastal region of Alexandretta under the French Syrian Mandate. France relinquished control of this region solely to Turkey in late 1939. The pseudo-republic did not have a Turkish majority; rather, it was 60% non-Turk. In a quid pro quo with France, Turkey agreed not to enter WWII on the side of Nazi Germany. However, within two years, Turkey signed a friendship treaty (Türkisch-Deutscher Freundschaftsvertrag) with the Nazis. Subsequently, “neutral” Turkey supplied the majority of Germany’s chrome and other essential material aiding the Nazi war effort. Turkey exited WWII with a larger landmass and eventually joined NATO in 1952.

Cyprus

In 1974, Turkish armed forces invaded and eventually occupied about 40% of the Republic of Cyprus. Although not an outright annexation, the Turkish occupation continues to this day, backed by 40,000 soldiers. As with Alexandretta/Hatay in 1939, Cyprus was a right-time/right-place venue with prevailing conditions in favor of a Turkish invasion and subsequent occupation. After years of Greek-Turkish ethnic strife on this island subsequent to its 1960 independence from the UK, Turkey had its plans ready, only requiring the right conditions for their implementation. On July 20, 1974, Turkish troops invaded Cyprus, five days after a coup d’état in Nicosia, the Cypriot capital. The coup’s goal was Cyprus’ annexation with Greece. Great Britain was a guarantor of the island’s sovereignty. US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger strongly lobbied against a British military operation that would have preempted the second Turkish invasion while Article IV of the 1947 agreement between Turkey and the United States required Turkey to obtain US consent to use its military assistance for something other than it was furnished. [5] Clearly, the guarantor of Cyprus’ sovereignty had other plans as thousands of British troops stationed in Cyprus didn’t interfere with the Turkish invasion while the US spoke out of both sides of its mouth.

Within a couple of weeks, Greece’s ruling military junta collapsed and Turkey invaded the island again, expelling nearly 150,000 Greeks from the north of the island. Eventually, Turkey imported 150,000-160,000 settlers from mainland Turkey into the northern occupied zones, as well as absorbed ethnic Turks living south of the front lines. This enabled the 18% Turkish population of the island to grab almost 40% of its land mass. Since the formative days of the Turkish Republic, an undertone of Turkish designs on Cyprus existed. The north of the island is referred to as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an internationally unrecognized entity.

Abkhazia

In September 2009, Unal Cevikoz, the Deputy Under Secretary for Political Affairs in the Turkish Foreign Ministry met with the Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba in Abkhazia. An offer of Turkish recognition of Abkhazia in exchange for Russian recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was denied by Russia of any such quid pro quo. Turkey’s Abkhazian lobbies were pushing for recognition, making a striking parallel to events in Northern Cyprus. [6] Quoting  Today’s Zaman, September 17, 2009 [7],

“During a period in which Abkhazia’s independence process has begun to gain momentum, Cevikoz could not have gone to Sukhumi to engage in efforts to restart a peace process between Abkhazia and Georgia. Therefore, we can presume that, to prevent Abkhazia from unifying any further with the Russian Federation, Ankara may have asked Tbilisi to allow a controlled relationship with Abkhazia. To be more explicit, the door may be opened to preventing Georgia from intercepting ships on humanitarian missions or those involved in trade traveling between Turkey and Abkhazia using the Black Sea.”

Further it was argued

“…Ankara sees that a close relationship with Abkhazia would eventually produce a similar multi-dimensional relationship with Cypriot Turks in the eastern Mediterranean. Abkhazia in this case would become an accessible Black Sea coastline for Turkey.”

Turkey was attempting to preempt a closer Russian relationship with Abkhazia by offering its own close relationship.

Armenia

On two occasions, October 6 and 7 of 2015, Turkish military helicopters violated Armenian airspace. NATO ignored the incident, which was clearly designed to send a message to the Russians, whose interests in Syria – at the time – were not in line with those of Turkey. This culminated in the Turkish shoot-down of a Russian SU25 only six weeks later. The resulting war of words, Russian sanctions of Turkish products and services, as well as a break in relations changed when Russian and Turkish Syrian interests just happened to line up a year later.

Adjaria

Late last year, Turkey made it known that based on their Turkish National Pact and a parochial interpretation of 1921 Treaties of Kars and Moscow, the Autonomous Georgian Republic of Adjaria, with the major Georgian Black Sea port of Batumi, will revert to Turkish jurisdiction in 2021. [8] Various maps and interpretations exist regarding such claims. [9]

Erdogan, in a speech at Rize University in Turkey, said, [all parentheses mine]

“Our physical boundaries are different from the boundaries of our heart … and I am asking you Rize my dear bothers. Is it possible to separate Rize from Batumi? Or is it possible to think Edirne (far NW Turkey on the Greek border) apart from Thessaloniki (in Greece proper) or Kardzhali (in Bulgaria, just west of Edirne)?” [10]

It is unknown what prevailing regional conditions may exist in 2021. Perhaps Turkey will make no demands, or it will come to some agreement for even a stronger relationship with Adjaria. Will conditions deteriorate in Turkey where their irredentist reaction would be to protect “our Adjarian brothers and Turkish investment in Batumi?” Erdogan’s words may be dismissed but what cannot be dismissed is long-term Turkish planning.

The success Turkey has had in expanding its landmass and regional influence, combined with the vagaries of state interests coinciding makes one wonder what Saakashvilli was thinking when he basically opened Batumi for heavy Turkish investment. In the short term, it may have had a positive effect on the economy of Batumi. However, in the long term, Georgia has opened up the gate to an increased Turkish influence in Adjaria where, given the right conditions, a Turkish occupation would be agreed to by other regional powers. This is not out of the realm of possibility considering events over the past hundred years. A Turkish firm, TAV (Tepe-Akfen-Vie), has been awarded management control over Tbilisi and Batumi airports. [11] Are not Georgians able to run their own airports? [12] How much more of Georgia’s sovereignty is being bargained for short-term gain?

With east-west pipeline routes that crisscross Georgia, which clearly concern Azerbaijan and Turkey, one has to wonder why the May 23, 2017 meeting of Georgian, Azerbaijani, and Turkish defense ministers was allowed to take place in Batumi. The meeting resulted in closer military cooperation. What message was being interpreted by long-term Turkish planners? The Georgian track record includes Tbilisi having already acquiesced to both Azerbaijani and Turkish pressure on Georgian control over its section of the proposed Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad. [13]

Earlier this year, the Georgian government suspended the license of Batumi’s Refaiddin Shahin Friendship School. [14] This institution was part of the Gulen school system sponsored by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkish President Erdogan of being behind the July 2016 attempted Turkish coup d’état. Georgia granted Turkey’s demand for the school to be shut down and replaced with a new school supervised by the Turkish Ministry of Education. [15] Note the venue. One might ask where the Georgian flag is; this being Batumi, after all.

On June 21, 2017, Kutaisi Street in Batumi was blocked off for a Turkish celebration with Turkish flags flying everywhere, and there were no Georgian flags to be seen. [16] There are repercussions, some irreversible, upon confusing long-term strategic planning with short-term tactical opportunistic decisions made a decade ago.

Marnueli

Both Iran [17] and Turkey are competing for influence in the Georgian Marnueli region of southern Georgia, which is demographically a Shia-Muslim Azerbaijani-speaking majority. While Iran has not engaged in expanding its borders for centuries, the Turkish army completed the modernization of Georgia’s Marneuli airfield. [18] Starting from March 2000, Turkish warplanes could use this Marnueli airbase in an agreement signed by Eduard Shevardnadze. [19] The question is not who will win influence in Marnueli, but how much Georgia may have already lost.

Georgian Public Reaction

The Georgians themselves have reacted to such encroachment. Last September, a riot-like rampage erupted on Aghmashenebeli Street in Tbilisi with clear anti-Turkish overtones. [20] This street has many Turkish-owned businesses and the rampage resulted in a lot of property damage.

Nerves got frayed in Batumi during April of 2016 [21] when a Turkish land owner was accused of destroying the wall of a church. Although details were not clear, such reaction was magnified by the efforts associated with the construction of a second mosque in Batumi, specifically of the Turkish-Ottoman style. This controversy has been brewing for over five years. Former Prime Ministers Bidzina Ivanishvili promised to build the second mosque in 2012 and his successor Irakli Garibashvili promised to look into this request.

Turkish Defeat at Didgori, Turkish Victory in the Georgian Parliament

On March 23, 2017, the Georgian Parliament approved the first hearing of the Didgori War Day, August 12, as “Great Victory Day”. [22] This celebrates the Georgian victory over Seljuk Turk invaders on August 12, 1121. However, at the request of the Turkish government, the Georgian parliament suspended discussions on making this Georgian victory a national holiday, claiming such a decision will result in “unpleasant relations”. Georgian PM, Nuktri Kantaria noted [in translation],

“Unfortunately, we are a small country, we do not have imperial intentions, and we do not try to put someone else under our influence. Thats why we have diplomacy, we have to tread carefully on the edge, so we will not lose anything and harm the countrys perspective. Turkey is our huge neighboring state, it has the capability to substantially increase tensions with us. Turkey does not recognize Abkhazia or Samachablo [South Ossetia] as independent countries, we are grateful for that, and has no pretensions on Adjara; however, the national perception document is clearly written that Adjara is its [Turkish] territory. The Kars Treaty has no time limit and this agreement clearly states that Georgia conceded land to Turkey in 1921. In other words, these lands were mine and were conceded to you, not that justice has been restored. There are a lot of things we need to use a little bit of intelligence for their resolution.”

This bill will come up for parliamentary discussion in July. Its outcome will be interesting, for the “Great Victory Day” defined the survival of the Georgian nation. The Georgian Parliament will have to decide what is more important for them, the celebration of national survival or serving Turkish whims. They are, in fact, mutually exclusive.

[1] „გაუგებარია, რატომ მისცეს თურქეთის მოქალაქეებს საქართველოს მოქალაქეობა

[2] Turkey’s New Maps Are Reclaiming the Ottoman Empire

[3] Ankara’s mayor claims all the Greek islands as Turkish property [Map]

[4] Deliogul at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

[5] Turkey’s Foreign Policy in Transition: 1950-1974, 1975, Kemal Karpat, page 33

[6] Turkey: Ankara Probing for Stronger Ties to Renegade Georgian Region of Abkhazia and Turkey and Georgia: Zero-Problems?, page 4

[7] Turkey Considers the Status of Abkhazia

[8] Erdoğan’ın sözünü ettiği Misak-ı Milli nedir?

[9] Turkey’s Misak-i Milli and Caucasus

[10] “We Are Present in the History of Mosul”

[11] Georgia Airport Profile

[12] New Airport Terminal Opened in Tbilisi

[13] The silk & steel road through the Caucasus

[14] Georgia: Gülen School Loses License

[15] Turkey opens first state school in Georgia’s Batumi

[16] Events in Batumi June 21, 2017

[17] Iran Builds Soft Power in Georgia to Foster Tighter Nexus With Russia

[18] Turkey and Georgia: Strategic Connections

[19] Turkish Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Period, Nasuh Uslu, Nova Publishers, 2004, page 72

[20] შსს – სამართალდამცველებმა „მარჯანიშვილზე“ არასანქცირებული, აგრესიული მსვლელობა დაშალეს და 11 პირი დააკავეს

[21] ბათუმში თურქმა ბიზნესმენმა ეკლესიის გალავანი დაანგრია

[22] თურქეთის საელჩოს თხოვნით პარლამენტმა დიდგორის დღის უქმედ გამოცხადებაზე კანონპროექტი შეაჩერა

David Davidian is a Lecturer at the American University of Armenia. He has spent over a decade in technical intelligence analysis at major high technology firms.

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Eastern Europe

Quality of Life in Latvia is not a priority

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Four presidents, 14 governments and eight Seimas have changed in Latvia over the past 20 years. The country joined the European Union and NATO, and then switched to the euro. But have Latvians become better off? Has their quality of life improved? Statistics shows that the general well-being of population remains very low. Political turbulence only worsens the situation.

Thus, according to Numbeo.com portal, one of the largest databases on the cost of living and quality of life worldwide, Lithuania and Latvia are the worst Nordic countries for quality of life.

Quality of Life Index by Country 2019

The leaders of the rating are Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Latvia showed the lowest result, the quality of life index here is 149.15 points. In Lithuania, the result is slightly higher – 156.36 points.
Numbeo experts took into account the purchasing power of the population, safety, health care, the cost of living and some other factors.

It is noted that the world ranking of countries for the quality of life is led by Denmark, Switzerland and Finland. Estonia took 11th place, Lithuania – 29th, and Latvia – 34th.

The more so, experts said that the proportion of shadow economy in Latvia rose by 2.2 percentage point last year to 24.2 percent.

The shadow economy proportion in Latvia has risen for the past two years in a row.

EU-SILC survey gives another frightening indicator. According to eurostat.ec.europa.eu, Latvia, as well as Estonia and Lithuania are top three EU countries in terms of poverty risk among pensioners.

Political and economic short-sightedness has lead to the state when the Baltic States have become the first battlefield in case of war between NATO and Russia.

The United States is preparing for the use of nuclear weapons in Europe along with non-nuclear countries, said Vladimir Ermakov, director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Experts point out that military airfields in the Baltic States and Poland have already been prepared to receive NATO aircraft that can carry tactical nuclear weapons. If take his words seriously, this means the end of the Baltic States’ existence.

The behavior of the authorities guaranteed Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia the status of the first battlefield, despite the fact that in the event of war, economy would be completely destroyed and population would disappear.

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Eastern Europe

How the Caspian Sea joins the Black Sea

Asim Suleymanov

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In the development of international cooperation and the deepening of industrial cooperation, the leading role belongs to the formation of a network of international transport corridors. It has a special place in solving transport problems associated with the expansion of interstate transportation, economic, cultural and other ties, with the creation of an international transport infrastructure that has common technical parameters and ensures the use of a single transportation technology as the basis for the integration of national transport systems into the global transport system.

Developing corridors are to play a system-forming role in the economic and social development of the territories along which they pass. Their creation is directly related to projects for the development of sectors of the economy and social sphere.

If a modern transport corridor connects the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, it will lead to uninterrupted cargo transportation between Asia and Europe. New opportunities for the regional states will be opened up. This was confirmed by the first meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Romania, Georgia and Turkmenistan, held in mid-March 2019 in Bucharest.

According to its results, a political declaration was signed. The document reflects the determination of the four states to implement the project of an international freight route between two seas by joint forces.

As expected, the corridor between the two seas will have a real impact on the standard of living in the participating countries and cause a sharp surge in business activity in neighboring regions.

The idea of the project is to make full use of the geographical proximity of Romania, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, as well as the capabilities of the ports of Constanta in Romania, Poti in Georgia, Baku in Azerbaijan and Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan.

New transport route will allow establishing a direct connection between the port of Constanta and the Danube River, and then the rivers and canals on the European continent, that will open access to Central and Northern Europe.

In general, the Caspian-Black Sea region is becoming links of a single Eurasian transport network.

The main question is how to direct the necessary volumes of cargo along this route, which would make its work profitable and profitable. To meet these challenges, in the near future four countries have planned to create an expert working group, optimize working procedures, harmonize tariffs, identify remaining infrastructure and legal constraints, and jointly promote the project at the international level, including in the course of interaction with the European Union. But it will not be easy for them to achieve all these ambitious goals.

The closest allies of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia, support all the projects aimed at strengthening economic cooperation between Baku and other countries of the Caspian-Black Sea region. Moscow and Ankara are lobbying for the creation of a transport corridor between the two seas.

Azerbaijan once again demonstrates that it is becoming one of the most important transport hubs of Eurasia – a transit hub in which the East and the West are tightly tied.

This country is interested in East and West, not conflicting with each other, but driven forward by the single energy of partnership.

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Eastern Europe

China’s changing interests in South Caucasus

Orkhan Baghirov

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President Ilham Aliyev and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing Photo: Azertac

On April25-28,“Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation” took place in the capital city of China. From South Caucasus region only Azerbaijan leader Aliyev was in the list of 36 top-Level attendees (Diplomat, April 27).As the Azerbaijan was participating first forum in 2017 on ministerial level, visit of President in second forum demonstrates intention of both sides for close cooperation within the framework BRI.

Despite fact that China’s strong ambition to enter European market through BRI makes Georgia one of the most important players in the region (it has FTA both with China and EU) its high-level officials did not attend the forum (Emerging-Europe, January 3, 2018).

Generally, South Caucasus region was not in the Chinese focus when the BRI project was unveiled in 2013.Its attitude to the region has changed afterwards. Being part of the Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor, South Caucasus has strategic importance for China. At the same time, transportation projects such as Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and Anaklia Deep-Sea Port has increased significance of the region.

From geopolitical point of view stability in Azerbaijan and Georgia’s political problems with Russia creates ground for Chinese presence in Caucasus. It is clear that having political problems with West Russia is not willing to confront China. Therefore, using these opportunities and establishing good relations both with Georgia and Azerbaijan China is able to avoid its biggest rival in Eurasia and use shortest way to European markets (Trend.az, April 10).

Importance of South Caucasus countries within the BRI framework is not same. Armenia has less potential for BRI. It does not have enough transportation infrastructure and its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey closed. Armenia has a potential to become a corridor to markets of Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and Iran. However, it does not have borders with the members of EEU and  railway project between Armenia and Iran is not viable due its high costs ($3.2 billion) and less importance in commercial means (Vestnikkavkaza, August 25, 2018).Also, China has borders with two biggest members of EEU and could easily reach EEU markets through them. 

In the case of Georgia, China is the biggest foreign investor. China’s Hualing Group controls Kutaisi free industrial zone (FIZ), owns Basis Bank, hotels, wine export enterprise. It also constructs “Tbilisi Sea New City” near Tbilisi Sea in which company has already invested around 150 million dollars (hualing.ge).Another Chinese company CEFC Energy owns 75% of Poti FIZ (Cbw.ge, March 20).

Unlike the Georgia, mostly state-owned Chinese companies have invested in Azerbaijan. One of these companies CTIEC Group constructed biggest cement factory in Azerbaijan in 2014.China also has a great interest on Baku International Sea Trade Port as it is one of the main ports within BRI. Based on intergovernmental grant agreement China transferred $2 million worth equipment to the port (Azernews, April 4, 2018).

Despite fact that Azerbaijan is China’s key trade partner in the South Caucasus (it accounts 43 percent of China’s trade turnover in the region) it has massive investments in Georgia (Azernews, April 25). It mostly related to political orientation of these countries. Georgia follows more western orientation that made it more attractive for China while Azerbaijan implements balanced strategy and it does not want to feel China’s pressure. Besides, Azerbaijan is not in need of financial assistance like Armenia and Georgia as it has enough financial reserves.

However, recent developments of Sino-Azeri economic relations within the framework of the Second Belt and Road Forum creates new perspectives for China’s presence in South Caucasus. During the forum 10 agreements worth of 821 million USD has been signed  (Azvision.az, April 24). These contracts cover different economic spheres of non-oil sector including the construction of a tire factory in the Sumgayit chemical-industrial park, the creation of a 300-hectare greenhouse complex in the Kurdamir region of Azerbaijan, and the construction of agrological industrial parks in the Guba, Goychay and Khachmaz regions (Turan.az April 24).If we take in account that Chinese investors have invested800 million USD in the economy of Azerbaijan since independence, obtained agreements in the forum worth of same amount shows China’s growing interest in Azerbaijan.

Nevertheless, it does not mean that China’s preference of Georgia has changed. Within the BRI project both Azerbaijan and Georgia are of geopolitical importance for China. It is in China’s interest to boost bilateral relations with both of countries. It is apparent that China already has considerable investments in Georgia and now it is time to deepen cooperation with Azerbaijan. At the same time Azerbaijan is not going to cross limits of its balanced policy. Chinese companies that signed agreements in second forum are government affiliated companies as well. It again shows that Azerbaijan is willing to deepen cooperation without creating room for pressure in its domestic economy.

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