The relations between the South Caucasian states are not built in a multilateral but bilateral format. In particular, in the area of regional security, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia have different approaches and, accordingly, are supported by opposing geopolitical actors. If Azerbaijan and Georgia build long-term relations with the US and the EU, then Armenia is a member of the CSTO with all the consequences.
In addition, the positions of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia in resolving regional interethnic conflicts are different. In general terms, Azerbaijan and Georgia support the principle of territorial integrity (in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region), whereas Armenia advocates self-determination (Nagorno-Karabakh).
Moreover, the official Baku, due to the unresolved Karabakh conflict, does not accept, in principle, a multilateral model of regional cooperation with the participation of official Yerevan in the South Caucasus region.
And it can be assumed that in the medium-term, in the South Caucasus region, bilateral, rather than multilateral, relations between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia will prevail for objective reasons. In other words, relations between the states of the South Caucasus will be built on the line: Azerbaijan - Georgia and Georgia - Armenia.
At the same time, at present, the multilateral format of interstate relations in the South Caucasus region is possible only in the following configuration: Azerbaijan - Georgia - Turkey. Especially since the multilateral format Azerbaijan - Georgia - Turkey has both political and economic support from the USA and the EU.
For example, we are talking about the implementation of such energy transport and infrastructure projects: the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC), the South Caucasian gas pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project (BTK). (Plus, the rapid implementation of TANAP and TAP projects became possible only with the support of the United States and the EU).
Priorities of the parties
The official settlement of the Karabakh conflict is beneficial to the official Baku and official Ankara. In particular, in this case, Turkey will achieve the resolution of the Armenian-Turkish conflict, with all the ensuing positive consequences for the Turkish side, and the Azerbaijani authorities will diversify their energy transport policy. After all, almost all the energy transport and infrastructure projects implemented by official Baku pass through the Georgian territory with all the negative consequences for Azerbaijan.
The fact is that Tbilisi believes that the signed agreements between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey should not negatively affect the Armenian-Georgian relations, which does not correspond to the current national and regional interests of the official Baku in the context of the Azerbaijani-Armenian confrontation.
In other words the official Tbilisi seeks to avoid a situation in which to choose between Azerbaijan and Armenia. So, within the ruling coalition in Georgia, there is a group that considers it possible to open the Abkhaz railway, which would actually bring Armenia from the transport blockade, while joining it with Russia. True, while the official Tbilisi is not taking practical steps to open the Abkhaz railway, it can be assumed that in the event of a warming of Georgian-Russian relations, the Georgian authorities can take an active part in the restoration of the Armenia-Georgia-Russia railroad. By the way, the Russian-Georgian checkpoint "Lars" will soon provide special "green corridor" to the cargo from Armenia, so that the trucks deliver goods from Armenia to Russia in an accelerated fashion, which corresponds to the national interests of the official Yerevan in the context of the Republic's entry into the UAE.
At the same time, the official Yerevan is closely monitoring the cooperation of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, fearing deepening the existing transport and communication blockade of Armenia from the above-mentioned three countries. Although, the multilateral format Azerbaijan - Georgia - Turkey is not a closed regional model of cooperation. Thus, in the 2008 year, in the midst of the Russian-Georgian military confrontation, the official Ankara stated that the Azerbaijani-Georgian-Turkish interaction in the South Caucasus region was open, and not a closed format, and under certain conditions (if it was in line with their interests) in It can be attended by all interested parties.
It is symbolic that Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the August Russian-Georgian War made an initiative to create a geopolitical association involving the Caucasus countries (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and Russia), as well as the EU, the USA and Turkey - "Platforms of Stability and Cooperation in the Caucasus".
By the way, Brussels also has the "Stability Pact for the Caucasus" developed by Michael Emerson in the following configuration: Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia + Russia, Turkey and Iran + US and EU.
Interdependence of Georgia and Russia
The current official Tbilisi is striving to address Georgia's security problem not in the context of increasing military-political confrontation with Russia, but to build allied relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, partners with Iran and Armenia, as well as mutually beneficial with Russia. Moreover, Moscow is striving to use Georgia's readiness for a "constructive dialogue" to strengthen Russia's geopolitical position, both in Georgia and in the South Caucasus as a whole. Among the priorities of Russia, special emphasis is placed on: signing an agreement on non-use of force from the official Tbiliss with Sukhumi and Tskhinvali; the restoration of diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia; canceling or, at best, mitigating the Georgian law "On Occupied Territories".
As for the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-South Ossetian inter-ethnic conflicts, the official Tbilisi will continue to pursue a peaceful and pragmatic policy towards Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, which does not provide for a rigid confrontation with official Moscow.
The official policy of Tbilisi in the context of resolving conflicts provides for the following tasks:
- firstly, direct dialogue and building trust with the Abkhazian and Ossetian societies;
- Secondly, cooperation based on common interests.
Symbolically that in Within the framework of the policy of inclusion and reconciliation, specific initiatives have already been developed in Tbilisi that can serve to expand contacts, including trade and economic and cultural ties between the population that crossed the dividing line. The accents of Tbilisi to the peaceful, natural reintegration of the occupied territories are visible to the naked eye.
Moreover, today around these processes is formed (sometimes artificially) a certain picture of the irreversibility of the warming of Georgian-Russian inter-state relations. However, most likely, Tbilisi will continue to display intransigence and principledness in the direction of de-occupation, both in the format of international negotiations with Russia (the Geneva Process), and by mobilizing international pressure on Moscow and the effective use of diplomatic or legal mechanisms. But this does not undo the steps towards de-escalation and the normalization of interstate relations with Russia in certain spheres and formats (development of the Abashidze-Karasin format).
In one way or another, security issues of Georgia and Russia are closely interconnected in the broader regional context. The political, economic and historical ties between the republics of the North Caucasus and Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region can not be discounted. This connection is mutual, and it can be of a different nature - depending on compromise or escalation scenarios ...
Interests of Azerbaijan
Baku is interested in implementing the project of the Northern Supply Network (SSP), since In this case, the Azerbaijani side will achieve the profitability of the already commissioned BTK railroad. Moreover, the US and NATO are interested in using the BTK to transport military cargo to Afghanistan. In addition, in the course of a discussion between the United States and Turkey on the BTTC in connection with this, Ankara has already given its initial consent to this. The route of the transit of special cargo to Afghanistan, on the proposal of the USA, should leave Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan through the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan (Aktau and Kuryk) and then by rail via Saryagash, Keles or Beineu-Karakalpakia in Uzbekistan, and then to Afghanistan.
It can be assumed that Baku and Washington discuss the MTP in terms of the use and transportation of goods and people from the West to the East (through the territory of Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Afghanistan). Also, the question of "return transit" is the use of BTK in the framework of the MTP, but already for the carriage of goods from Central Asia and South Asia to Europe. Such a project will allow Baku to launch both the BTK and the Baku International Commercial Sea Port Alyat in full force. Indeed, SSP of cargo to Afghanistan is only about 10% of all US and NATO shipments destined for Afghanistan, and the cost of 2-3 is more expensive than if they were on the Southern route, which is constantly used by the United States.
In other words, the transition of the SSP to the bilateral (reverse) format of work, which involves not only the transportation of goods for the Western coalition to Afghanistan, but also the transit of civilian cargo from Central Asia, Afghanistan and South Asia to the west, will mean involving these countries in the Western configuration of the international transport systems.
Baku-Baku, which in recent years has sought to actively integrate into the global railway and aviation network of transportation, benefits from the reverse format of the SSP's operation. Baku's ambitions to become one of the main intermediaries in the system of international transit routes in the region will finally begin to be satisfied. The realization of the reverse potential of the MTP will strengthen Baku's political position in the region, since will not only make adjustments to the Chinese strategy of the New Silk Road, but will also reduce the level of Beijing's influence on the Azerbaijani side.
According to preliminary estimates, BTK will annually bring to Azerbaijan at least 300-400 million manat of revenues, some of which will necessarily be considered as reimbursement of construction costs. Moreover, the logistics companies of Azerbaijan do not have large orders for container shipments on the BTK, although they are technically ready to implement them. Since the commissioning of the BTK railroad, about 3 thousand were transported on it. containers On this road, mainly construction materials, electrical equipment, detergents, grain, corn, and other goods from the People's Republic of China, Central Asia, Russia, Azerbaijan to Turkey and in the opposite direction are transported.
The increase in the volume of the container message to the BTC limits unresolved organizational issues on the border between Georgia and Turkey. In particular, there were difficulties in carriage of the wagon through the Turkish customs.
One of the main shortcomings of the BTK is the lack of a developed rail system in the east of Turkey, due to which the total annual volume of rail transport in Turkey is lower than in Azerbaijan and Georgia. Thus, the volume of transportation on the Turkish railroad does not exceed 25 million tons per year. If you take the Azerbaijani and Georgian railways, then the annual transportation is from 13 to 20 million tons, i.e. the volumes of transportation taking into account the territories are comparable and even exceed the volumes of transportation of Turkey. The fact is that carriers are actively working in Turkey.
It should also be noted that at the initial stage, the capacity of the BTC will be 1 million passengers and 6,5 million tons of cargo per year. It is planned that by the year 2023, the capacity of BTK will reach 17 million tons of cargo per year. The maximum speed of trains on the BTK will reach 120 km per hour. After the opening of the BTK railroad, the time for freight trains will be 16-18 hours. Moreover, leaving from Baku, the trains stop in Tbilisi, then a change of the wheels in Akhalkalaki is made, and then they arrive to the north-east of Turkey. The problem is that during the construction of the BTC, rails of two sizes - the old Soviet and European ones - were used. These two types of rails converge in Akhalkalaki, and it takes a lot of time to replace the train wheels at this station.
Against this background, the opening of a logistics center in the province of Kars in northeastern Turkey, which is being constructed jointly with ZAO Azerbaijan Railways, changes the situation. Annually through the center it will be possible to transport 412 thousands of tons of cargo. Railways with a length of 16 km should operate on the territory of the logistics center, and this section will be connected to the Kars-Erzurum railroad.
In addition, it should be borne in mind that the passenger carriages for the BTK will be delivered to Azerbaijan in 2019 year. Cars will be purchased from a Swiss company. Thus, it is planned to commence transportation of passengers by rail of BTK in the 3 quarter of 2019 year. For this purpose, new wagons of the Swiss company Stadler will be delivered to Azerbaijan. The creation of wagons is based on the latest technology.
With regard to possible tariffs for carriage by BTK, if up to 2019 year there will be no change in electricity prices and there will be no additional additional costs, the tariffs will be acceptable to all parties.
First, the participants of the BTK are required to: sign contracts for the carriage of goods and develop a common tariff policy; solve such infrastructure issues as the manufacture of special wagons for a certain type of cargo, as well as centers for their storage, packaging and sorting along the BTK.
Second, the the Georgian authorities will continue the policy of cooperation with the West, both in the field of military-technical cooperation (PTS), both political and economic. It is natural that the US military assistance program focuses on strengthening Georgia's defense capability and deepening its compatibility with the United States and NATO. But, most importantly, the program is aimed at preparing Georgia for the day when NATO decides to admit official Tbilis to the Alliance.
Third, The Kremlin will continue to exert political pressure on the Georgian authorities through international Geneva talks on stability and security in the Caucasus. The Kremlin, exerting military-political pressure on Georgia, indirectly pushes on the official Baku. Therefore, the Azerbaijani authorities, together with Turkey and Georgia, intend to deepen the military-political cooperation between the three countries.
However, the official Baku, despite its strategic relationship with Turkey, continues to maintain its partnership with Russia. In Baku it is understood that the political settlement of the Karabakh conflict without the Kremlin is impossible. However, if the current status quo is maintained in the zone of the Karabakh conflict, the Azerbaijani authorities will intensify their relations with Turkey and the West, which is happening today. True, there are currently no Turkish military bases in Azerbaijan (which can not be ruled out in the future), but the PTS level between Azerbaijan and Turkey is growing with the prospect of becoming a full-fledged military-political alliance.
The high level of the Azerbaijani-Turkish-Georgian relations allows the three countries, together with the EU, to successfully participate in the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor (SUGC) project, including the construction of the TANAP gas pipeline and the TAP gas pipeline.
Indeed, the main purpose of these projects is to increase the security of natural gas supplies to Europe. Brussels aims to create alternative routes for the transportation of natural gas from Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
Fourth, Russia's pending position within the framework of the Geneva talks is linked with the hypothetical probability that Georgia and Ukraine will have an accelerated chance of joining the Alliance at the NATO summit. Obviously, Georgia's membership in NATO is unacceptable for Russia in the face of a geopolitical confrontation with the United States and NATO and Washington's desire to neutralize Russia in the Black Sea-Caucasus region.
Official Moscow only on condition of Georgia's preservation outside the NATO framework is intensifying against Tbilisi. In this case, the normalization of interstate relations between Georgia and Russia will allow, among other things, to create a direct transport corridor in the direction of Armenia and the Armenian-Turkish and Armenian-Iranian state borders. In addition, the signing of an agreement between Russia and Georgia could in the long term lead to the opening of transport communications between Georgia and Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, which meets the long-term geopolitical interests of Russia, Armenia and Iran.
Fifth, the official authorities of Armenia are returning to their traditional foreign policy doctrine: "both Russia and the West". The fact is that in Yerevan, it is considered that Armenia did not receive the expected dividends from the January 2015 accession in January (except for the low price of natural gas).
Sixth, Russia, based on the geopolitical priorities of the Kremlin, does not want to establish an energy transport and transit monopoly of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey on the Middle East and South Caucasus communications. Therefore, the Kremlin, having regard to the current foreign policy steps of Armenia, has connected the official Yerevan to a transit project within the framework of the North-South highway that is already being implemented. So, with the financial support of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), a modern multi-lane highway is being constructed on the territory of Armenia, which should connect the north of Iran with the border of Georgia and go further to the Black Sea ports.
Indeed, the idea of the construction of the Iran-Armenia railway will be lobbied officially by Yerevan completely after the commissioning of the Kazvin-Resht-Astara railroad. This highway will connect the Iranian railway system from Azerbaijan, and Iran will have an opportunity to get to the direction of the Russian and Georgian seaports.
In other words, after the Kazvin-Resht-Astara railway is introduced, the Iranian side will not need a railway branch to Armenia for purely economic reasons. Especially since the official Tbilisa opposes the rehabilitation of the Abkhaz railway, which is in the interests of the North-South international transport corridor and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project.
Rauf Radzhabov Orientalist, Head of Analytical Center 3RD VIEW, Baku, Azerbaijan