Georgian political elite afraid of escalation of Russian-Turkish conflict

Georgian political elite afraid of escalation of Russian-Turkish conflict

Georgia is concerned about tensions between Russia and Turkey. Georgian politicians and experts understand that the small country cannot avoid risks and losses if Moscow and Ankara don’t reach a compromise in the near future.

Over the past decade, Turkey has become a strategic, trade and economic partner for Georgia. Turkey is one of the countries which didn't belong to the former Soviet Union where Georgian citizens could travel without visas. Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey have carried out several major communication projects in the energy sector and constructed oil and gas pipelines. The construction of the railway line is also coming to an end. It could help Georgia to join the railway network in Europe through Turkish territory for the first time in Georgian history. Turkish Airlines and the Turkish low cost airline Pegasus carry the majority of Georgian passengers to European countries.

At the same time, the ruling Georgian Dream coalition is trying to improve relations with Russia. It is carrying out a dialogue in the Karasin-Abashidze format. It has helped Georgia to significantly reduce tensions on the Georgian-South Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhaz borders. They are called ‘administrative’ borders in Tbilisi and ‘state’ borders in Moscow, Tskhinvali and Sukhumi. Georgian agricultural products, wine and Borjomi mineral water have returned to Russia. Customers are not interested in these products in the richest Turkish market.

It is no wonder that Georgian officials comment on the tensions between Moscow and Ankara in a very cautious way. The President, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs just refrain from commenting. Only the Vice-Speaker of the Georgian Dream coalition, Manana Kobakhidze, said in an interview with correspondents that she hoped for "a peaceful settlement of the conflict."

Experts explain the silence of the main people involved in Georgian policy is due to the fact that the Tbilisi authorities are waiting for the reactions of other regional players.

 

Apparently, Tbilisi will correlate its position with the position of Baku, their closest partner and ally, the member of parliament and former Georgian ambassador to the OSCE, Victor Dolidze, said in an interview with a correspondent of Vestnik Kavkaza. All serious politicians and important regional and global players agree that Russia and Turkey have got to hold negotiations. Other scenarios may lead to a disaster for everybody.

The State Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality (the post was formerly called State Minister for Reintegration), Paata Zakareishvili, agreed to comment to Vestnik Kavkaza about the situation only through the prism which directly covers his competence. "The current situation in Russian-Turkish relations are not so complicated to affect the situation around Abkhazia. Turkey is clearly now trying to make the situation right and reduce tensions. The rhetoric from Ankara means a desire to de-escalate the conflict," the member of the Cabinet of Ministers said. 

The special representative of the Georgian Prime Minister for the settlement of relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, spoke in an interview with a VK correspondent about the danger of intensification of regional tensions for Georgia: "We are interested in reducing tensions as soon as possible in order that Russia and Turkey, together with the international community, can focus on the main issue, the fight against terrorism."

The Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council, Ivlian Khaindrava, often stuck to the position of President Giorgi Margvelashvili on major issues. This time he refused to comment and advised us to contact the government.

The head of the State Administration maintains complete silence, on the assumption that the government, rather than the President, determines foreign and domestic policy according to the current constitution.

The Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church just urged to hold ‘‘a peaceful dialogue."

Statements by the Minister of Defense Tinatin Khidasheli against this background were a real discord, who used hard words to express doubts about the military potential of Russia. "Is it possible to make such provocative statements in such a tense situation? the Rector of the Diplomatic Academy of Tbilisi, Joseph Tsintsadze, didn’t hide his indignation in an interview with a correspondent of Vestnik Kavkaza. "God forbid, if Russia and Turkey don’t agree on the rules of the game in the coming days. In this case, it will turn into something worse. Georgia will suffer first of all."

The head of the Revenue Service of the Ministry of Finance, Khatia Moistsrapishvili, said in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza that Georgia has already suffered the first damage as a result of the economic sanctions imposed by Russian border guards, who have stopped allowing trucks with Turkish number plates to cross the Russian-Georgian border. "As a result, it led to huge problems with the movement of Georgian vehicles to Russia, because the hundreds of trucks from Turkey are on a narrow road," Moistsrapishvili said. The daily flow of cars through the Lars checkpoint with Georgian perishable agricultural products being exported to Russia has reduced by a half due to traffic congestion on the only land road that connects Russia and Georgia.

The former head of the Georgian special services, Irakli Batiashvili, is more concerned about the risks related to safety. "They are increasing due to the threat of terrorism, but the Russian-Turkish confrontation is also an important threat to Georgia," Batiashvili said, expressing his concern that the risks "could influence the North Caucasus and Adjara." 

It became clear after a survey of politicians that the representatives of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition were trying to strike a balance and remain neutral and the supporters of Mikheil Saakashvili's opposition party United National Movement (UNM) are more inclined to blame Russia than Turkey. However, few people in Georgia believe that two powerful countries like Russia and Turkey won’t be able to negotiate with responsible national elites and reduce tensions even in terms of the preservation of contradictions on the Syrian issue.

"God forbid that the situation escalates into something worse. It would be a disaster for Georgia and the whole world,’’ historian Georgi Anchabadze said in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza, recalling that for centuries Georgia was the first to suffer from Russian-Turkish confrontation.

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