Military confrontation around Nagorno-Karabakh worrying Tbilisi - Georgian expert | Eurasia Diary -

6 December,

Military confrontation around Nagorno-Karabakh worrying Tbilisi - Georgian expert

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Emil Avdaliani, non-resident fellow at the Georgian think tank, Geocase, specializes on wider Eurasia with a particular focus on South Caucasus and Russia, relations with China and the US.

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- First, please tell us, how did Georgian government react to July clashes at the Armenia-Azerbaijan border?

Georgian reaction was straightforward and similar to previous cases: avoiding being pulled into the Armenia-Azerbaijan clashes and acrimonious diplomatic exchanges and holding direct diplomatic contact with both Baku and Yerevan with the aim to facilitate the minimization of the effects of the fighting.

- The situation at the line of contact and the border is unstable and still remains intensive. From your opinion, if the large-scale offensive military operations broke out between the armed forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan, how will it affect Georgia?

The Nagorno-Karabakh issue is of vital importance to Georgia. As one could expect in a region as unstable as the South Caucasus, even a low-level fighting could explode into a regional-level military confrontation. This has worried the official Tbilisi ever since the beginning of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

However, the July fighting was even more troublesome for Tbilisi. First, the Tovuz Region of Azerbaijan borders on a part of Georgia’s south-east border; second, large infrastructure (pipelines, a major railway, roads) runs through the region and connects the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea region. A Georgia benefits financially as a transit state and quite naturally is interested in a quick de-escalation of Armenia-Azerbaijan tensions.

But Georgia is also aware of its limits in the event of military confrontation on its southern border. First it would be unable to join any confronting side. At the same time, it will be interested in upholding close relations with both parties as it could help limit the damage to the security of the region. Georgia will also try to limit the passage of any armoury through its territory.

- Parliament elections will be held in Georgia on October 31. Please tell us, what is an attitude of political parties in Georgia toward Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, and the relations with these neighbours?

An interesting feature of any pre-election period in Georgia is that few, if any, major political parties discuss regional geopolitics and how their foreign policy would differ in case of their coming to power. Surely, statements on foreign policy are made, but they are mostly limited to general discussion on the need to further pursue Georgia’s western integration or continue the same policy towards Russia. In-depth discussion on Nagorno-Karabakh does not take place and the conflict is mentioned rarely. Now more of internal issues such as economic situation, the pandemic effects and other issues related to the pre-election developments are being raised.

However, this does not mean that the state apparatus is not following the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. As I stated above, Georgia has strategic interests in the region and the responsible institutions within the government are closely watching any changes in Armenia-Azerbaijan relations.

- Does Georgian society have potential to mediate in the strengthening of the peace process between communities of Armenians and Azerbaijanis?

This is a difficult question. Obviously Georgia’s geopolitical importance is not as large as is usually necessary for a country to pursue a mediating role. Moreover, Georgians also remember how even a large Iran was unable to pursue a successful mediation work between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the 1990s. Even Russia is often unable to strike a balance between the two sides (it often causes criticism from Baku). These realities limit chances for a potentially successful mediation headed by the Georgian side. Perhaps Tbilisi could serve as a venue for mediation efforts (or talks), but beyond that I am quite sceptical about Georgia’s active diplomatic role in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

Interviewed by Yunis Abdullayev

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