Khatiashvili: "This factor may become a catalyst for our rapprochement with NATO and the European Union"

01-12-2022 19:09:09

"If Georgia needed NATO and the European Union so far, now they also need Georgia," the foreign policy researcher of the analytical centre Geocase, Nikoloz Khatiashvili told the Accent.

In an interview with the news agency he spoke about various issues, including regarding the strategic importance of the Black Sea for the West.

- Given Russia's war against Ukraine we see that the importance of the Middle Corridor is increasing Obviously, the interest and possible benefits are multi-component, but we have challenges in terms of security, considering the Kremlin factor. Are there talks that this increased interest will be accompanied by security, so that this corridor does not become a tool of manipulation from Russia?

- Russia tried its best to turn the Black Sea into its personal lake even before the war in Ukraine, however, after the war, we saw that the importance of the Black Sea has increased even more.

On the one hand, the interest stems from the war in Ukraine – hostilities are also taking place in the Black Sea. And on the other hand, the war in Ukraine showed the European Union needs alternative energy sources. Russia began to use its energy as a tool of political influence. Some signals in this regard appeared even during the energy crisis of 2009, when Russia stopped supplying gas to Ukraine, although Europe was actually affected by this action. At that time, there was talk about the need to have alternative ways, however, Europe remained in the comfort zone, receiving gas from Russia without interruption and thought that it would continue like that.

- Europe was increasing its dependence on Russia...

- Yes. Instead of reducing its dependence, they also started work on the second gas pipeline [North Stream 2] and I think it was a mistake. However, the ongoing war in Ukraine has already put Europe in front of the fact: it has faced serious problems not only in terms of energy supply, but also in terms of a number of products, and given the current situation, reducing energy dependence on Russia has been set as a strategic goal for the future - it is already emphasized in all documents and statements that Europe needs alternative ways. And what resources does Europe have for alternative energy supply? The first is renewable energy – in the context of environmental protection, Europe has been developing renewable energy sources for years, but this will not be enough. For example, I heard yesterday at the conference that Norway will supply gas to Germany, and they will probably increase the supply in the future, but even this is not enough. Europe really needs a new source of energy supply, which will at least partially replace the Russian one.

As for oil, the issue is relatively simple, because it is easier to transport it, and as for gas, it is difficult. Given this situation, the role of Georgia is increasing: the most profitable, safe and stable road passes through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. It is possible to direct the energy resources of Central Asia and the Caspian Sea to Europe through this corridor. We already have concrete facts: the supply volume in the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzrum gas pipeline has increased. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Azerbaijan. We see that the volume of cargoes from Asia to Europe has increased significantly. During his visit to Georgia, Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan emphasized that the development of the electricity sector is planned in Azerbaijan, which will pass through Georgia to Europe. Georgia has the experience and infrastructure to ensure this process.

Thus, similar facts indicate that interest is increasing. Obviously, the development of the corridor also comes with challenges, because from Russia's point of view, this activity is against its national interests, therefore, the threat from Russia is also increasing. And if the implementation of the corridor its effective and safe operation is in the interest of Europe, the attention towards us should also be increased, including from the side of NATO. I am not saying that because of this they will immediately accept us in NATO, but they should help us to strengthen our defense capabilities, so that Georgia becomes resilient to the threats and challenges that come from Russia.

A very interesting situation has been created in our region: If Georgia needed NATO and the European Union so far, now they also need Georgia. And this factor may become a catalyst for our rapprochement with NATO and the European Union.

- Do you mean some kind of security umbrella?

- When attention is focused on guarantees, most of the people imagine that we are talking about joining NATO, but despite the fact that Georgia meets the criteria, this process will not happen so easily.

- There may be clear, unequivocal messages: "Hands off Georgia!"...

- Yes. Political support is needed and we need tangible results. For example, strengthening cooperation in the field of defense and security with the U.S. and other members of the Alliance... there are many areas where they can help. I would like to draw attention to one important fact: in the national security strategy of the U.S. there is talk about Georgia, that they support us on the path of integration into the European Union, but there was also an important note that the U.S. will continue its diplomatic efforts to promote peace in the South Caucasus region. This one sentence includes many components.

- This means not only our direction, but also Armenia and Azerbaijan, which is also important for us, if we are talking about the possibility of cooperation between the three countries of the South Caucasus...

- Yes. And in this context, when we talk about the South Caucasus, Georgia has a unique role in the regulation of Armenian –Azerbaijani relations: Georgia has strategic relations with Baku and Ankara, as well as very friendly relations with Yerevan. This situation gives us the opportunity to play the role of a mediator, on the one hand - in the regulation of Armenian –Azerbaijani relations, and on the other hand - Georgia, as a pro-Western country, a state that has very good relations with the West, to be a kind of bridge between Armenia-Azerbaijan and the West.

- It is important to mention the necessity of our close relations with the U.S., because yes, we are talking about neighbors with whom we have strategic relations, but we are also dealing with authoritarian regimes and we should not find ourselves, so to speak, in unequal conditions...

- Yes. And the fact that the South Caucasus has already appeared in the U.S. national security strategy indicates that our region plays an important role in the security and foreign policy for the U.S. Thus, there is an interest from its side to engage in diplomatic efforts to maintain peace and security in the region.

Georgia has a positive experience in this direction: during the second Karabakh war, it maintained good relations with both countries, it did not offend either side and remained neutral side. In addition, with the mediation of Georgia, there was an exchange of prisoners between Armenia and Azerbaijan; the meetings of the foreign ministers of these two countries took place in Tbilisi; At the Prague summit, Aliyev directly said that he welcomes the creation of a format where Georgia will mediate between the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides. As far as I know, work in this direction is underway and I am confident that it will become achievable. And if we can get a peace agreement or something similar to be signed in Georgia, it will increase our role both in the region and in the eyes of the West as a country promoting peace and security in the region.

- You talked about the opportunities opened up for the country by the most difficult process in the region...

- Yes, on the other hand, the war in Ukraine created a number of challenges for us, on the other hand, it also brought opportunities

- It opened new windows for us, even with the European Union and regional relations. - But do you see the readiness from official Tbilisi to take advantage of these opportunities? It seems (and many have the same impression) that we have a passive role...

- Despite the fact that we have many problems, challenges and many things that could have been done, maybe could not be done in the direction of foreign policy, when we talk about regional policy, which is obviously our foreign policy priority, I think that in this case the processes are going very correctly.

- You also mentioned that currently the importance of Georgia is increasing for NATO and the European Union, and it is necessary, among other things, to increase the country's resilience in accordance with the existing challenges. You have meetings with representatives of partner countries and what are the atitudes in this direction?

- First of all, everyone agrees that what is happening in Ukraine today started in 2008 in Georgia and then continued in Crimea. Europeans talk about the fact that after 2008, if the West had been tougher on Russia and applied more pressure, it would have been possible to avoid the current events. Thus, Europe today has realized the threats coming from Russia; according to them, they must maintain their existing unity to make Ukraine the winner in this war.

- On the other hand, we know that there are far-right groups in the West, the war in Ukraine has created crises for European countries as well, and there is an expectation that the Kremlin is trying to capitalize on these problems. When it comes to helping Ukraine to win, it is important how one sees this victory. We know the vision of Ukraine - the complete liberation of the occupied territories, and until now they are demanding specific types of weapons...

- The Europeans unequivocally declare that they will continue to support Ukraine both financially and militarily as long as it is necessary. The spirit is united. I expect that, despite many challenges, Europe will remain in support of Ukraine until the end, because they clearly understand that if they do not bring this matter to the end, they may get a worse result in the end.

- And how adequate does the issue of Georgia sound in the context of challenges?

- Yesterday, for example, the Assistant Secretary of Defense of the United States mentioned that "it all started in 2008 in Georgia and more response was needed to prevent it from reaching this point", and today the Secretary General of NATO said that Georgia is an important partner of the Alliance and that he will continue to support Georgia. Thus, the issue of Georgia is heard on major forums. Georgia was also under significant focus at the NATO Bucharest Summit.

- Behind the official announcements, behind-the-scenes information is always interesting. Anyway, what kind of help are you talking about, could you tell us more?

- I communicate with experts who represent the leading research centers of European capitals, who influence the foreign policy of their countries, and all of them unequivocally admit that Georgia needs more attention, more support, and that it is in the interests of Europe itself to strengthen Georgia, to make it part of them, because if Europe loses Georgia, it will actually lose its influence on the entire region, which will only be grist to Russia's mill. This idea is actively discussed in the academic circles of leading European centers.

- What kind of help can this be?

- Financial, which will be aimed at strengthening defense capabilities and institutions; cyber security, because both Georgia and Europe are facing challenges in this direction; fight against disinformation and propaganda; obviously, economic empowerment, because if we want a full-fledged security system, we must have a sustainable economic system. It is very good that we have economic growth in recent months, which is partly due to the increase in cargo transportation, and I hope that this trend will continue and develop further. For example, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will be heavily loaded.

- To sum it up, despite the worst situation in the region, there are also positive changes...

- Yes. As I have already said, although the war in Ukraine has created many challenges for us, it has also created positive opportunities. The main thing is to do everything in order to achieve our strategic goals.

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