Turkey Steps Up Initiative for Caucasus Union

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow. Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images

ANKARA (Combined Sources)–In an effort to accelerate moves toward the establishment of a Caucasus stability bloc, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan Friday had a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to discuss the Turkish initiative to create a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation platform that Turkish Prime Minister Recap Tayyip Erdogan has called vital to the peace and stability of the region.

"In a telephone call to Lavrov, Babacan conveyed to the Russian side our concrete proposals about a platform for cooperation and stability in the Caucasus," Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Burak Ozuergin said.

The spokesman’said Turkish and Russian diplomats would meet next week to work on the issue, and added the two ministers had agreed to meet again early in September. Friday’s phone conversation was is the latest in a series of Turkish initiatives in the wake of the Russian resurgence.

NATO-member Turkey has been alarmed by the conflict in neighboring Georgia, where Russian and Georgian troops went to war over control of the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Since the outbreak of fighting in Georgia, Turkey has been trying to unilaterally deal with the Russian resurgence and the threat it poses to Turkish interests in the region. Erdogan has been franticly touring the region, lobbying for the so-called Stability and Cooperation Platform, which would comprise Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The bloc would deal with bilateral and security issues.

Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey would determine the format in which it would establish discussions on the Turkish-sponsored bloc with Armenia after Babacan and Lvrov spoke on Friday.

Turkish officials are expected to hold discussions with the Armenian Government, as well. Erdogan has already discussed the initiative with the presidents of Georgia, Russia and Azerbaijan.

In a conciliatory message to Armenia, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said over the weekend that Turkey is “no enemy” to any country in the region, stressing that the Georgia-Russia conflict has shown the need for “early measures to resolve frozen problems” in the Caucasus.

The Armenian Foreign Minister reportedly welcomed Erdogan’s proposal saying, “Armenia has always been for dialogue and negotiations, especially on issues that relate to regional cooperation and security.”

Meanwhile, Erdogan made a one-day trip to Azerbaijan on Wednesday, where he met with President Ilham Aliyev to discuss Ankara’s proposal to establish a regional platform for stability and cooperation in the Caucasus that would include Georgia, Russia and Armenia.

In Baku, Erdogan said that Azerbaijan and Turkey had the same position from the standpoint of maintaining peace in the South Caucasus.

Georgia and Russia welcomed Turkey’s proposal for forming a Caucasian platform but rejected to sit at the same table, dealing a possible blow to Ankara’s hopes to form the regional bloc.

Georgia’s ambassador to Turkey, in an interview with Turkish Daily News Friday, ruled out sitting at the negotiating table with Russia at the current stage as they were still under occupation. Russia also made clear it would not sit at the negotiating table with the current leadership in Georgia.

The initiative has also come under domestic criticism in recent days, as a leading member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Tuesday objected to the government’s initiative, calling an alliance in the Caucasus "a dream."

"This is against nature. It is contrary to reason to assume that countries which have daggers drawn can gather under a pact. Moreover, only Russia will be pleased with such an attempt because it can increase its clout in the region in this way [the Caucasia platform]," said CHP Deputy Chairman Onur Oymen.

"Both regional countries and Western countries have been asserting for the last 15 years that these countries should not be under one large country’s ascendancy, that they should gain their independence in the literal sense and that they should stand on their own two feet. When you propose a pact which is to include Russia, you lead to the re-ascendancy of Russia in the region. This would be very wrong," Oymen told the agency.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s initiatives have apparently caught the United States off guard. The United States has not been informed about such an initiative, Matthew Bryza, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs said on Tuesday, referring to Erdogan’s Caucasus Union. He said he was surprised by Turkey’s efforts.


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