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Geopolitical Vector of Ilham Aliyev's Visit

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, November 7, 2022
On October 24, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev visited Georgia. During the meeting of the two countries' authorities, the subject of discussion was the official transit projects of Baku, the implementation of which is possible only with the participation of Georgia. The realization of these projects will obviously be beneficial for Georgia, however, according to experts, the conversation touched on other issues related to the current geopolitical changes in the region and the world.

The president of Georgia's neighbor and strategic partner visited Tbilisi after a 7-year break. After 2015, Ilham Aliyev had not been in Georgia. The appearance of the President of Azerbaijan in Tbilisi was unexpected for the media and, therefore, for the public. He was not preceded by any information that such a visit was planned. It is possible that the government of Georgia heard shortly before the visit that the president of the neighboring country was visiting Georgia.

The President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, was not informed about the visit of the President of Azerbaijan, whose administration specifically announced this after the visit. Aliyev did not even meet the President of Georgia during his stay in Tbilisi. Some explained Zourabichvili's not knowing about this by the fact that Georgian Dream is opposed to some steps taken by her, others pointed out that Salome Zourabichvili's presidency is only figurative and it is not her business to make decisions on foreign policy issues. The President of Azerbaijan was hosted by the Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Gharibashvili.

After Ilkham Aliyev's visit, Georgian opposition media recalled the case of Gareji, when before the 2020 elections, it was actively circulated by the government's initiation, and according to the map brought from Russia, the Gareji monastery complex was entirely within the borders of Georgia. The election campaign was stopped after the elections, and apparently, Aliyev was not even mentioned during his stay in Tbilisi.

Aliyev spoke about the transit projects that Azerbaijan plans to implement in the near future. By 2027, Azerbaijan plans to export almost 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe, and the transit route passes through Georgia. The corresponding memorandum was signed in July during the visit of the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen to Baku. Getting rid of dependence on Russian energy carriers is a vital task for Europe, and from this point of view, Azerbaijan is one of the suppliers of natural gas.

During his visit to Tbilisi, Ilham Aliyev also spoke about the need to launch the Supsa terminal, through which it is possible to bring about 5 million tons of oil to the Black Sea coast, for its further transit by tankers.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the economic sanctions imposed on Russia have increased the importance of Azerbaijani power trains and, in general, the importance of transit routes bypassing Russia for Europe. Such natural routes to the west pass through Georgia. The government of Georgia pursues a policy of non-irritating Russia. During his visit, Ilham Aliyev had to bring some solid security guarantees regarding the implementation of his transit projects. Commentators immediately remembered that Ilham Aliyev met Turkish President Erdogan four days before his visit to Tbilisi and that the gas pipeline coming from Azerbaijan enters Turkey through Georgia. So, Turkey is vitally interested in the transit projects of Azerbaijan.

After Azerbaijan's victory in the 44-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh in the fall of 2020, Turkey's influence in the South Caucasus increased dramatically and Russia's position weakened. Dissatisfaction with Russia is also growing in Armenia, where they believe that Russia did not fulfill its obligation to protect Armenia during the war with Azerbaijan.

During Aliyev's visit to Tbilisi, the South Caucasian tripartite format, which envisages the Georgia-Armenia-Azerbaijan dialogue, was mentioned. Obviously, official Tbilisi cannot provide security guarantees to Armenia, but it may be a meeting place for negotiations. As experts point out, Russia's influence in the South Caucasus is currently greatest in Georgia. The Georgian Dream's non-provocation policy is supplemented by Russian citizens who came to Georgia from Russia in two waves, and their number is growing rapidly.

According to the information of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, 112,733 citizens of Russia entered and remain in Georgia in 2022. This is more than 3% of the population of Georgia. The diaspora of Russian citizens that suddenly appeared and settled in the country can be used by Moscow at any time against Georgia.