Agendas and New Algorithms of Policies in the South Caucasus - 2023: Georgia

We Are Too Attached to the Traumas of Our Past

Malkhaz Saldadze, political scientist, Georgia

- With what current processes are Georgia’s threats and opportunities more associated: the Armenian-Azerbaijani post-war processes or Russia’s war against Ukraine? How are these threats and opportunities manifested?

These are interconnected processes. It is impossible to say that what is happening between Armenia and Azerbaijan is somehow detached from the context of Russia and Ukraine. If we look at the security architecture created by Russia in the South Caucasus after 2008 - following the invasion of Georgia - it is changing. I wouldn’t say that it was the security that suited Georgia. But on the other hand, what will be the security framework that will be created, if it is created at all? I see that a long-lasting chaos is more likely than a certain security architecture, which will be set (created) by someone. It’s a long-term process. I don’t see any possibility for the crisis over Ukraine to be somehow settled in the near future. I see that the parties are not getting tired (I’ll just say it straight: the exhaustion of the Russian Federation is more desirable than that of Ukraine) so that we can understand how the post-Soviet space will be shaped in the future. And, of course, security depends on what processes will unfold between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Today, in public opinion both in Georgia and in the world, Ukraine overshadows what is happening in the South Caucasus and Armenian-Azerbaijani relations. Hostilities are not suspended - there are constant waves of tension around Karabakh and along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, and it is impossible to predict when this situation will stabilize. The fact that Ukraine is overshadowing other processes gives odds to certain forces: this is, of course, Azerbaijan, which is reveling in its victory, the feeling of triumph, and Turkey, which is getting more powerful (is steadily getting stronger) in the South Caucasus.

- What is Georgia’s agenda regarding the currently existing interrelations in the South Caucasus?

The Georgian government, unfortunately, does not have a clear position either on the Russian-Ukrainian war or on the Armenian-Azerbaijani one. No clear position can be seen, and this gives reason to think that the Georgian political elite is in a deep crisis, it is stuck in the domestic political struggle. And it is connected with what is going on around, it determines what kind of state will evolve in our country. I believe that the main problem is that the domestic political struggle responds to what is happening outside of Georgia only in relation to those issues that concern, for instance, the cooperation between Georgia and the EU. But, on the other hand, this is a question of the state's self-identification, which should be somehow voiced by the political elite. We do not see that.

- In your opinion, what are the new algorithms of relations in the region, and which countries (Russia, Western countries, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Iran) are the most active in promoting them?

Unfortunately, I do not see any prerequisites to say that a new security architecture will be outlined. Georgia after 2008 was infringed, but at least something was clear. We saw that the RF increased its influence by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia and asserting itself as a military force, it was the same with Armenia. But after the crisis in the Russian-Ukrainian relations deepened, we see that, anyway, Russia is changing its stance with respect to Armenia. On the one hand, Azerbaijan's active military support is in place. We don’t know what kind of relations Turkey has with Russia, what negotiations are being held at the level of presidents - this happens often, but in a non-transparent manner. We don’t know what they agree on, what exchanges of views they have, and so on, but we see that Russia does not actively intervene in the issues related to Armenia’s security, where it has made commitments under bilateral agreements. Armenia had a feeling of invulnerability, which is gone. And what will happen next, who will give security guarantees? It is very hard for me to say that it will be the West. It’s an open question whether the West needs to intervene somewhere else after Ukraine. And how will it impact? It is also wrong to talk about the West as a collective force, and it’s really hard for me to imagine how some Western states will engage more actively here. We are switching more to the local level, when in regional relations there will be a tug-of-war between Turkey and Azerbaijan, and Armenia remaining alone, in some sort of isolation. In the case of Iran, the question is open. It is possible that Iran will become more active: there are prerequisites for this, since Iran has its own vulnerable spots - Northern Iran, fear of Turkey's growing influence. Also, the feeling of triumph in Azerbaijan is not quite pleasant for Iran, but it’s not clear how it will intervene. It also has to do with a more global level of politics - how Iran will develop relations with the West, and how the West can influence Iran. In the West, in my view, the question is how to influence the situation in the region through softer methods. We see statements by the US State Department, Pelosi's visit to the region, but, unfortunately, I do not see a more active and meaningful intervention in these problems.

- Given the contradictions between the interests of regional, geopolitical actors and the contradictions between the parties to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, under what circumstances can the prospect for establishing a lasting regime of cooperation in the South Caucasus region be realized?

We are in a painful situation. Armenia and Azerbaijan are not ready to compromise. Had the parties had readiness to compromise earlier, the situation would have been completely different. Now, when it came to bloodshed and a long war, in which the advantage is on the side of Azerbaijan, it is very difficult to imagine what compromises it can make. And the question is what kind of compromise Armenia is ready for. There are conditions imposed by Azerbaijan, which are unacceptable for Armenia. Can Armenia go for that? And if it does, will this mean that there will be peace, since this will also affect the domestic political situation in Armenia? So the question here is whether the Azerbaijani leadership will come to the conclusion that there are some lines that should not be crossed, as after that everything will change in the South Caucasus. Is it beneficial for Azerbaijan? There are victories that one can benefit from, but there are victories that are able to lead to more upsetting consequences. Let's suppose Iran gets engaged. Does Azerbaijan need it? Will they go for it? And another question: to what extent is Turkey ready to make some compromise in order to set with its ally certain boundaries, and where should they stop?

- What formats of cooperation are acceptable for Georgia, taking into consideration its interests? In other words, the agendas of which countries are most aligned with that of Georgia?

The problem is that the Georgian leadership is more in a reactive rather than proactive mode. It can be explained in a certain way: because Georgia has its own problems, primarily domestic political ones. We have the issue of the legitimacy of power, the legitimacy of elections. How Georgia will position itself in the region depends on how stable our society will develop politically. I believe that Georgia does not have the resources to proactively propose something. It is being discussed and welcomed that Georgia become some kind of neutral platform for negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, I would welcome this, it is possible. But on the other hand, how likely is this idea to become a reality, given the interdependencies that exist among Georgia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and how will Russia influence this? Russia will not influence in terms of stabilization, it is more satisfied with the South Caucasus to become a zone of chaos. Chaos is hard to deal with for the West, especially since its influence here is not so strong. Hence, it is difficult for me to imagine how we - Georgians, Armenians and Azerbaijanis - can determine for ourselves what formats we can design to improve relations with each other. We are too attached to the traumas of our past, and are guided by them. These traumas are important in that they set the agenda for the present. For Azerbaijan it is the revenge, for Armenia it is the loss, for Georgia it is the feeling of uncertainty about the environment in which the country finds itself. Accordingly, the West... it has, of course, diplomatic relations, but they are not backed by at least some kind of military or peacekeeping presence.

- What is your comment (and people’s comment in Georgia) on the lengthy blockade of the Nagorno-Karabakh residents and other methods of pressure applied by Azerbaijan from the point of view of international law? Can the reaction of international organizations and a number of key foreign countries impact the situation on the ground?

This is a very painful issue, firstly, because the Russia-Ukraine topic overrides everything. Despite the fact that we are the closest neighbors, the Georgian public has no sensitivity towards this issue: it pains me to say this. The public reacts more to what is happening in Ukraine. I wouldn’t say that this is generally the case throughout the global community. If you look, say, at the American media, they are at least covering what is going on around Karabakh. But in the dosage of formation of public opinion, of course, the Russian-Ukrainian relations have the advantage. The humanitarian aspect of this blockade, unfortunately, is not discussed either. Will it go further than the UN resolutions? Georgians have experience of such resolutions, and, unfortunately, there are no active steps. I don’t know how it will be in the case of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, whether it will go beyond resolutions, but it is hard for me to imagine that an international military contingent may appear to draw a line of demarcation between the parties. As a result of the RF behavior in the post-Soviet space, global politics has changed a lot. Maybe it's just our context that makes experts like me skeptical and depressing, but it's quite hard to see any concrete steps that the international community, represented by the UN, can take. In the late 90s and early 2000s, we still saw peacekeeping operations under the auspices of the UN. Now, after these bloody wars around us, we do not know how it will work out.

Series of interviews "Agendas and New Algorithms of Policies in the South Caucasus - 2023" is being organized within the framework of the Region Research Center's project "New Agendas for Peace and Stability in the South Caucasus after the Karabakh 2020 War". The project is being implemented with the support of the Black See Trust for Regional Cooperation. The opinions expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions and positions of the Black See Trust for Regional Cooperation or its partners.


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