By Alakbar Raufoglu
In an unprecedented step, Turkey is drafting a strategy that will include passport-less travel with Georgia, an administrative official informed SETimes.
“This is going to be an outstanding change for our region,” Turkish-Georgian Friendship Group Chairman Celal Elbay said. “Like in the EU, our citizens will be able to travel to each other with only state Ids.”
The so-called “United Caucasus” project was discussed by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi last month.
Since then, Elbay and his team have visited Tbilisi twice to follow up on Ankara’s strategy of initiatives regarding the integration of the two countries’ economies.
“We open doors towards each other in order to bring peace and development and economic strength to our region,” he said.
Georgia shares longstanding historical ties and burgeoning trade with Turkey. Tbilisi’s precarious geopolitical relationship with Russia is also a significant factor driving its calculations.
Under the strategy, Georgia proposes to unify the alliance between the three South Caucasus countries and Turkey. Ankara’s ambitions are to spread its Georgia initiatives throughout the Caucasus in the future.
“Turkey and Georgia can extend mini-EU type co-operation in the region, by involving the other neighbouring countries, but this idea needs time,” Sinan Ogan, chairman of the Ankara-based Turkish Centre for International Relations and Strategic Analysis, told SETimes. “Without solving the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Caucasus Union [will fail].”
“Rather than focusing on a vision that will not be reachable in the foreseeable future, more energy should be expended on resolving existing conflicts and developing more productive bilateral relations in the South Caucasus,” agreed Janusz Bugajski of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
“Although the idea [Caucasus Union] may be admirable, it would be difficult to unify a region that is beset by inter-state conflicts, separatist struggles, and an interfering Russian government that seeks to exploit regional disputes to promote its state ambitions,” he told SETimes.
“Turkey and Georgia enjoy many areas of political, security, economic, energy, transportation and cultural co-operation, coupled with a border policy that will render passports irrelevant,” said John Sitilides, a government affairs strategist with Trilogy Advisors LLC in Washington.
Deepening co-operation and simplified border crossings are a far cry from a union of states. “The nations of the Caucasus will need to anchor themselves in surer sovereign structures, and more enduring institutional relationships,” he added.
MIT Centre for International Studies Executive Director John Tirman believes Turkey should strive to develop open economic relations in the Caucasus, but a political union is not going to happen in the next decade, if ever.
“Normal diplomatic relations, free trade zones, and settlement of outstanding grievances need to come first,” he said.