Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey establishing common military-econ area

Agency WPS
What the Papers Say Part A (Russia)
February 15, 2007 Thursday

Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey are establishing a common
military-economic area

by Andrei Korbut

Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia: new aspects of cooperation; A new
military-economic alliance is forming in the South Caucasus: Georgia,
Azerbaijan, and Turkey. Their leaders have signed the Tbilisi
declaration on a common vision for regional cooperation, and agreed
to build a new Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railroad.

A new military-economic alliance is forming in the South Caucasus:
Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. Last week, the leaders of these
countries signed the Tbilisi declaration on a common vision for
regional cooperation. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, Azeri
President Ilham Aliyev, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan also approved and instructed their ministers to sign a
memorandum of understanding and cooperation in the energy sector, and
an agreement to build a new Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railroad.

After the signing ceremony, the three national leaders made a
statement emphasizing the strategic significance, economic benefits,
and further cooperation prospects in the Tbilisi memorandum. Economic
partnership between these countries in the energy and transport
sectors is already established, de jure. Obviously, the energy
memorandum primarily concerns oil-and-gas exports from Azerbaijan’s
sector of the Caspian Sea along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and
Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipelines. The transport project is a new factor
in trilateral economic relations. According to the documents signed
last wee, the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railroad project entails building a
new branch 105 kilometers long, with 76 kilometers of it in Turkey
and 29 kilometers in Georgia. Construction work in Georgia is
scheduled to start in the second quarter of 2007, and the whole
project is to be completed in three years. Specialists calculate that
the new railroad will have a throughput capacity of up to 15 million
tons of cargo per year. It will connect Azerbaijan and Turkey, as
well as becoming an important link in the transport corridor from
Central Asia to Europe.

Armenia was prepared to join this project. Then the path from East to
West via the South Caucasus would have been shorter and less costly
for Armenia, since Armenia already has a railroad connecting Yerevan
with Turkey. This plan was supported by the Americans. But neither
Azerbaijan nor Turkey would heed the opinion of the White House. When
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan received Azeri Defense
Minister Safar Abiyev on February 6, he stated openly that "Turkey
will not open its borders with Armenia until the Armenian-Azeri
conflict is resolved." As everyone knows, there’s no immediate
prospect of resolving this conflict by means of diplomacy. Thus,
there is an evident military-political subtext in the new railroad
from Turkey to Azerbaijan via Georgia.

Another important point is that in the lead-up to the Tbilisi
meeting, Baku and Ankara signed a new agreement in the field of
military cooperation. Turkey promised to provide military aid to
Azerbaijan, although the amounts have not been disclosed. In light of
the new developments, experts are already suggesting that if
hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia are resumed, the
Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railroad is supposed to become an important supply
route in the rear – with supplies being delivered to the Azeri Army
from Turkey. Georgia’s problem is that it will have to complete the
railroad sector from Akhalkalaki to the Turkish border, and ensure
military and economic security for the sector crossing territory
populated by Armenians. Tbilisi is also well aware that building a
railroad to Turkey will reduce transport and transit volumes at
Georgian ports, now used to transport most cargo to Europe by sea.

This seems to explain why Ankara and Baku have made substantial
concessions to Tbilisi. Azerbaijan is providing Georgia with a
low-interest (1% per annum) long-term loan of $200 million. President
Aliyev has also helped to alleviate President Saakashvili’s energy
problems by starting to supply natural gas to Georgia. So far, these
deliveries have been made at the expense of the Turkish quota. During
his visit to Tbilisi on February 7, Prime Minister Erdogan noted that
Turkey "will make every effort to provide Georgia with 800 million
cubic meters of gas by July 2007… That’s a promise on our part."
And then Azerbaijan will start supplying gas to Georgia from the
Shah-Deniz field.

Solving Georgia’s economic problems is only part of the aid Turkey
will provide to the Saakashvili regime. They are also expanding
military cooperation. According to figures in "Jane’s Sentinel
Security Assessment: Russia and the CIS," Turkey has provided Georgia
with around $40 million in military aid since 1998. Turkey is helping
its neighbor to modernize military airfields and build military bases
in direct proximity to the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflict

All these actions by Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan indicate that
they are establishing a common military-economic area. This could
eventually lead to higher tension in the region and even further
isolation of Armenia, Moscow’s ally. Moreover, the increase in
Georgia’s military might is connected with any plans it may have to
launch military campaigns against the breakaway territories. The
alliance between Azerbaijan and Turkey, reinforced by energy
transport and other projects, also includes a substantial military
component. Turkish Ambassador to Azerbaijan Turan Moraly has said
that if Azerbaijan and Turkey form a military alliance, Turkey could
provide Azerbaijan with "assistance in the event of renewed
hostilities on the Nagorno-Karabakh front." The two countries don’t
have a military alliance as yet, but it’s plain to see that they are
heading in this direction. Thus, there may be some serious
complications in the Trans-Caucasus situation in the near future –
with a direct impact on Russia’s interests.

Source: Voenno-Promyshlennyi Kurier, No. 6, February 2007, p. 3

Translated by Elena Leonova

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