EXPERT: KARS-AKHALKALAKI-TBILISI-BAKU PROJECT CONTRADICTS GEORGIA'S INTERESTS

Regnum, Russia
Dec 28 2006

The Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku project contradicts Georgia's
interests, as the main goal of the project initiated by Ankara and
Baku envisages turning Turkey into the key communication center of
the region, which indirectly supposes that role of Georgian ports of
Poti and Batumi will be reduced to zero, expert of Caucasus Analytical
Center Aris Kazinyan believes.

According to him, despite the fact that officially the project is
seen in Georgia as a key factor of national security, however, in
some sense, the decision on participating in the project was imposed
on Tbilisi, so it is taken ambiguously by Georgia itself. Today many
in the country believe that the project decreases sharply Georgian
geopolitical opportunities and turns it into a kind of transit state.

As for Turkish position concerning the project, Kazinyan says, an
approach contrary to the Georgian one can be registered. In this case,
there is a traditional conflict of US and Turkish interests involving
the North-South corridor.

"The question is, Turkey is trying to minimize the role of Poti
and Batumi, and, as we can see, much money is being spent for it,"
the expert says. Besides, the USA factor is to be taken into account
here. As Kazinyan stressed, in this case, it is no matter to the USA
what projects will be implemented in the South-Caucasian region, the
only requirement is to provide the East-West direction instead of the
North-South one. This is the very reason why official Washington has
shown a restrained, to some extent, a pro-Armenian position concerning
effectiveness and prospects of laying the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilis
railroad. To some extent, the USA supports approach of official
Yerevan concerning effectiveness of operating the railway between
Kars and Tbilisi via the Armenian Gyumri, as in this case it meets
the interests of the Armenian lobby and official Yerevan (on the
one hand) and provides for latitudinal direction of communications,
on the other hand.

The USA is mostly interested, as the expert says, in Georgia's
NATO membership, as it will put an end to possibility of using the
North-South direction.

In general, according to Kazinyan, operation of the Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi
railway could have been profitable for Turkey.

"First, it could be good will gesture for Armenia. Besides, it
would make it unnecessary spend $400 mln for construction of the
Kars-Akhalkalaki section," the expert says. Moreover, as Kazinyan
notes, Armenia will become a hostage as it will only join Azerbaijan
and Turkey and nothing more. "In this situation Armenia does not have
access to Russia, it is difficult to imagine that an Armenian train
could reach Russia bypassing 7-8 Azerbaijani provinces." According to
the expert, the only factor that makes Turkey disagree with the variant
is the prospective threat to its long-term interests that can emerge
in case the Georgian ports are modernized and a more stable connection
starts functioning between them and East-European Black Sea ports.