17 January 2022

Monday, 04:24



Azerbaijan and Georgia confirm their commitment to strengthening friendship and cooperation



Azerbaijan and Georgia intend to strengthen relations. This intention was confirmed after the official visit of the Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to Baku in early May.

By the way, this was Garibashvili's first foreign visit after his election as the head of the Georgian government in February 2021 – an indicative fact quite related to the content of the talks held in Baku.


Potential for brotherly relations

President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev made a remarkable statement during a meeting with the distinguished Georgian guest expressing his confidence that the visit will strengthen fraternal relations between the two peoples, relations based on a centuries-long history of good-neighbourliness and friendship. Mr. Garibashvili also expressed his government’s commitment to the joint implementation of major projects that will strengthen relations and brotherhood between the two countries.

Indeed, there is a large potential for strengthening the friendly dialogue between Baku and Tbilisi. The basis for this dialogue undoubtedly lies in the economic projects that, according to President Aliyev, have changed the political, economic, transport and energy map of the region. Moreover, these projects, including the Baku-Supsa, Baku-Erzurum, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, Southern Gas Corridor, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway for the transportation of hydrocarbons and other commodities, are extremely important for the development of partnerships, allied relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia, as well as the integration processes throughout Eurasia.

There are a number of facts clearly demonstrating the vital interests of the two neighbouring countries. For example, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) maintains a strong position in the Georgian market. The company is one of the largest investors in the Georgian economy, the largest taxpayer in the country. This fact shows the significant role that the Azerbaijani company plays in the socio-economic life of Georgia.

Another fact reflecting the intensification of bilateral economic cooperation between Azerbaijan and Georgia after Garibashvili's visit to Baku was the signing of a protocol on bilateral cooperation between Azerbaijan Railways and Georgian Railways. The document is aimed at deepening cooperation in the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, also ensuring the attraction of additional cargo to routes passing through the territories of Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Azerbaijani-Georgian friendship is also remarkable in terms of mutual assistance. Just before Mr. Garibashvili’s visit to Baku, the UN Secretary General's Health Advisor Giorgi Pkhakadze made a loud statement saying that Georgia literally survived during the pandemic thanks to Azerbaijan, which in November 2020, when the number of the infected in Georgia reached almost 7,000 daily, supplied medical oxygen to Georgian hospitals free of charge. "Without Azerbaijan’s assistance, we could expect a very high mortality rate in Georgia," Pkhakadze stated.

Such examples undoubtedly reinforce bilateral strategic partnerships that have been tested over time. It is enough to recall how Azerbaijan rescued its neighbour from the energy crisis, as well as the position of Tbilisi during the recent 44-day war, when Armenia was deprived of the opportunity to reinforce its occupation troops with new military-technical supplies from other countries through Georgia.

Undoubtedly, cooperation in the field of security remains one of the priority aspects of the Azerbaijani-Georgian cooperation. This was also confirmed during the visit of the head of the Azerbaijani State Security Service (SSS), Ali Naghiyev, to Georgia at the end of April at the invitation of his colleague Grigol Liluashvili.

As to factors determining the mutual interest of Azerbaijan and Georgia in the development of strategic partnership, we should especially note that both countries support each other's territorial integrity. This is a principal position expressed by Azerbaijan and Georgia since the inception of state independence. Unfortunately, there are continuous attempts of certain forces to damage the Azerbaijani-Georgian strategic relations.


Failed provocateurs

The problem is related to the incompleteness of the process of delimitation and demarcation of the Azerbaijani-Georgian border. As a result, Baku and Tbilisi yet to agree upon about 166 of 480 km of the borderline, including several sections, such as the Keshikchidagh monastery complex (known as David Gareji in Georgia). According to legal documents, as well as the principle of actual use and topographic maps of the area, including those that were approved during the Soviet period and the Supreme Soviet of Georgia in 1963, these sites belong to Azerbaijan. However, the Georgian side disputes the ownership of the complex to Azerbaijan. While Tbilisi seeks to coordinate the issue in the spirit of good-neighbourly relations with Baku, some political forces in Georgia often resort to obvious provocations.

For example, the unfortunate events that transpired in July 2019, when a group of Georgian citizens attacked Azerbaijani border guards on the territory of the Keshikchidagh complex. The conflict was avoided only thanks to the restraint of the Azerbaijani side.

However, the destructive forces in Georgia continue attempts to heat up the situation along the state border. Moreover, for several months these attempts have been fuelled by the anti-Azerbaijani campaign promoted by some Georgian media outlets. The goal is obvious - to turn the Georgian public against Azerbaijan, to disrupt the strategic partnership between Tbilisi and Baku, as well as the extremely effective format of Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey cooperation. This is precisely what organisations such as the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia and the Labour Party of Georgia (LPG) notoriously famous for their anti-Azerbaijani speeches do by periodically holding notorious marches under the slogan of ‘Georgian David Gareji’.

The interests of third countries are clearly visible behind the activities of these organisations, traditionally making desperate efforts to damage friendly Azerbaijani-Georgian relations.  Apparently, the anti-Azerbaijani circles in Georgia and certain external circles behind them are the real conspirers of yet another provocation that took place on the eve of Prime Minister Garibashvili's visit to Baku.

Thus, a group of Georgian priests attacked a former employee of the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Iveri Melashvili and journalists of the opposition TV channel Mtavari Arkhi, who were preparing a story on the border with Azerbaijan, close to the area of the Keshikchidagh monastery. This is the same Melashvili who was accused by the Georgian General Prosecutor's Office of allegedly damaging the national interests of the country as part of the State Commission's activities on the delimitation of the border with Azerbaijan. That is, the ‘purposeful’ use of cartographic materials, which caused "a threat to Georgia, which could lose 3,500 hectares of lands in the area of the controversial monastery complex David Gareji."

The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs launched an investigation under the respective article of the Criminal Code in relation to the attack on Melashvili and the journalists of Mtavari Arkhi. However, the situation only confirms the unjustified attempts to intensify tension around the territorial affiliation of the Keshikchidagh monastery complex, which damage the interests and friendly and good-neighbourly relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia. The tension is supported by certain circles in Georgia, including not only the marginal groups such as LPG and others but, unfortunately, some power circles also.

Meanwhile, Tbilisi demonstrates a constructive approach to resolve the issue "as required by our fraternal and friendly relations." These words were said by the Prime Minister Garibashvili during his visit to Baku. He also expressed hope that the joint commission on delimitation and demarcation of the Georgian-Azerbaijani border, which interrupted its work due to the pandemic, will resume it in the near future. Azerbaijan expresses similar expectations.


Integration and security

As to the prospects of Azerbaijani-Georgian cooperation, one cannot ignore its regional background. The military victory of Azerbaijan in the Garabagh war not only put an end to the Armenian occupation of Garabagh, but also changed the geopolitical background in the South Caucasus. Under the new regional realities, the fears of the Georgian side are obvious. Firstly, in relation to the 3+3 multilateral cooperation format in the South Caucasus promoted by Azerbaijan and Turkey. It is clear that Tbilisi does not see any prospects for participating in the same integration format with Russia until the territorial integrity of Georgia is restored, while the rebellious Abkhazia and South Ossetia recognised by the Kremlin as independent states will not return to Georgia.

However, it is obvious that neither Azerbaijan nor Turkey, which unequivocally and at all international platforms support the territorial integrity of Georgia, do not consider the likelihood of implementing any regional project that can violate the sovereign rights of Georgia. In this sense, the 3+3 format aims at focusing the attention of all regional states on those issues and elements of multilateral cooperation that correspond to the national interests of all the participants. In other words, each of the participants in the regional six will definitely benefit from the implementation of projects. Therefore, the first priority is to unblock all transport communications - a task announced in the trilateral statement signed between the leaders of Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia on November 10, 2020, which actually ended the 44-day war.

Due to the forthcoming unblocking of transport communications, it is worth objecting to yet another fear of the Georgian side, which assumes that due to the likely de-isolation and cooperation of Armenia with the neighbouring Turkic states, Azerbaijan and Turkey, both of which are the closest regional partners of Georgia, the latter may lose its attractiveness for Baku and Ankara as a transit country. But such fears are clearly ungrounded, at least because all those large projects involving Georgia together with Azerbaijan and Turkey will not lose their relevance in the future. New transport projects, including primarily the development of the Zangezur corridor, which became possible due to the end of the Daghlig-Garabagh conflict, will undoubtedly contribute to the diversification of communication routes, which will definitely benefit the entire region both in terms of the prospects for full-fledged multilateral cooperation and the security of the entire South Caucasus.