Merkel’s Trip to a Divided Region

29 august 2018

Alexander Iskandaryan is Director of the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, Armenia.

Resume: The main value of the visit lies in the fact that the agendas differed radically for the countries of the South Caucasus – the diversification of relations was visible to the naked eye.

The visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the countries of South Caucasus was well covered by the mass media. Indeed, the bright style of Ms. Merkel's visit was typically Caucasian: in Georgia, she sang together with a beautiful Georgian choir, which, as it turned out, performed her favorite German song. In Yerevan, she made a promenade with Nikol Pashinyan, his wife and President Sarkissian in the city center, surrounded by thousands of walking Yerevan residents, who made selfies deprecating her security guards. She arrived in Baku in spite of the scandal following denial of entry to Azerbaijan to a member of the delegation, CDU deputy Albert Weiler, for having visited Nagorno-Karabakh. In some publications in South Caucasus and in the statements of politicians Merkel's visit was even called "historical", opening a new page in relations of the regional countries with Germany.

However, if one ignores the style and goes to the substance, it is difficult to call the visit historical, and even important. It was planned for a long time. Germany is the key EU country, it was the engine of the EU's expansion to the east, and relations with the countries of the eastern periphery of Europe are important for Berlin. The Black Sea region is important for the European Union as an immediate neighbor, as well as a region between the EU member states and Russia. However, South Caucasus has a limited value for Berlin, it should not be exaggerated, which this visit, in particular, showed. Honestly speaking, its results are moderate. In Tbilisi, a loan of 200 million euros was announced for the construction of a gas storage facility, which will be financed by the German KFW bank, and for the improvement of the water supply system in Adjara, one of Georgia’s regions. At the same time, while in Georgia, Merkel avoided the term "occupied territories" and did not reassure the hosts on the issue of joining NATO.

In Armenia, it was announced that Germany would support the specific model of Armenia's relations with the EU within the framework of the Eastern Partnership, combined with Armenia's membership in the Eurasian Economic Union. There were no attempts to contradistinguish these two types of integration, which are quite important for Armenia. The German Chancellor also promised to promote the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, however, without specificity and definitions.

In Baku, Ms. Merkel predictably paid special attention to energy issues and the Southern Gas Corridor. Even the words about "a big role in energy supply for Europe" were said. Meanwhile, any serious gas supplies from Azerbaijan to Europe are a media bubble: the volumes of gas that Azerbaijan intends to supply to Europe substantially differ from the volume of Russian supplies. In other words, the source is alternative, but it cannot reduce the dependence on Russia. As for Germany, there is no need to talk about gas supplies from Azerbaijan in the foreseeable future at all.

Thus, the main value of the visit lies in the fact that the agendas differed radically for the countries of the South Caucasus – the diversification of relations was visible to the naked eye.

In the case of Georgia, the relationship with this country is perceived by Germany in the context of the West-Russia dichotomy. Berlin is interested in minimizing Moscow's influence on Georgia and is ready to make efforts for this, however, with restraint, with the aim not to irritate Russia.

Germany is ready to consider Armenia as a country having specific relations with Russia, but at the same time striving to expand ties with Europe. Berlin even expresses its intention to promote this process, although Merkel was non-specific about this.

As for Azerbaijan, Germany is ready to ignore the specifics of its domestic political system, given the energy reserves and its special relations with Turkey.

These positions are what the South Caucasian countries are seeking in their agenda for relations with Germany, and, more broadly, with Europe. The Chancellor of Europe’s leading country showed to the heads of the three states, that Germany has an understanding of their positions – including the fact that the countries of the region are completely different.

The Valdai Discussion Club

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