A view from Tbilisi: Turkey and Georgia as logical partners

TEDO JAPARITZE
Published 12.02.2020 01:56

Turkey and Georgia are inseparable. We share an intertwined history and a common border of great geopolitical significance. I am told that an old Turkish proverb says something like: "Every fifth Turk has a Georgian ancestor." Old Georgian villages dot Turkey's Black Sea coastline, where our people have intermingled for centuries. This may be where the proverb originated. However, one thing is certain: the Black Sea is our common heritage, our common future and our common responsibility.

It is also our first line of defense against encroachment from those who do not share our vision of a peaceful region free of threats. Unsurprisingly, all Georgians applauded Turkey's foreign minister when he stated forcefully at the recent Davos meetings that Georgia should be made a full member of NATO without further delay. We have been saying this for many years, and we have illustrated our application for full membership by supporting NATO-led operations generously with our own well-trained troops.

We are grateful for Turkey's support, especially in the face of certain European NATO members' apparent opposition. NATO membership for Georgia would ally us unambiguously with Turkey – and would pitch our joint focus on developing objectives and strategies for the safeguard of our common maritime front.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan underlined the urgency of developing the strategies and means to achieve these during his recent visit to Ukraine. He rejected Russia's seizure of Crimea and underlined the strategic objectives Ukraine and Turkey share in the Black Sea area. His words and actions were well-received in Georgia, as they were in Bulgaria, Romania, and of course Ukraine. On the other hand, as expected, they were not well-received in Moscow.

Russia's plan to dominate the Black Sea is no secret. Here, it has gone to great lengths to intimidate fellow riparian states, including Turkey. In this regard, Georgia has come to Russia's attention, in particular. In 2008, the latter seized two sovereign territories from Georgia – and still holds them, despite international efforts to negotiate for their return. One of the territories, Abkhazia, presides over a significant chunk of the Black Sea coastline, which multiplies Russia's advantages in the region when combined with its taking of Crimea from Ukraine. This coastline extends, after Abkhazia, across all of Georgia's Black Sea shores, stopping only at Turkey. On this front, Georgia represents the only thing between Russia and Turkey.

Russia has made no effort to hide its growing lust for Black Sea dominance, as it strives to build positions in Syria and Libya, where it confronts Turkey's interests directly. It is also moving aggressively in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. But without consolidating its dominance of the Black Sea, the portal to the Bosporus, these ambitions cannot be consolidated. Thus for Turkey, its strategies in its larger geopolitical region begin in the Black Sea. And this is where Turkey's interests and Georgia's intersect in a powerful dynamic.

It seems evident that President Erdoğan envisions new fundamentals and foundations for positioning his country geopolitically. He perceives that what the Russians call the "correlation of forces" has changed, that new actors with new strategies have emerged and that the means to achieve the latter will challenge Turkey's interests in many directions. Realigning Turkey effectively will require new partners, as well as investing new energy and meaning into existing partnerships that facilitate and accelerate this realignment.

Georgia should be front and center in Turkey's strategic reassessment, as the vital interests and geopolitics of both countries converge repeatedly. NATO membership for Georgia is a necessary step and an urgent one. But this strategic partnership can be developed and articulated at many more levels and should be. The logic of shared civilizations, geopolitical proximity and common strategic challenges are irrefutable.

*Ambassador, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia

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