Staunton, February 25 – When east-west corridors have been discussed in the South Caucasus, Georgia has always assumed that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the international isolation of Iran would mean that such routes would have to pass through its territory and provide it with income and links to the outside world.
As long as the Karabakh conflict lasted, that was a good bet; but now discussions about the creation of new transit routes through Armenia and Azerbaijan and even Iran means that Georgia could be left out in the cold, according to Irina Khachidze (casp-geo.ru/novaya-realnost-na-kavkaze-pojdet-li-lazuritovyj-koridor-v-obhod-gruzii/).
The route bypassing Georgia is not a done deal. Baku backs a Georgian route, and it will be several years before rail and road links can be constructed across the Zengezur corridor between Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan autonomy. Moreover, many Western countries will oppose any route through Iran.
But while all this is true, the January meeting must be a wakeup call for Tbilisi and its supporters, especially because it reflects a shift in opinion in some capitals in the wake of Azerbaijan’s defeat of Armenia in last summer and fall’s fighting over Qarabagh and other portions of Azerbaijan that Yerevan had occupied.
The routes operational so far between Azerbaijan and Turkey do pass through Georgia, and discussions about the Lapis Lazuli Corridor linking South Asia and Europe initially assumed that this route would do so as well (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/11/russia-lacks-transportation.html). Now, the Georgian analyst says, that has changed.
At the end of January, she points out, the future of the Lapis Lazuli Corridor was discussed at a video conference which linked officials from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, a grouping that came up with “’a road map’” for the next moves toward the development of this route. Georgia wasn’t invited, and it is no longer on the route.
Tbilisi which has been embroiled in domestic problems hasn’t yet focused on this outcome, but if Georgia is eliminated from the route, Kachidze continues, this will mark a major failure of “one of those few projects which were born and began to be realized during the period of the rule of the Georgian Dream.”
Under both Eduard Shevardnadze and Mikhail Saakashvili, Tbilisi actively participated in discussions about all such east-west routes, but in recent months, the analyst says, it has adopted a more passive stance, something that means others have taken the initiative and Georgia has failed to respond to the new post-Qarabagh conflict realities.
Vakhtang Maisaya, a Georgian security expert, says that if the Lapis Lazuli route does bypass Georgia, something the current arrangements among Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan make possible, “the Georgian railway and the country’s Black Sea ports will lose a significant portion of their cargos and hence their profits and income for the Georgian budget.”
All this means, Khachidze says, that the Georgian government must become more active and more insistent that the Lapis Lazuli corridor go through the republic as originally planned. Unless that happens, Georgia could find itself on the outside looking in, yet another “casualty” of the Qarabagh fighting.