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Georgia/Turkey: Agreements Secure Bilateral Trade And Defense

Prague, 10 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Azerbaijani Presidential Foreign Policy advisor Vafa Guluzade has this year repeatedly argued that Azerbaijan needs to host Turkish, U.S. or NATO military bases on its territory. He says this is needed to counter the threat Baku sees in Russian deliveries of defensive weapons systems to the Russian military base in Armenia.

The publicity and controversy generated by Guluzade's statements have overshadowed Georgia's intensive security and defense-oriented cooperation with Turkey and other NATO states.

Georgia, like most other former Soviet republics, signed up for NATO's Partnership for Peace program in 1994, and also signed its first defense cooperation agreement with Turkey in June 1997, whereby Ankara undertook to provide training for Georgian officers. But bilateral defense cooperation with the U.S., Turkey, and Greece has taken off since Vardiko Nadibaidze, a career Soviet army officer, was replaced as Georgian defense minister last spring by West Point graduate Davit Tevzadze.

The most recent Georgian-Turkish agreements were signed in Tbilisi last week during a visit by several senior Turkish military officials. One of those agreements provides for Turkish financial and technical aid to the Georgian armed forces over a five-year period, including training for Georgian military personnel in Turkey. It is not clear whether the financial aid in question is in addition to $5.5 million allocated to Tbilisi by Ankara for defense purposes last year.

A second protocol covers the modernization of Georgian military training facilities.

Meeting with Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Grigol Katamadze on March 4, Lieutenant-General Engin Alan, who commands Turkey's Special Troops, said he hopes that the level of defense cooperation between the two countries will serve as a model for equally fruitful cooperation in other spheres.

But military cooperation is only one facet of what Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze referred to during his visit to Turkey late last month as a "strategic partnership" between the two countries. A major component of that partnership is the U.S.-backed plan for an east-west energy corridor through Georgia, which is paralleled by the EU-sponsored TRACECA program to create a road, rail, and ferry network linking Central Asia with Turkey and Europe.

But Shevardnadze, aware of Moscow's increasingly sharp reaction to perceived U.S. attempts to incorporate the South Caucasus into its sphere of influence, was swift to add that that "strategic partnership" is not intended to damage any third party. And speaking in Tokyo several days later, Shevardnadze ruled out the possibility that Georgia might host Turkish military bases on its territory.

Shevardnadze and Turkish President Suleyman Demirel share a common interests in preserving domestic political stability and stability throughout the South Caucasus as the precondition for economic prosperity.

Georgia has a 114-kilometer land border with Turkey (unlike Azerbaijan, whose exclave of Nakhichevan has a mere 10-km stretch of contiguous border with Turkey.) The Georgian-Turkish frontier and expanding network of transport links facilitates not only military but economic cooperation: Turkey has replaced Russia as Georgia's main trading partner.