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Russia, Turkey, and Iran Forge Regional Security Alliance, Georgia Opts Out

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, November 13, 2023
Russia, Turkey, and Iran are planning to create a regional security platform in the South Caucasus, in which the involvement of the USA and the European Union is excluded from the beginning. On October 23, the second meeting of this platform was held in Tehran. Georgia did not participate in either this or the first meeting held in this format for a simple reason - it is against the interests of Georgia.

Georgia's non-participation annoys Moscow, trying to get it involved. The idea of the 3+3 format belongs to the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During his stay in Baku in December 2020, after the defeat of Armenia in the second Karabakh war, he proposed creating a platform of 6 nations. This plan was preceded by the cessation of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan, mediated by Turkey and Russia.

In addition to the countries of the South Caucasus - Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, the big bordering states - Turkey, Russia, and Iran were to be included in the format of 6 nations. These countries were to cooperate to establish stability and peace in the region. It should be noted that Erdogan put forward the idea of creating a similar platform even after the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, but then Iran's participation was excluded.

The 2008 Turkish project to achieve Caucasian stability did not lead to any further steps, because Russia declared the occupied regions of Georgia as 'independent' states and continues to occupy Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region under this cover.

In 2020, President Erdogan transformed the 3+2 format into a 3+3 format, included Iran in it, and again excluded the participation of the European Union and the USA from the affairs of the region. The new format, unlike the previous one, was continued and the first meeting was held in Moscow on December 10, 2021, which actually turned out to be a 2+3 meeting, as the representative of Georgia did not attend it. Nevertheless, the flag of Georgia was raised in the meeting room of the parties, which was immediately condemned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia.

The main reason for Georgia's non-participation is that Russia does not recognize the territorial integrity of the Georgian state and continues to occupy its territories.

For Georgia and, in principle, for Armenia, another format would be acceptable: 3+3+2 - with the involvement of the European Union and the USA, however, in the conditions of the war in Ukraine and after the escalation of the situation in the Middle East, the creation of such a format should be considered out of the question.

The 'first wave' of 3+3 format in 2021, did not lead to peace and stability in the South Caucasus. Russia continued to occupy two regions of Georgia, and Azerbaijan conducted a military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023 and restored territorial integrity. This was followed by the leaving of the entire Armenian population from Nagorno-Karabakh. It was after this geopolitical change in the South Caucasus that it was announced that the second meeting of the 3+3 format would be held in Tehran.

It should be noted that shortly before this meeting, Prime Minister Gharibashvili offered Ilham Aliyev, who arrived in Tbilisi, to mediate in reaching a peace agreement with Armenia, to resolve regional affairs by the countries of the region. Ilham Aliyev agreed to it, while Pashinyan rejected it on the grounds that there was already a European format for negotiations.

However, on October 23, Armenia participated in the 3+3 format held in Tehran, where Europe was excluded and one number was still redundant - Georgia did not participate in it again, and the Foreign Ministry of Georgia announced this in advance. Participation in the said meeting in 2023 in the mentioned format was even more unacceptable for Georgia. After the 2021 meeting, Russia attacked Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out in the Middle East, in which the West sees the hand of Iran. Georgia's inclusion in it would be a clearly anti-Western move, which could become an additional obstacle for Georgia to receive the status of a candidate for EU membership.

Russia is very interested in Georgia's inclusion in the mentioned format. In January 2022, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated that Russia would be happy if the next meeting in the 3+3 format would be held with the participation of Georgia. In March 2023, Lavrov said that official Tbilisi was still considering whether to join the 3+3 format. After the meeting in Tehran, Lavrov expressed his belief that in the near future the 3+3 format will be able to work fully, including Georgia, because "the current authorities in Tbilisi, as it has been proven many times, act primarily in the national interest."

As for national interests, Georgia does not need the mentioned 3+3 format. Without any additional formats, Georgia has good relations with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Iran. After the war started by Russia in Ukraine, the 3+3 format took on a clearly anti-Western nature. At the end of the meeting held in Tehran, Sergey Lavrov condemned "the attempt of the European Union and, to some extent, the United States" to interfere in the border delimitation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The joint declaration of foreign ministers held in Tehran emphasized "the importance of peaceful settlement of disputes, respect for sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity... and non-interference in internal affairs." How Russia 'respects' Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty is clear, and Lavrov's statement that "the door remains open for Georgia" is all the more cynical.