Jacopo Pepe: "Merkel's visit to South Caucasus caused by China's growing influence in Azerbaijan and Georgia"

Last week marked German Chancellor Angela Merkel's trip to the South Caucasus region. The German political scientist, German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) associate fellow Jacopo Maria Pepe told Vzglyad.az about the aims and tasks of this trip.

- How can you explain Germany's increased interest in the South Caucasus?

- The reasons are both economic and strategic. The economic one is that the distance between the three seas - Eastern Mediterranean, Black and Caspian - is steadily declining thanks to recent events in the South Caucasus such as the signing of the Convention on the Caspian Sea, the construction of the TANAP pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, the Anaklia Deep Sea Port and the port of Alat. This is true both in terms of energy projects, as well as transport, trade and, possibly, migration flows. And German business and politics show a clear interest in all these areas. They want to play a big role in this.

The strategic reason is that, after visiting the Caucasus after a meeting with Vladimir Putin and shortly before the Russian president began his visit to the Caucasus, Mrs. Merkel sent a clear message to Moscow, Washington and other EU countries that Berlin also seeks to diversify its energy and does not try to restore its relations with Moscow unilaterally on the basis of the Nord Stream-2 deal, although Merkel avoids openly criticizing Russia's actions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

- China's presence in the South Caucasus region continues to grow. Could Merkel's visit be also related to this factor?

- Yes. Another factor explaining Ms. Merkel's visit is China's silent, albeit growing, presence in both Azerbaijan and Georgia. The Caucasus, like Central Eastern Europe, becomes a space where Russia and China, together with Turkey and Iran, can directly interact, while both cooperating and competing. For Germany and Europe, which have strong trade relations with the countries of the region, it is extremely important to note their high interest and participation in the region. This is both a part of Europe'a expanded neighborhood and Eurasia 'reunification' process.

- How do you assess the outcome of Merkel's visit to Azerbaijan?

- The visit was a positive signal sent both to the country and the regional powers, saying that Germany, despite the difficult global situation, has not lost strategic interest in this region, has not abandoned the Caucasus in favor of regional powers and seeks to support the efforts of Azerbaijan and Georgia on further diversification of their economy and political relations.

In the case of Azerbaijan, its attraction is clearly linked to the diversification of energy supplies and the growing interest in the development of the non-oil sector, especially transport and logistics. Baku needs to cooperate with Germany not only for transit, but also for integration into regional and continental transit energy supply networks. Berlin is considering the possibility that in the future Azerbaijan can become a trading, manufacturing and financial center for Germany, linking the large markets of Iran, Turkey and Russia.

- What prospects would the South Gas Corridor gas pipeline open for Germany and Europe?

- The prospect is good, because Germany clearly sees Azerbaijan as an alternative source of gas. However, the prospect will only expand if the Convention on the Caspian Sea opens the way for the construction of the Trans-Caspian Gas pipeline, where new volumes of gas can be added. Its actual volumes are an important contribution, but they are still not enough to radically change the equation of gas supplies to Germany and Europe.

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