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Givi Iukuridze: There is a real danger that Armenians and Azerbaijanis will use Georgian territory for their tactical purposes

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Givi Iukuridze

The dramatic events developed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which led to human casualties and material damage on both sides, made the Caucasus a hot spot. The armed conflict once again highlighted the likelihood of some geopolitical changes in the region,  while  the scale of the conflict and the statements made consequently  by other   states showed that the long-term territorial dispute between the two countries is linked to the interests of  bigger  political actors  – Russia and Turkey.

The main question that arises when talking about this theme in the context of Georgia, as the third state in the South Caucasus and the only state connecting Armenia with Russia, is security. In other words, the fate of the country is unclear if Armenia or Azerbaijan starts large-scale hostilities under Russian-Turkish military-political patronage. It is all the more obscure which force will guarantee Georgia’s security and stability in the international arena if Armenia and Azerbaijan try to use our territories as a springboard in the conflict …

 What is the threat to Georgia from the extremely hot confrontation between Baku and Yerevan, what changes will this bring to the region, and is our country ready for all this?

Former Chief of General Staff, Major General Givi Iukuridze talks to “Georgia and the World”.

 – Mr. Givi, some consider the ongoing hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan as a precondition for change in the Caucasus region, especially in the South Caucasus; Moreover, they think that all this could lead to a large-scale confrontation between the two neighboring states with the indirect participation of Turkey and Russia. What does this confrontation mean for us and what is changing for Georgia?

– It is a very difficult topic that needs serious thinking and in-depth analysis, not only from a military but also from a political point of view. I have heard a lot of assessments these days, including from influential experts close to the government, but all the assessments were missed by reality. Such absurd statements were made as well that Georgia, in the light of the Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation, might acquire an even greater geopolitical weight and become more important to the West. More on that later …

As for the question of what this confrontation means and what it may change for us if it escalates into large-scale military action, let’s start with the fact that the South Caucasus, due to its geographical and not only geographical specifics,  is a space where in case of a military conflict in any of its parts, inn any country, or between countries,  no one will be able to step aside.  First, it is a region that is always viewed as one given in all contexts; And second, no country in the region has the degree of political, let alone economic, independence that would allow it to be isolated from its neighbors for some time.

In the case of Georgia, there are several serious threats that preclude a large-scale Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation will not touch us . First and foremost – as you know, there are quite a few diasporas in Georgia, both Armenian and Azerbaijani, who do not have good relations with each other, and this is always evident. It is not ruled out and, I think, it is easy to assume that these diasporas will be involved in the conflict en masse   if the situation worsens and they will be involved in hostilities, as happened during the 1991-94 Nagorno-Karabakh war. I am not saying anything about the problems that may lead to the return of those people to Georgia … In short, this is another matter. Now the second problem – I think there is a real threat that, in turn, Armenia and, in turn, Azerbaijan will use the territory of Georgia in combat operations for their tactical and operational purposes. Moreover, both of them have already tried to do it once, which created serious problems for us in the past times. . .   its time ..

 – You probably mean the events of the Karabakh war again. What leverages does Georgia have today to prevent the threat of one or the other state if they try to use our territories for the military operations between them? 

– The first and foremost is the correct and in-depth analysis of the events on which the strategy of the state should be built. This in general, but there is a second moment that is very important. When we talk about the fact that we can not stand aside and the confrontation between the two countries in the region will inevitably affect us, we must not forget that behind these countries are two big and strong states – Russia and Turkey, which will do everything to help their allies. This is exactly the danger – Turkey will use our territory as a military route and springboard to help brotherly Azerbaijan without any permission or agreement. By the way, recently Ankara has been behaving in such a way and ignoring international norms that I would not be really surprised if it crosses the Georgian border for military purposes. I am not saying that Russia, which, as you know, does not have a direct border with Armenia, can cut a kind of corridor here and thus provide assistance to the allied country.

– The Georgian government hopes that the international community will not allow this. Do you think this calculation is real?

– All this is  out of  the political contexts, because the international community has allowed everything so far. We all remember that the government also had high hopes for the international community in August 2008, but the war broke out and it turned out that there was nothing beyond that hope except the concerns of Western officials. Exactly the same will happen today, and moreover, it may no longer be a concern, since the West is no longer   a geopolitical  reality as it was even 12-15 years ago.

Let us return to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. I think the scale of this confrontation is still limited to the fact that Azerbaijan will try to regain control of the lost territories, which is its main task; And Armenia will try to strengthen its positions. There is another important point that makes this controversy more large-scale. I mean the statement of the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan about a possible attack on the Metsamor nuclear power plant, God forbid, it will happen, because it will be Chernobyl will be just a “joke” for the Transcaucasia, including us …

 – It is interesting, what is the level of civil defense in Georgia today?

– I can directly tell you that Georgia does not have a civil defense system; It has neither individual nor collective means of protection – shelters. By the way, in the Soviet period, when the civil defense was at a high level, each citizen received one air gun, some of which were then transported to Turkey and sold, while some expired and were thrown away. As for the means of collective defense – shelters, some have been destroyed, some have been sold and some have  been devastated . We checked this when I was the head of the President’s Chief Military Inspectorate. What was sold was also sold in gross violation of the law and is mentioned in the relevant acts. Then various establishments were opened in those illegally sold shelters, mostly entertainment – cafes, bars, nightclubs, etc. This is actually the level of our civil defense today, which means that the population is absolutely unprotected   in the event of a threat.

– You said at the beginning of the interview that the confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan needs in-depth analysis and reflection. Are there people of relevant competence in the Georgian government today who can do such an analysis?

– Who’s competence in specific issues, let’s not focus on that, but I know one thing for sure: the threat assessment document of Georgia does not even mention the level of threats that we are talking about now. Nowhere is there a direct indication that in the event of an impending large-scale confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey or Russia may use Georgian territory for their own military-tactical actions. Judge the rest for yourself and draw conclusions – whether the leadership policy based on such a document may be adequate.

 – At the end, I have a question  about the noise around Lugar’s laboratory. Russia has repeatedly stated that biological weapons may be made in this laboratory …

– Without specific arguments, it is difficult to comment on the level of rumors, but one thing is a fact: Russia, like the United States, in this particular issue, I mean Lugar Laboratory, is driven by its own state interests. As for the claims about the possible manufacture of biological weapons, I can say one thing for sure: at the time when this laboratory was opened, I saw the American military directly at the opening ceremony, whom I had met during a visit to the United States. I am not arguing for anything, but since the opening of the lab was attended by the U.S. military, the U.S. military probably has some interest.

 Interviewed by Jaba Zhvania

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