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American University Washington D.C. explores Strategic Partnership between Azerbaijan and Georgia-A+A

Azartac

October 07, 2013

Baku, October 7 (AzerTAc). Professor of American University Washington, Director of Research at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center based in Washington D.C. Mamuka Tsereteli has issued a report titled Azerbaijan and Georgia: Strategic Partnership for Stability in a Volatile Region.

The report was distributed in North America by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. In Europe it was distributed by the Silk Road Studies Program.

The author writes that Azerbaijan and Georgia are two neighboring countries of the South Caucasus and strategic allies in the region. The current de-jure map of the South Caucasus region includes three internationally recognized states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. These three countries not only share borders, but also along history of cohabitation as well as many traditions. At the same time, the unresolved armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the most serious challenge for stability and prosperity in the region. Azerbaijan is the largest country of the South Caucasus in terms of territory and population, followed by Georgia and Armenia. There are also three other territories that claim independence from Georgia and Azerbaijan. These are Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. These territories are recognized by the United Nations and international community as part of Azerbaijan and Georgia, respectively.

In terms of geopolitical orientation, Azerbaijan and Georgia have a clearly declared Western orientation, with Georgia more aggressively aiming to join NATO and the EU. Azerbaijan has substantial hydrocarbon wealth located in the Caspian Sea, and its major oil and natural gas fields are already connected to Black Sea and Mediterranean markets through pipelines and railroads transiting Georgia and using the latter’s ports. Azerbaijan and Georgia, moreover, both have strategic partnerships with Turkey. While Azerbaijan has no Russian troops on its territory, the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been occupied by Russian forces since the 2008 war.
At the same time, Armenia has willingly allowed Russian troops on its territory and sees them as a security guarantee and deterrent. Armenian forces occupy Nagorno-Karabakh as well as seven surrounding provinces of Azerbaijan. Thus, Western-leaning Georgia and Azerbaijan, like equally Western-leaning Moldova, have territorial issues and regions that are not under control of the central governments, while Russian-leaning Armenia has no such problem.

Georgia and Azerbaijan form a key strategic link between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea that connects Europe and the broader Transatlantic space to Greater Central Asia, the resource-rich and strategically important heartland of the Eurasian continent. This strategic link is actively functioning, allowing the transshipment of commercial and military cargoes in and out of Central Asia via the air corridors, railways, ports, and highways of Georgia and Azerbaijan. In both Azerbaijan and Georgia, this transit role is widely seenas a tool for the two countries’ greater integration into the European economic and security space.

Azerbaijan and Georgia have also shared similar historical paths over the last hundred years. Both had brief experiences of statehood in 1918-1921 (Azerbaijan was conquered by the Bolsheviks in 1920, Georgia lasted as an independent state until February of 1921), both became independent states again in 1991, and both countries faced internal conflicts that ended with the de facto separation of territories that remain ruled by governments lacking international recognition. Both countries, furthermore, experienced internal political turmoil, the hardship of economic transition from central planning to a market economy, military coups, and instability. But since the mid-1990s, the state-building process has advanced, and today, despite unresolved conflicts, both Azerbaijan and Georgia are successful states progressing toward strengthening statehood and economic prosperity.

Notwithstanding, there are also important differences between the two countries. Azerbaijan has significant hydrocarbon resources, and the successful implementation of large multinational exploration projects has allowed the country to become a leading oil exporting country, which will soon also begin exporting natural gas directly to Europe. This has allowed Azerbaijan to become a dominant economic force of the South Caucasus. In fact, according to World Bank data from 2011, Azerbaijan produced more than 72 percent of the GDP of the entire South Caucasus, compared to little over 16 percent for Georgia and 11.6 percent for Armenia.

In 1991, both Azerbaijan and Georgia restored their independence, and diplomatic ties were established between them on November 18, 1992. Since then, the countries have engaged in active diplomatic collaboration in both bilateral and multilateral frameworks, exchanged multiple high-level delegations, signed more than 100 bilateral agreements, and developed a depth of relationships that is characterized as a strategic partnership. Both Azerbaijan and Georgia experienced civil and ethno-political conflicts in the early years of independence with devastating social and economic consequences in both countries. After the first turbulent years of independence, however, mature leaders with long experience of leadership and governance came to power in both Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Presidents Heydar Aliyev and Eduard Shevardnadze shared in common their Soviet Politburo past and significant connections within the former Soviet space, as well as on the international arena. Driven by a great desire to strengthen the independence and sovereignty of their newly re-born countries, they identified key areas of cooperation to ensure mutual benefits. The major driver for the development of bilateral ties, as well as broader regional cooperation, was the energy potential of Azerbaijan. The traditional export route for Azerbaijani oil since the nineteenth century was via Georgia’s Black Sea ports, and the revitalization of that export link became a priority for both countries. It was also clear for these visionary leaders that Georgia and Azerbaijan could serve as a strategic access link for Western countries and Turkey to Central Asia, where large deposits of hydrocarbons and other resources were ripe for exploitation, and which saw the emergence of a strategic void following the Soviet collapse.
Existing and potential conflicts and the danger of destabilization in the Caucasus and Central Asia were additional incentives to initiate regional cooperation.

But most importantly, the two countries needed each other to fulfill their regional and international functions.
Azerbaijan and Georgia, in partnership with other regional countries, also collaborated closely in the multilateral framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on issues that had importance for the independence and security of both countries. This partnership was actively supported by the United States, as well as Turkey. A set of key political and energy related events determined the direction of the strategic developments, as well as the bilateral Azerbaijani-Georgian relationship. Those events included: The signing of the “Contract of the Century” on September 20, 1994, between the Azerbaijani government and a consortium of predominantly Western oil companies, creating the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC). This was a Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) covering several offshore oil fields in the Caspian Sea between the government and AIOC; the decision by the Azerbaijani government on multiple export options for the so-called Early Oil pipelines. This decision opened an opportunity for pipeline development via Georgia to the new Georgian port of Supsa; The TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia) meeting in Baku in September 1998, which culminated in an EU and regional effort to boost the development of the East-West transportation corridor connecting Central Asia with Europe; 11 Emmanuel Karagiannis, Energy and Security in the Caucasus, London: Routledge Curzon, 2002, 147.

In this context, Azerbaijan and Georgia should ally themselves closely with Turkey, but also with Ukraine and others, to convince Washington and Brussels that these countries represent a natural expansion of the European economic space, and must be included in any policy initiative related to the broader European and Transatlantic space. This will serve not only the immediate economic interests of Europe and the United States, but will also serve the longer term goal of facilitating the inclusion of Russia in the Transatlantic economic space.

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