https://www.turan.az-Washington believes that the best arrangements for engaging in regional security in the South Caucasus are “with the organization that was set up to deal with it, and that’s the OSCE”, a senior State Department official said Tuesday, TURAN’s Washington correspondent reports.
Speaking before a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee, George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, explained that for the past quarter century, the framework for approaching security challenges in the South Caucasus – whether it’s about Nagorno-Karabakh or Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts – have been led by the OSCE. “This is the appropriate framework all of the countries that are involved are members and have shared commitment to values and processes.”
The 3+3 regional platform proposed by Russia, however, “is a great departure from that values based all stake-holder process,” Kent said. “It would be exclusive and would focus on regional infrastructure… Georgians are concerned because some of the designs that Russians have put on the table which actually circumvent Georgia with rail and road infrastructure in the same way that Nord Stream and TurkStream pipelines circumvent Ukraine for provision of gas to Western Europe. That is the threat that Georgia sees to this platform.”
In the meantime, the State Department official said, Georgians also very rightly don’t want to go to the negotiating table with [Russia,] “the country that occupies 20 percent of their territory and refuses to live up to its own commitments.”
During his testimony before a subcommittee hearing on “Bolstering Democracy in Georgia”, Kent made it clear that the deployment of Russian troops as “peacekeepers” to Nagorno-Karabakh “now means Russia has boots on the ground in all three South Caucasus countries.”. Turkish and Russian troops now jointly man a cease-fire monitoring center in Azerbaijan.
For Kent, the 3+3 regional platform proposed by Russia, Turkey, and Iran “seeks to take advantage of this new dynamic to further increase Russian, Turkish, and Iranian influence in the region.”
“We are currently exploring ways in which the United States can support greater cooperation among the South Caucasus countries while preserving their sovereignty and freedom of action,” he added.
Washington believes that efforts to bolster Georgia’s Western orientation are “particularly critical in the aftermath of last year’s intensive fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh”.
As for the U.S. efforts to bolster democracy and counter Russia’s destabilizing actions in Georgia, the State Department official said, they are using diplomatic engagement, assistance programs, and strong public messaging to push back against malign actions and enhance the prospects for positive change. While Tbilisi faces challenges in the region from outside actors, it also faces serious challenges within its own institutions and body politic.
“Georgia has real work to do in strengthening its democracy, both to meet the demands of its citizens and to stand as a proud counterexample to the Russian model of governance. Georgia’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law is a fundamental element of our strategic relationship, as well as the precondition for the country’s further progress,” Kent added. “Georgia’s current political crisis is thus concerning in terms of the country’s democratic development and the potential for increased vulnerability to Russian malign influence.”
Washington is urging Georgian parties to “make difficult compromises to end the political crisis”.
“Progress will guide Georgia onto a path toward consolidation of democratic institutions, processes, and norms, integral to its aspiration to join the Euro-Atlantic community. Failure by the ruling party and opposition to reach agreement and address the causes of the standoff, in contrast, would imperil those aspirations,” Kent added.