After the October 31 parliamentary elections, President Zurabishvili contributed to the foreign policy vector of the country, which is in a severe internal political crisis. On December 21, the 5th President of Georgia openly supported the idea of creating a Caucasian Platform put forward by Turkish President Erdogan, which was followed by silence from the authorities, fierce protests from the pro-Western opposition, and criticism from the West.
With the open support of the Caucasus Platform, the President raises another topic of controversy
By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, December 30
Erdogan made the plan to set up a Caucasus platform during a visit to Baku on December 10, following a cessation of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, he has however, had this idea for a long time, having first spoke about it as prime minister after the August 2008 war. The essence of the project is simple - Russia and Turkey should ensure ‘peace’ among the three countries of the South Caucasus (five,according to Russia).
In 2020, Iran was also named among the guardian countries. From the affairs of the South Caucasus, Erdogan, whose initiative has already been approved by Putin, is trying to exclude the participation of the European Union and the United States. Obviously, the declaration of this idea in 2008 was met with a negative reaction in the West and Georgia wasn’t enthusiastic either.
However, in 2020, after the President of Russia’s approval, the President of Georgia also approved Erdogan’s Caucasus initiative. On December 21, Salome Zurabishvili, at the Ambassadors' Conference 2020, which was attended by the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Georgian ambassadors to various countries, Salome Zurabishvili said: “I am deeply convinced that Georgia will be neither passive nor secondary to the initiative of the Caucasus Platform. I hope that 2021 will be the year of our revival in this regard.”
It should be noted that Salome Zurabishvili first spoke about the idea of the "Caucasian Peace Platform" on the day of her speech in the Parliament of Georgia on December 11. According to her, this platform "will bring together the countries of the Caucasus, external actors and international organizations" and will contribute to Georgia's economic development.
The ‘external actors’ in the current model of the Caucasus platform are Russia and Turkey. Zurabishvili's statements about supporting the Caucasus Platform went relatively unnoticed until she wrote about it on Twitter.
According to the current model of the Constitution of Georgia, foreign policy is determined not by the President, but by the Parliament and then the Prime Minister. Before making such a scandalous statement, Zurabishvili should have consulted with the leadership of the Georgian Dream.
After Zurabishvili's statement, the Georgian authorities should have made an explanation immediately, as the idea of Georgia joining the Caucasus platform calls into question Georgia's Western orientation.
Zurabishvili's statement was met with surprise and criticism in the West. Former US Ambassador to Georgia Ian Kelly immediately responded to him on Twitter. "Why does the President of Georgia want to popularize this Caucasian platform, when it means that Russia and Iran should have a say in your regional affairs?" Kelly asked and reminded Zurabishvili that the ‘establishing peace’ approved by her is being carried out by Russian troops. Former US Army Chief of Staff General Ben Hodgers has responded to Ian Kelly's tweet, asking what benefits Zurabishvili sees for Georgia's sovereignty by joining the Caucasus Pact. "Why is it a convenient plan for Georgia to cement Russian occupiers on the border? Why does Georgia allow ‘Russian peacekeepers’ to fly to Armenia through its airspace when “Russian troops have occupied Georgian territory”?
The questions are legitimate and it does not matter that these questions are asked not by those in power, but by "former" associates.
Answers to these questions are expected both within the country and in the West. Zurabishvili's statement is alarming to the pro-Western opposition in Georgia, which is questioning the Georgian Dream's Western orientation.
Attention is drawn to the fact that Zurabishvili endorsed the Caucasus platform and questioned the country's Western orientation when discussions began in the West about accelerating Georgia's membership in NATO. The main opposition party, the National Movement, does not consider Zurabishvili's statement a coincidence. "Ivanishvili and his puppets just like that, purposefully and not covertly, steal our western future," said Salome Samadashvili, a representative of the United National Movement.
Labor party leader Shalva Natelashvili made the most direct statement about the Caucasus platform on behalf of the opposition. "I want to declare to the whole world and to the authors of this idea that Georgia will never return to the nest of the old invaders - Turkey and Russia, let neither Erdogan nor Putin dream about it!" He also called on the Foreign Ministry to immediately disclose the secret correspondence that exists with Turkey and Russia regarding Georgia's accession to the Caucasus Platform. Against the backdrop of Russia and Turkey became geopolitical allies and together they divided Syria and the South Caucasus, Sh. Natelashvili considers the deployment of US military bases as a solution for Georgia and asked President Biden to speed up the work in this direction.
After the scandal erupted, the Georgian presidential administration clarified that Salome Zurabishvili had come up with the idea of a Caucasian peace platform during the war in Karabakh and "could not be seen as a response to Erdogan's initiative."
It seems that Salome Zurabishvili and the Georgian government are trying to stop the scandal and in this way are distancing themselves from Erdogan's initiative for now. However, when Russia and Turkey agree on a Caucasus platform, it is difficult to imagine the Georgian government standing its ground.
(Translated from Georgian by Mariam Mchedlidze)