On July 30, 2020, the Caspian Policy Center organized a think-tank Discussion: The United States in the Caspian Region. Victor Kipiani, Chair of Geocase was invited to the online discussion. He delivered a speech on Georgia’s strategic importance and its foreign policy priorities.
Speech of Victor Kipiani, Chair of Geocase
Dear Ambassador Hoagland, dear Speakers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The ‘multi-vector’ model cannot be applied to Georgia for several perfectly understandable reasons: 1) A large part of the country remains under Russian occupation, which naturally prevents Tbilisi from adopting a truly ‘multi-vector’ approach. 2) That said, a policy of ‘multi-vector-minus-one’ (i.e. minus the occupying power, Russia) might be conceivable, yet even if such a policy were pursued, Georgia’s path would still differ greatly from the balancing acts pursued by Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Tbilisi steadfastly pursues formal Euro-Atlantic integration with all possible emphasis and without any meaningful caveats, and Georgia’s very clear foreign policy trajectory is explicitly and irreversibly enshrined in the country’s constitution.
But all this does not, of course, deny the importance of stability and co-operation in the South Caucasus, within the wider Black Sea region and in relation to the Black and Caspian Sea ‘macro-region’.
Georgia’s contributions to cross-border co-operation and regional development are premised on the country’s role as a pivot for various major international projects, whose geopolitical and financial viability Tbilisi seeks to ensure. A multi-vector policy should therefore not be seen as purely ‘outbound’ in nature (e.g. Georgia vs. major regional stakeholders) but must also include ‘inbound’ elements that stem from the genuine interest of stakeholders in their own domestic stability and order. It also entails the vital interests of regional actors such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan with respect to Georgia’s reforms and closer integration with Western markets and institution. This very high degree of interdependence and interconnectedness demonstrates all the realities of geopolitics and geo-economics in the Black Sea and Caspian region, and indeed underlines the importance of the need to make ties even stronger and more resilient. Combined with the region’s long history and the looming challenges of our post-pandemic world, Georgia must position herself as a key actor capable of providing reliable access to the wider world and to the West while bypassing political bumps and risks, if you will. A G-World in which each country selfishly stands up for its own interests and ignores others would not just be ill-suited to our region but would also completely and irreversibly shatter the idea of furthering our interests in union or alliance with others.
Georgia’s progress is equally important for the United States and the European Union: it is no accident or coincidence that both Washington and Brussels variously praise Tbilisi as a ‘valuable’ and ‘key’ partner in the region. These adjectives clearly underline Georgia’s foreign policy choices and come as no surprise considering the pace and ambition of the country’s agenda for rapprochement with the EU as well as the strategic nature of its partnership with the United States. In terms of Georgia’s relationship with Europe, it is encouraging to observe how the country is building new political, economic and cultural ties with its European ‘homeland’; how new EU and Eastern Partnership initiatives are tangibly bringing ‘more Europe’ to the region; and how awareness of the wider Black Sea and Caspian region is increasing among EU member states. As for US-Georgia ties, the two countries’ strategic partnership charter is truly a unique constitutional document that sets out many ways in which Washington and Tbilisi can co-operate politically, economically, culturally and militarily. Beyond this, the standalone bipartisan Georgia Support Act reinforces and expands America’s unwavering support for Tbilisi and determination to oppose Russian occupation; the National Defence Authorization Act for 2021 defines various meaningful forms of US-Georgian co-operation; as does the FY 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act; and the 2016 memorandum deepening defence and security partnership became a framework agreement that was renewed in 2019. The House and Senate have in addition introduced dozens of resolutions and bills in support of Georgia, and preliminary discussions are underway over a free-trade agreement between two countries. The United States are of course not the Black Sea or Caspian country but are to some extent already a Black Sea power.
All the efforts and steps I have described go well beyond a purely bilateral format, and their ultimate goals are to promote the region’s stability and prosperity through soft power, responding to the needs of the region’s various members and meeting the expectations of all the relevant stakeholders beyond its boundaries. If there ever was a cause and purpose that we had to share, together, this is it.
Thank you - and I would, of course, be delighted to answer any questions you may have.
Watch the discussion recording