Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 12

Slowly and cautiously, the West is stepping in to forestall a possible extension of Russian military operations from Chechnya into the South Caucasus. Last month, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) sent a token team to monitor the Georgian side of the Georgian-Russian border (see the Monitor, December 21, 1999), where Moscow has claimed without evidence to have discovered Chechen supply lines and sanctuaries, on which pretext it sought to introduce Russian troops in that part of Georgia. The OSCE’s monitoring operation, indirectly discouraging a possible Russian military intrusion, is due to increase gradually in the months ahead. As an all-encompassing safegaurd, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel is now proposing a South Caucasus Stability Pact, an initiative discreetly supported by Western governments.

Demirel and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze issued the proposal during Demirel’s January 14-15 visit to Tbilisi. As broadly sketched by the two presidents, the pact would include: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as regional countries; Russia, Turkey and probably also Iran as powers contiguous to the region; the United States and the European Union as parties with interests in the region; and international organizations such as the OSCE. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank would be asked to underwrite reconstruction aid to the region.

The North Caucasus, including Chechnya, would remain outside the political scope of the pact to underscore both Russia’s title to sovereignty there and the line of demarcation under international law. As Demirel pointedly reminded Moscow from Tbilisi, “Russia has no grounds to involve Georgia or Azerbaijan in the processes currently underway in Chechnya, inasmuch as Georgia or Azerbaijan are independent countries while Chechnya is a part of Russia.” That distinction is in fact sometimes less than clear to Russian officials. According to Turkish officials, a pact which includes both Russia and Turkey is implicitly asking Russia to view the South Caucasus no longer as a Russian backyard, but as an area of international cooperation. Owing to this implication, Shevardnadze termed the initiative “historic.”

The two presidents underscored the need for Western political attention and guarantees to the region, on a level to match the West’s economic interests in this corridor between Europe and Asia. As Shevardnadze commented, with a glance at Moscow, the projects underway in the Caspian-South Caucasus region “are of pan-European and worldwide significance, which means that the international community can not remain indifferent to this region.” Demirel more explicitly remarked that “the security of the South Caucasus forms part of Europe’s security” and answers the interests of the Central Asian countries as well.

In Istanbul, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has emphatically endorsed Demirel’s proposals, a gesture amounting to a demonstration of political consensus on this issue in Turkey’s often fractious government. The Demirel initiative represents a corollary to Turkey’s steadily growing role as economic and security partner to Georgia and Azerbaijan. In 1999, Turkey was second only to Russia in Georgia’s foreign trade, but may have ranked first if the unregistered trade were taken into account. Turkey, moreover, provides military assistance to Georgia’s border and land troops and fledgling navy. Demirel’s visit to Tbilisi produced an agreement on Turkish training of Georgian air force personnel (Prime-News, Iprinda, Georgian Television, Tbilisi Radio, Turan, Anatolia news agency, The Turkish Daily News, January 14-17).