Turkey-Georgia to keep good relations under Margvelashvili presidency
Georgian President-elect Georgy Margvelashvili (R) and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili attend a news conference in Tbilisi on Monday. (Photo: Reuters)
The presidential elections held on Sunday in Georgia, a neighboring country to the northeast of Turkey, will make barely any change to the country's relations with Turkey, as the two already enjoy positive relations that are unlikely to be affected by such political changes, experts say.
“There is no specific foreign policy from the new Georgian president on relations with Turkey, but Turkey-Georgia relations have reached a point of no return. The two countries opened their borders to each other. We don't expect any deterioration in relations, but there won't be any improvement, as we have reached the highest level of relations,” Hasan Ali Karasar, a professor at Bilkent University, told Today's Zaman.
Georgia's election on Sunday was its sixth presidential election since independence from the Soviet Union. Supported by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, new Georgian President Georgy Margvelashvili took 62 percent of the vote in Sunday's elections. Unlike ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili, who was known for his closeness to Western countries, Margvelashvili's turning towards Russia has aroused interest in the country's future foreign policy. His supporter Ivanishvili is also claimed to have a pro-Russian strategy, standing against the Russophobia that emerged in the country following 2008's South Ossetia War.
“Turkey and Georgia are two neighbors whose relations have been continuing without a problem from either side. Turkey welcomes every president that is elected in a
democratic way. The relations are so good that changes in the politics of Georgia won't harm the core of our relations,” said a government official, who wished to remain anonymous, to Today's Zaman.
Turkey and Georgia have enjoyed friendly relations since Georgia's independence from the Soviet Union, and ties strengthened in the last decade under the term of Saakashvili. Turkey and Georgia adopted visa-free travel in 2006, and since last May the two countries' citizens have been able to travel freely with only their national identity documents -- meaning that no passport is needed.
“The pillars of the Georgian economy are two important trade relations; one of them is Georgia's export to Russia, the other one is its economic relations with its neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan. Georgia is using its strategic geographic relations. Turkey and Georgia's relations are economically integrated with each other, making political maneuvers impossible,” Karasar said, stressing that the strong economic relations between Turkey and Georgia override political ties.
Karasar stressed that Georgia's economy was heavily affected by the 2008 South Ossetia War and tried to rely on its economic relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Turkey's export to Georgia amounted to $768 million in the first eight months of 2013, a decline of $40 million compared to the same period of 2012. Georgia's import to Turkey seems to have remained stable from 2012 to 2013.
Turkey and Georgia are partners in various other projects, ranging from defense to oil pipeline projects, particularly transportation and energy. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline is already finished. The 1,768-kilometer crude oil pipeline connects Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, with Ceyhan, a port on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, via Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. The South Caucasus Pipeline, known as the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum Pipeline (BTE), runs parallel to the BTC but terminates in Turkey's Erzurum province. The Nabucco-West project is a proposed natural gas pipeline between the Caspian Sea and Europe, crossing Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. As of June 2013, the Shah Deniz consortium, which operates the largest gas field in Azerbaijan, chose the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) and Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) over the eastern and western branches of the competing Nabucco-West project.
When completed, the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway project will unite the railway networks of Central Asia, the Caucasus and China with those of Turkey and Europe, facilitating the movement of cargo between the Asian and European continents.
“Turkey and Georgia will continue to have warm relations. In the election campaign, new President Margvelashvili stated that he will support Georgia's EU and NATO candidacy, a sign of good relations with the Western countries. But it is also known that Georgia under the presidency of Margvelashvili will establish good relations with
Russia,” the Center for Middle Eastern Studies' (ORSAM) Eurasia advisor, Süreyya Yiğit, told Today's Zaman, adding, “In the fields of tourism, education and trade, we will have the potential to develop under the new president's government.”
Since the implementation of the new visa-free travel regulations, Turkish businesses have invested more in Georgia's tourism sector. There is a direct land connection between Turkey and Georgia, as well as at least one flight per day between Batumi and Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, and İstanbul.
Karasar also mentioned the strategic location of Georgia, as it plays a key role in the isolation of Armenia, which is backed by Russia and Iran. Turkey's already strained relations with Armenia deteriorated with its occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1991. In a display of solidarity with Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, Turkey closed its borders with Armenia. Karasar said Georgia is also one of the key avenues connecting Turkey with Central Asia.