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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

Another government but the same problem in Latvia

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Latvia is on the brink of a social explosion. Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš’s statement cold serve as the impetus to it. In an interview with LNT’s programme 900 sekundes last week he said that “Latvia is currently unable to significantly raise the wages of teachers, because it would require either increasing the budget deficit or higher taxes.” This statement was made despite all promises to teachers made by the previous government. The head of the government cynically reminded that compared to other countries, Latvia has too many teachers per its number of pupils.

In the morning of Wednesday, February 13, he told that the promise by his fellow party member, ex-Minister of Education and Science, Kārlis Šadurskis, had been made in relation to school reform. The increase included in the Latvian state budget of 2019 had actually been an effort to avoid the reduction of the size of teacher salaries, the PM explained. Thus he insisted that there were no plans to increase salaries, just to keep them at the same level. To all appearances school reform will raise questions. The government is not going to fire teachers directly, it plans to reduce the number of schools and as a result teachers will be forced to quit.

According to the news that the Riga City Council is planning to shut down two schools and merge eight, the promises not to cut the number of teachers are forgotten. The new government which only few weeks ago struggled for people trust, does not care about people’s loyalty any more.

Such behaviour could be easily regarded by Latvians as betrayal and an insult. So the new government could not even fight the results of short-sighted social policy not to mention the needed fight with the causes of such problems.

According to Statistical Yearbook of Latvia 2018, public and private pre-school education institutions’ pedagogical staff (at the beginning of 2017 school year) in the public sector counts 10 633 persons. These professionals monthly earn about 800 euro.

Is it a big problem to find the source of financing such vulnerable sphere as education?

That’s for sure, people, who are near our children, give knowledge, spend a lot of time with them, who are responsible for Latvian future should not make ends meet.

For instance, government does not make any difficulties for the realization of ambitious military projects. It has become known that from 2018 to 2021, Latvia plans to invest about €50 million annually into military infrastructure, the ministry of National Defence said January 25, reports LETA. The bulk of the funds will go to the Ādaži military base.

€50 million annually would be a substantial help to Latvian teachers! Unfortunately, teachers are not so important for the country image, so they will continue not to live, but to exist.

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Eastern Europe

Expansion of Georgia’s Black Sea Ports: Modus Vivendi for Georgia

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Over the past several months, a whole range of actions has taken place to expand all of Georgia’s existing and future Black Sea ports. These moves, in their entirety, could have geopolitical significance on at least the regional level as it will help further connect the country to the world maritime routes, increase the country’s transit potential and also enhance its position when it comes to China’s multi-billion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Several weeks ago, the European Union decided to financially support the Anaklia Deep Sea Port. In a document published by the European Commission regarding the development of the ‘Trans-European Transport Network’, it is stated that 233 mln Euros have been allocated for financing the 2nd phase of the Anaklia Deep Sea Port. It is also noted in the project that hundreds of millions of Euros have been assigned for the construction of the rail lines and highways throughout Georgia which will lead to the Anaklia Deep Sea Port. Moreover, the German Development Bank (DEG) together with the Dutch development bank have also decided to invest in Anaklia.

Further south, in Poti, a decision was made to construct a multimodal transit terminal. The facility will have modern equipment able to store up to 60,000 tons of fertilizer. Wondernet Express, the international logistics company behind the project, will invest $20 million in the project.

International port operator APM Terminals, along with Poti New Terminals Consortium, have submitted a conceptual design for the expansion of the APM Terminals’ Poti Sea Port. The project entails a 14.5-meter water depth at the 700-meter quay wall and 25 hectares of land for the bulk operation yard and covered storage facilities for various cargo types, including grain, ore, and minerals.

The US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has issued a loan of $50 million to Pace Group to develop a multi-functional marine terminal in Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti, aimed at expanding its operational capacities.

In Batumi, it was agreed that the expansion of the port will take place with the construction of an additional terminal.

It was even announced by the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Giorgi Kobulia that the discussion of a ferry line between Georgia and the EU has been renewed.

Overall, these decisions show that there is a certain progress being made on Georgia’s Black Sea ports development and their inclusion in the world maritime network. This global financing from Europe to the US also shows how these geopolitical players regard the South Caucasus and Georgia in particular. One could surmise that the geopolitical projection of those global companies is based upon the idea that the situation in Georgia will remain stable and that Georgian-Russian relations are unlikely to take a confrontational course (at least from the mid-term perspective).

But this expansion of Georgia’s sea port infrastructure could also lead to increased interest from China in the Georgian transit corridor. I argued in a previous article for GEORGIA TODAY that, although Georgia does not figure in China’s BRI, the Chinese project is an evolving one. I suggested in the same article that over time, new corridors would appear; that the BRI, rather than being a static initiative, is in fact a model which will constantly adjust to rising opportunities.

It might be suggested that a more developed infrastructure will eventually draw the Chinese to Georgia’s Black Sea ports. The above-mentioned developments at Anaklia, Poti and Batumi can be considered the first stage in this process.

Taking a global perspective of these economic developments, I will argue that one of the scenarios in which Georgia and all the neighboring countries will reap benefits, is when as many world actors as possible have stakes in the Georgian economic corridor. It would be a certain modus vivendi for Georgia’s future development.

Analysts often argue that there is a solely military solution to Georgia’s problem with Russia. However, it is suggested here that yet another, and probably more accurate, solution to the Georgian dilemma for everyone (including the Russians) would be a Georgia where every great player has economic interests and is forced to upkeep the geopolitical security in the country for those very interests.

Author’s note: First published in Georgia Times

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Eastern Europe

Trump buys Lithuania, EU cannot stop it

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The US President Donald Trump is no doubt a successful businessman who rules his country as if it is a huge enterprise. And this kind of management, to his mind, should lead to success. And very often it really works. As a wise leader he uses different tools to reach his goals. Thus, the most cunning one, which the US exploits in Europe – is indirect influence on the EU countries to gain the desired aim. The EU just becomes a tool in “capable hands” of the US.

Let us give the simple example. Last week the Ministry of National Defence of Lithuania announced that the Lithuanian Air Force Base in Šiauliai would get de-icing equipment for the aircraft. It would be acquired according to an agreement signed by the Ministry of National Defence and the AF Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate (AFSACD) on behalf of the Government of the United States of America.

It is known that the new equipment is capable of removing ice from aircraft at the necessary height which allows the Šiauliai Air Base to support bigger aircraft of the Alliance, such as C-17 – one of the largest transport aircraft capable of moving a large number of soldiers and large amounts of cargo.

It is said that “the procurement for the Lithuanian Air Force Base will fill a critical capability gap and allow the Base personnel to carry out cold weather operations, as well as support the NATO Air Policing Mission. The equipment will also be used for providing servicing for the aircraft of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battle Group-contributing countries and other NATO allies at the Air Base.”

But according to data, only three C-17s belongs to NATO. The US, in its turn, has 222 C-17s in service as of Jan. 2018. Among EU member states the only country that has C-17A ERs is the United Kingdom with 8 C-17A ERs in use. But The United Kingdom is in the process of leaving the organization. So, it is logical to assume that the most interested country in deploying C-17 in Lithuania is the US, not the EU or even NATO. And of course Lithuania cannot even dream of having such planes.

The second issue which is even more important is the fact that the agreement of approximate value of USD 1.03 million is financed from the European Security Assistance Fund (ESAF). Lithuania is not able to share the burden.

So, nothing depends on Lithuania in this issue. It only gives permission.

In the recent years Lithuania’s procurement from the US has grown significantly. The ministry of National Defence is currently in negotiations with the US department of Defence for procuring JLTV all-terrain vehicles.

Unfortunately, being a member of the EU, Lithuania so hardly depends on the US in military and security spheres that it often mixes up its real needs, responsibilities to the EU with the US interests in the region. Such approach could seriously complicate the relations with neighbouring Russia and Belarus which Lithuania borders. These two countries are interested in Lithuania as an economic partner. But if Lithuania will pose military threat to them, deploying US military equipment, these states could terminate any economic cooperation.

Is it a cooperation or manipulation and who will benefit?

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