On October 6th, 2021, Sergei Lavrov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, hosted a joint press conference with his Iranian colleague Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. While discussing the existing geopolitical challenges in the Caucasus region, Lavrov stressed the need for a full restoration of existing transport routes and economic relations. According to Lavrov, the meeting once again concerned the “3+3” initiative, proposed by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in December 2020, which aims to unite the three South Caucasus countries (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) and their “big neighbors” (Russia, Turkey, Iran) to promote regional integration. During the discussion, Lavrov cited the example of Georgia and expressed hope that the country would be able to realize its fundamental interest in the process of regional cooperation.
Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia: “In this context, we discussed today the initiative to create a “3+3” format to include the three South Caucasus countries and the three “big” neighbors, namely, Russia, Iran and Turkey […] We hope that despite its current problems, Georgia will be able to realize its fundamental interest in creating such a mechanism for consultations and approving decisions for the accelerated development of this region, which had been held back for a long time by the ongoing conflicts.”
One day after Lavrov’s statement, on October 7th, 2021, in an interview with the Georgian Public Broadcaster, Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaniani said that it would be “very hard” for Georgia to participate in the format with the occupier, although the country should not lag behind major geopolitical processes and projects in the region. Nonetheless, Zalkaniani added that the involvement should not be at the expense of the national interests of the country, as sovereignty and territorial integrity are “red lines” for the country’s sovereignty.
Zalkaniani’s statement was followed by a backlash. Ian Kelly, the former US ambassador to Georgia, criticized the message, saying that Georgia’s friends would have preferred Georgia to use “impossible” instead of “very hard” to assess Georgia’s potential relations with the occupier. Concerned about the initiative, Luke Coffey, director of the Heritage Foundation’s foreign policy center, described the format as a “terrible idea” and said that co-operation with Russia and Iran would not be good for Georgia as a country with European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Among the supporters of the initiative, there were also the former members of the “Alliance of Patriots of Georgia,” who have established a new political party “European Socialists” and a respective fraction in the parliament. The initiative was also supported by the Levan Vasadze party affiliate, far-right “Alt-Info.” On a program on October 9th, the hosts of “Alt-Info” tried to advocate for the ‘3+3’ initiative by spreading the following messages:
- Cooperation within the format is inevitable, as otherwise, Georgia will invoke hostilities from other regional players;
- The ‘3+3’ format is in the interests of the country, as the country will receive significant economic dividends.
- Cooperation with Russia cannot damage relations with the West.
Cooperation within the Format is Inevitable
“Alt-Info” asserted that due to the geopolitical situation in the region, the country does not have the luxury of rejecting cooperation initiatives, as it is necessary to create a communication platform with neighbors with conflicting political interests and reduce the risk of confrontation. Following this logic, resistance to cooperation will, in all possible scenarios, result in defeat, and the country will eventually have to join the platform.
Shota Martinenko, Host at Alt-Info: “Since these parties clearly have mutually exclusive interests, it will be necessary to develop a format that somehow excludes conflict. Initiating a conflict here between these parties would be such a large, large-scale process […] Therefore, this format will be something inevitable for our region. Who can imagine that we can stay behind all this?”
Giorgi Kardava, host at Alt-Info: “Leading regional players like Russia, Turkey, Iran, have expressed a clear positive attitude towards this project because it is in everyone’s interest. […] None of the sides will allow its interests to be left in the background so unilaterally. And how does anyone imagine that Georgia would hinder this project separately? This will result in serious political and economic damage to our country. […] You cannot refuse because the whole region, all around you, will confront you.”
Zurab Makharadze, host at Alt-Info: “We have to settle our relations with the Russians, we need a partner, and we have to choose if from the regional players. You may not like the menu, but the menu is as follows: Russia, Turkey, Iran…”
‘3+3’ Format is in the interests of Georgia
The message tried to promote the idea that Georgia, due to its unique geographical location, could play a major transit role in the region and receive economic benefits as a result:
Giorgi Kardava, host at Alt-Info: “We will specify what we can get, we will get the cargo on our territory, and that is money.”
Giorgi Kardava, host at Alt-Info: “It is a paradox, but our level of security increases with this. Because if the frequency of communications in Georgia increases, those who are involved in it would not want a war in Georgia. For example, if Iran has arranged the transfer of its cargo through Georgia, by rail, for example, if Russia intervenes and blocks the railway as a result of hostilities, Iran will not be satisfied. Russia does not like it either, so the more transits and cargo on our territory, the more our security increases and the greater the economic prosperity.”
Giorgi Kardava, host at Alt-Info: “We will take part in it, [3+3 Format] there is no alternative, and plus, it is beneficial for us.”
Zurab Makharadze, Host at Alt-Info: “A country whose only function is to perform this transit function, and which is called for dialogue […]And not to offend America, we are giving up on the only geopolitical function we have left now.”
“3+3” Format cannot damage Georgia’s relations with the West
According to another message voiced by “Alt-Info,” the West is weakened and, therefore, does not have the resources to claim control of the region, asserting that some European countries may even be satisfied with the resumption of Georgian-Russian relations:
Giorgi Kardava, host at Alt-Info: “Such a statement of the ‘Georgian Dream,’ hinting on the Georgian involvement, is a demonstration that the pressure from the West is much weaker now. Ten years ago, such a statement from a representative of the Georgian Dream would not have been made. The fiasco of the West, the fragility of the West, is so clear that even the Georgian Dream, which is a Western, liberal force, is trying to make some adequate decisions.”
Giorgi Kardava, host at Alt-Info: “Look at it from the perspective of Germany. It freezes, they have no gas, they barely built the North Stream despite these American sanctions, and imagine if suddenly, either in Ukraine or in Georgia, the Americans mess up the situation. Germany, as one of the leading countries in the European Union, would have to state its position on this. Of course, according to international law, Russia will be the one to blame because Russia will use force and this whole serious project will fail … So, if Georgia and Russia sort their relationship out, Germany will only be satisfied.”
Shota Martinenko, host at Alt-Info: “European countries do not have a direct ambition to control this region, they do not have the power, they do not have the potential for it, so it is quite possible to maintain good relations with Russia. Settling with Russia does not mean that you are really ruining things with Europe.”
- The danger of the ‘3+3’ Format for Georgia
Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued an official statement that Georgia is not going to participate in the initiative, it is important to note the circumstances that would make Georgian involvement in the “3+3” format inconsistent with its national interests.
Joining the initiative means restoring relations with Russia to a certain extent
It is important to underscore the fact that Russia is one of the members of the “3+3” format, openly claiming to be the main actor within the initiative. Due to the events of 2008 and the problems of ‘borderization,’ Tbilisi has severed diplomatic relations with official Moscow; therefore, membership in a political formation in which Russia is the main actor, within which the country will have to fulfill specific commitments, may even be perceived as “giving up the fight for sovereignty.
Noteworthy, Russia is actively seeking to strengthen its influence in the region by gaining various political, economic, and social leverages. It is in Russia’s interest to create this format to guarantee its role as the region’s main mediator and peacemaker.
More importantly, the format involves only the regional actors; therefore, Georgia’s strategic partners will not be able to support the country. Georgia, in such conditions, will automatically find itself in a losing position because it is left alone in the face of the occupier.
For more information about the implications of a direct dialogue with Russia, see our articles:
- Risks of Direct Dialogue with Russia
- Lavrov’s Georgian Advocates against Kelly Degnan
- Obieqtivi and Alliance of Patriots Demand to Stay One-on-one with the Occupier
Not to mention, the vast majority of the Georgian population supports the country’s Euro-Atlantic orientation, which is reflected in the significantly lower ratings of the pro-Kremlin parties in the elections. Hence, the government’s potential involvement in the ‘3+3’ format will cause significant dissatisfaction among the Georgian population.
The members of the format are mostly non-democratic states, making the economic cooperation riskier
In the light of Georgia’s demonstrated willingness to integrate into European and Euro-Atlantic structures for security and economic stability, participation in the “3 + 3” format, which is composed of mostly authoritarian states, will jeopardize this goal.
In addition, one should also consider the fact that Iran is sanctioned by the United States, which is Georgia’s strategic partner. Hence, in terms of foreign relations with Iran, as an ally of the U.S., Georgia needs to be more cautious.
By participating in the “3 + 3” format, Georgia will a priori engage with Russia in various economic and infrastructural projects, which will significantly reduce the country’s economic stability. First, by participating in joint projects, Russia will gain significant economic leverage to strengthen its influence in the country. It is noteworthy that in the past, Russia has often used the leverages to pursue its interests not only in relation to Georgia but also in relation to other European countries.
Therefore, it is important for Georgia to diversify its market.