On December 10 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he had discussed forming a six-country regional cooperation platform with his Azeri counterpart.
Speaking alongside Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, Erdogan said “Armenia could participate in the planned regional platform along with Turkey, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia if it contributed to regional peace”.
Ben Hodges, former commander of the US Army in Europe said that Georgia should demand Russian respect for Georgian sovereignty before it joins some platform that empowers the Kremlin in the region.
“The Kremlin is already issuing Russian passports to people in Nagorno-Karabakh, where is has deployed “piece keepers”; A standard Kremlin practice to cement its grip on an area for future justification of deployments and use of force. It has also begun deploying infrastructure for more than the original number of “piece keepers” is said it would deploy. None of this should surprise anybody,” he told the Accent.
As for the readiness of the West to adequately respond to current events in the region, Hodges satated:
“What real benefit to the young people of Georgia will this “platform” bring? The West cannot just stand by and complain about what the Kremlin is doing. We’ve got to recognize the strategic importance of the South Caucasus, the greater Black Sea region and the important geostrategic role of Georgia; but Georgia must resist absorbed back into this Russia’s “sphere” as well if it wants to protect its sovereignty.”
When asked about the fears on the West's possible voluntary departure from the region, he said:
“I don’t know about “voluntary departure”. I’m very proud of the work our excellent Ambassador Kelly Degnan, is doing in Tbilisi and of the sustained military-military cooperation between the U.S. and Georgia. But I would like to see this increased, to see a very strong statement from the incoming Biden Administration that we want NATO membership for Georgia in 2021; not via MAP, but with an accelerated, tailored process. And that we’d like to start putting in infrastructure in Georgia, if Georgia will invite the U.S. to do this. So that we can have logistics and rotational troop presence there in Georgia.
I’d also like to see Georgia and the U.S. work closely together to increase private investment in the South Caucasus; getting American and European nations to invest there would also cause governments to pay more attention to the security situation there, to protect their investments. Of course, the Kremlin does not want this”.
According to Hodges, the government of Georgia needs to have a public debate about Georgia’s national security strategy – a “whole of government” approach.
“Bring in the public with a series of town halls, have security, economy and infrastructure experts meet with the public, explain what the threats are, describe what is requested to protect Georgia from the Kremlin’s wide array of threats, and then build the national societal resilience to resist/deter those threats. That is even more important to Georgian security than NATO membership,” he added.