"It is necessary to negotiate in Caucasus, question is how"
    Zaal Kasrelishvili on Caliber.Az

    INTERVIEWS  08 February 2023 - 16:17

    Vadim Mansurov

    Recently, the topic of the "3+3" format (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia - Russia, Türkiye, Iran)  has resurfaced in the South Caucasus political space, which is actively promoted by Moscow. Following talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov in Moscow last December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated at a press conference that a second meeting in the 3+3 format was being prepared. The dates and agenda, as noted by the Russian minister, are already being coordinated. Denis Gonchar, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Fourth CIS Department, even clarified that a meeting of the future platform for regional cooperation could take place in the coming months.

    Meanwhile, various obstacles arise one after another on the way to creating such a format: an attack was carried out on the Azerbaijani embassy in Iran and relations between Tehran and Baku are now heated to the limit, far from everything being smooth in relations with other "six" states. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the regional countries somehow need to look for ways of dialogue with each other, and a suitable formula for cooperation.

    In an interview with Caliber.Az, The Georgian political scientist, the chairman of the Confederation of the Caucasus Peoples, Zaal Kasrelishvili, expressed his opinion on how viable the "3+3" format can be and whether its launch is possible in the near future.

    - How do you assess the prospects of the regional format "3+3", how realistic is such regional cooperation?

    - Everything should be viewed through the prism of international geopolitical processes. Now all the attention of the world's geopolitical centres is focused on the Russia-Ukraine war. The outcome of this war is not very clear, but there is no doubt that regardless of its outcome, both Russia and Ukraine will not remain the same as before. At the same time, Azerbaijan was able to liberate its lands, including Karabakh, Baku and Tbilisi, in cooperation with other countries, launched the legendary Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway transit, and now an energy megaproject is being developed, which, in my opinion, is more important than even the Silk Road. Recently, an agreement was reached in Bucharest on a strategic partnership in the field of development and delivery of "green" energy between the governments of Azerbaijan, Hungary, Georgia and Romania, which provides for the laying of an underwater electric cable along the Black Sea bottom.

    And this is just the beginning - then there will be gas, oil and land transportation, which is planned to increase tenfold. After all, even if Europe resumes relations with Russia, it will still need alternative supply routes. In this sense, I believe that Georgia has defined its role in the mission of promoting the development of humanity, especially since friendly Azerbaijan is next to us.

    However, against this background, the Russian Federation does not want to miss its chances and is trying to maintain influence in the region by all means (by region I mean the countries of the Black and Caspian basins). It has its own game here, and Moscow is trying to delay time to solve all problematic issues in a format that is beneficial to itself. For example, Moscow says that it wants to launch an air service between Georgia and Russia but does not launch it, claims that it welcomes the dialogue of Abkhazians, and South Ossetians with Georgians, but does nothing.

    The same is true with the 3+3 format: Moscow is trying to be the main engine of this initiative because it is a peaceful negotiation format that is very suitable for it to implement its plans. Yes, in general, the format is very good and interesting, but in fact, it has its own difficulties because these are six countries, each with its own interests. And there is not a single neutral force here, everyone has their own interest. That is, it is quite difficult to agree.

    - And can you offer your options?

    - It would be nice, for example, as it seems to me if there were some international neutral entity here - a state or an organisation that would form a dialogue with each of the participants, looking for an acceptable, common solution for all. But this is only an option. And speaking specifically, I can say that to promote the "3+3" format, Tbilisi can offer its services to a peaceful negotiation platform. After all, it is obvious that Georgia and Tbilisi itself are the most neutral platform for everyone. For example, you can invite representatives of Iran and Azerbaijan to our capital to begin with – now these countries, as we know, have extremely difficult relations. And here you can sit, and talk to each other. There are also four other countries, and they have their differences… And this should not be forgotten.

    And objectively speaking, it should be admitted that Türkiye is more likely to support the interests of Baku rather than Tehran. The same is true with Georgia – Tbilisi is much closer to the position of Baku and Ankara than Tehran and Yerevan. And here is the apparent formation of blocks that will somehow affect the subjectivity of the negotiation process: Azerbaijan – Türkiye - Georgia and Russia – Armenia-Iran.

    - And what exactly is Russia's interest in the "3 +3" format and how to find a way out of this difficult, contradictory situation?

    - It seems to me that Russia, unfortunately, is promoting this initiative more in order to establish itself as a kind of creator of peaceful negotiation formats. After all, now, against the background of the Ukraine war, an extremely negative, I would even say, "bloody" image of Russia has formed, and it is very tempting for Moscow to have a bonus of a mediator in conflicts. Brandishing it as an argument, Russia can declare itself as a peacemaker and use this status in its negotiations with Ukraine, creating for the West a kind of positive halo to its political portrait. And most importantly – demanding the lifting of Western sanctions for this. Of course, this is a rather dubious game, because few people believe Russia anymore. So it seems to me that the "3+3" format, actively promoted by Moscow now, will eventually come to an irreversible impasse.

    I believe that for a positive result, everything should be rethought and start from scratch: establish a negotiating platform and a representative with a possible centre in Tbilisi and suggest that each of the parties clearly identify their interests – in writing and without playful diplomatic varnish. In order to then compare these positions and try to understand directly, in fact, what is common there and what are the contradictions. And it certainly should not be Russia that oversees this issue. Iran, for example, is slowing down and hindering the launch of the Zangazur corridor at the political level – and it is quite clear that without this, the negotiation format of all six countries is unlikely to be successful, I would even say - this is the cornerstone of the problem. And if we understand why Iran is doing this, then we can understand that one of the factors stimulating Tehran's stubbornness is its non-participation in global megaprojects in the region and the presence of sanctions. Because Iran is an outcast in international politics, the Ayatollah regime is killing people, and violating its citizens' rights. So in this context, Tehran acts more according to the formula "if I didn't get it, why should others have it?". And we need to think about how to smooth out such disagreements. And again, it is unlikely that Russia will be able to act in this context as a suitable coordinator, and arbitrator in resolving such issues.

    - In your opinion, what is the current state of Russian-Georgian relations? For example, you mentioned information about the possible restoration of Moscow-Tbilisi flights.

    - Yes, this topic is voiced, but, as I have already noted, this does not mean that it will come to life. Russia is simply creating a stir to "warm up" the topic. Tbilisi is not against, of course, the restoration of air traffic, moreover, I note that Georgia was not the initiator of the suspension of flights between our countries at the time. However, I personally do not expect this issue to be resolved in the near future. Although both Russian tourists and migrants have now flooded into Georgia. We, of course, do not prevent their arrival, but not everyone is happy with such an influx of Russians.

    As for Russian-Georgian relations as a whole, they actually do not exist. And they can become full-fledged only when Moscow itself, on its own initiative, puts representatives of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Tbilisi at the negotiating table, and activates the dialogue on restoring Georgia's territorial integrity. However, Tbilisi categorically does not accept the proposals coming from Moscow on the format of confederate relations between Abkhazia, Ossetia and Georgia. As a counterargument, I note that in this case, let Moscow, if it considers such a decision fair, conclude similar agreements with Chechnya or Tatarstan. We need a full-fledged solution to this issue only within Georgia's territorial integrity.


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