Saqinform’s disinformation on the Treaty of Kars, Georgia’s neutrality and conditions for returning of the occupied territories to Georgia
Verdict: MOSTLY FALSE
The editor-in-chief of the pro-Russian Saqinform, Arno Khidirbegishvili, promotes Russian propaganda messages and disinformation. In an article published on 26 May 2021, Mr Khidirbegishvili claims that with the exception of Armenia, Georgia does not have fixed borders with any of its neighbours and among the disputed territories with the biggest threat coming from Turkey. The article refers to Turkey as an enemy of Georgia which stands ready to legitimately annex Batumi after 100 years since the Treaty of Kars. In fact, Georgia’s only demarcated border is with Turkey whilst the Treaty of Kars has no specific expiration date and does not provide legal or political grounds for Turkey to lay claim on Ajara.
The article also includes a propaganda lie about Georgia’s neutrality, claiming that if Georgia abandons NATO membership aspirations, Russia will immediately hand over Sokhumi and Tskhinvali to Georgia. This condition, which Arno Khidirbegishvili claims needs to be fulfilled in exchange for returning the occupied territories, has never actually been voiced by the Russian authorities. In fact, the historical experience of Georgia and other countries proves quite the opposite – neutrality/non-alignment or the so-called non-bloc status has never been a hindrance for Russia to aggressively pursue its own foreign policy interests. Blocking Georgia’s NATO integration is not an overarching goal for Russia but an instrument to achieve the main objective which is bringing Georgia back to its sphere of influence, referred to as the so-called “near abroad.” It is precisely for this reason why Russia seeks to prevent Georgia’s membership both in the EU and in NATO and choke its democratic development.
In addition, Arno Khidirbegishvili negatively assesses the construction of pipelines and transport routes on Georgian territory whilst these are, in fact, vitally important for Georgia’s economic development.
Claim 1:Georgia does not have fixed borders with any of its neighbours except for Armenia. Turkey can annex Batumi on legal grounds after 100 years since signing the Treaty of Kars.
According to Arno Khidirbegishvili’s false claims, Georgia does not have fixed borders with any of its neighbours except for Armenia. He also argues that because of the non-demarcated borders, the biggest threat comes from Turkey which keeps its eye on Batumi. Mr Khidirbegishvili argues that Erdogan plans to restore Great Turan at the expense of Georgia and Turkey will have legal grounds to annex Batumi after 100 years since signing the Treaty of Kars.
In fact, of all the neighbour countries, Georgia has an agreed upon border only with Turkey and not Armenia. Turkey was the first and thus far the only neighbouring country which carried out border delimitation and demarcation with Georgia in the very first years of Georgia’s declaration of independence. In regard to the Treaty of Kars, Arno Khidirbegishvili again puts forward the years-long cultivated narrative that Turkey is able to lay claims on Ajara based on the Treaty of Kars.
The Treaty of Kars which was signed on 23 October 1921 (between Turkey and three Transcaucasian republics – the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic and the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic) does not provide any legal or political ground for Turkey to lay claim on Ajara. On the contrary, with the 1921 Treaty of Kars, Turkey recognised Georgia’s sovereignty over Ajara and has never thereafter questioned this recognition. The Treaty of Kars has no expiration date and the Turkish Ambassador to Georgia, Fatma Ceren Yazgan, has made numerous clarifications on the issue (see FactCheck’s article for detailed information on the Treaty of Kars and the myths about it).
Turkey and Georgia are strategic partners and good neighbourly relations between the countries are propped up by 76 bilateral agreements which have been signed since 1992. Of these, the most important is the bilateral framework Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Good Neighbourly Relations between Georgia and Turkey. This framework treaty also mentions the Treaty of Kars as a part of the mutual recognition of the boundaries between the two countries. According to the document, the “parties pledge to respect all mutual treaties and agreements starting from the Treaty of Kars on 13 October 1921” and “are guided by the fact that this treaty has ultimately determined the border between the two countries.”
Therefore, the allegation in Arno Khidirbegishvili’s article that Turkey is able to lay claim on Batumi and Ajara based on the Treaty of Kars is a lie. The disinformation campaign against Turkey aims to strain relations between the two strategic partners and move the focus to Turkey and away from Russian occupation.
Claim 2:Russia demands only one thing – No need for NATO, Georgians! Georgia does not need NATO. Moscow still awaits emissaries from Georgia who will sign the Tskhinvali and Sokhumi acceptance-delivery act on mutually beneficial conditions. The Kremlin is exhausted from waiting so long already.
Arno Khidirbegishvili’s claim that Russia will immediately hand over Sokhumi and Tskhinvali if Georgia refuses NATO is a well-known propaganda lie.
This pre-condition, which Mr Khidirbegishvili claims needs to be fulfilled in exchange for returning the occupied territories, has never actually been voiced by the Russian authorities. The historical experience of Georgia and other countries proves quite the opposite – neutrality/non-alignment or the so-called non-bloc status has never been a hindrance for Russia to aggressively pursue its own foreign policy interests. Of mention is that Putin did not consider NATO itself as a threat for Russia’s security. This is proven by Putin’s response to the Baltic countries joining NATO in 2004 – he did not express dissatisfaction over NATO enlargement (to Russian borders). On the contrary, he stated that relations with NATO were developing positively.
Therefore, blocking Georgia’s NATO integration is not an overarching goal for Russia but an instrument to achieve the main objective. Russia’s most important task is to bring the neighbours, including Georgia, back to its sphere of influence, referred to as the so-called “near abroad.” It is precisely to this end that Russia seeks to hinder their NATO/EU membership and democratic development.
NATO-Georgia cooperation started in 1992 when Georgia joined the North-Atlantic Cooperation Council. Georgia’s involvement in NATO’s Planning and Review Process since 1999 can be considered as a deepening of cooperation for which Georgia was awarded its first practical instrument in the form of an armed forces management system. However, Georgia expressed the wish to join NATO for the first time in 2002 at the NATO Prague Summit. Georgia’s NATO integration process starts from that date.
However, the Russian Federation started to infringe upon Georgia’s sovereignty and disrespect its territorial integrity in 1991-1992, simultaneously with the outbreak of conflicts in the Tskhinvali region and Abkhazia; that is, long before Georgia officially expressed its desire to join NATO. Despite these two conflicts, the Government in Georgia still decided to join the Russian-managed Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in 1993 and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) later. Both of these organisations were founded in order to champion Russia’s interests whilst Georgia’s main goal in holding memberships there was to restore its territorial integrity and keep its sovereignty. Nevertheless, Russia started to issue Russian passports in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2000. In 2000-2002 after the start of the second Chechen war, Georgia’s territory was bombed multiple times. This proves that even if Georgia had never brought NATO integration to the forefront of its political agenda, Russia would still have continued hostile actions in order to undermine Georgia’s stability.
If we take a look at an even earlier period, we will find out that Russia’s politics were also not much different then. As early as during World War One, Georgia’s Act of Independence on 26 May 1918 was very specific in regard to conflicts: “In international warfighting, Georgia is a permanently neutral state.” On 7 May 1920, Russia recognised Georgia’s independence whilst Georgia, in turn, pledged that it would not allow armed forces hostile to Russia on its territory. However, neither neutrality nor the agreement to disallow foreign troops on Georgian territory hindered Russia from occupying Georgia in February-March 1921.
Moldova and Ukraine are bright examples of the ineffectiveness of a non-bloc status where such a status often encouraged Russia instead of hindering it.
Since 1994, Moldova has constitutionally declared that it is a non-bloc and a neutral country. In fact, however, the Russian-triggered Transnistria conflict has remained unresolved since the 1990s and Moldova cannot restore its territorial integrity. Even today, Russian military bases remain on Trasnistrian territory which negatively affects the conflict and the political agenda. After Moldova adopted neutrality, Russia further solidified positions there and gained a big influence over Chisinau’s foreign policy.
In regard to Ukraine, with its 2010 Law on the Foundations of Foreign and Domestic Policy, the country adopted a non-bloc status in order to improve relations with Russia. According to the law as presented by the then President Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine rejected membership in any bloc and this passage excluded its NATO integration. However, Yanukovich’s refusal to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement sparked a revolution in Ukraine in 2014 which was followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and waging war in Ukraine’s eastern regions. This case further proved that for Russia, the main security problem is not NATO approaching its borders – Ukraine has already abandoned NATO integration since 2010 - but the “near abroad” countries escaping from Russia’s sphere of influence.
Therefore, the historical experience of Georgia as well as of Moldova and Ukraine illustrate that neutrality or the so-called non-bloc status has never been a hindrance for Russia from achieving its foreign policy goals. The claim that abandoning NATO means immediately returning occupied territories to Georgia is a nicely wrapped lie.
Claim 3:Georgia’s geostrategic transit territory is sold for NATO’s military bases, energy pipelines and transport highways.
Arno Khidirbegishvili’s claim that Georgia’s strategic transit territory is sold for NATO’s military bases is a lie. In fact, there are no NATO or any of its member states military bases deployed in Georgia. Georgia’s Krtsanisi Training Centre hosts the NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Centre (JTEC) whose primary objective is the training and evaluation of Georgian defence forces. However, Russia has deployed military bases on Georgia’s occupied territories against the will of the Georgian people.
In regard to Arno Khidirbegishvili’s allegations of selling geostrategic transport territories to build energy pipelines and transport highways, this claim is itself contradictory, since territory attains strategic importance after any significant socio-economic infrastructure is built there. In addition, Mr Khidirbegishvili describes the situation in a way that Georgia sold its territories and handed them over to companies outside of national jurisdiction which is also lie.
Georgia is indeed situated at a geopolitical crossroads, although its geographic advantages do not directly translate into geopolitical and geo-economic edges. Georgia’s strategic transit function was stipulated precisely by the need of connecting Caspian energy resources to world markets as the Baku-Tbilisi-Batumi pipeline was commissioned in the 1870s. In 1896, construction work started in order to build the world’s longest pipeline at that time between Baku and Batumi. The construction of the East-West Transit Corridor through Georgia started in 1993 when the Brussels Declaration was signed and the TRACECA programme was inaugurated. The aim of the program was the integration of the South Caucasus and the Central Asian conventional transport infrastructure to the European transport systems. Of additional note is the negotiations started over the construction of the Karsi-Akhalkalaki railway and the rehabilitation of the existing Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki railway line.
At the end of the 1990s, amid the growth of Western interests in the Caucasus, the Baku-Supsa pipeline was built with Western assistance. Baku-Supsa turned out to be a trailblazer for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, referred to as the “project of the century.” It is noteworthy that the aforementioned projects ushered in not only economic progress both in Georgia and Azerbaijan but contributed to cementing their political independence as their dependence on Russia dwindled whilst their strategic importance grew.
Apart from these claims, Arno Khidirbegishvili states in his article that financial assistance from the USA and the EU is nothing but a weapon against Russia. This statement is also a Russian propaganda message which aims to discredit the West and portray Georgia as simply an instrument in the confrontation with Russia. In fact, Western financial assistance to Georgia helps the development of the country’s democratic institutions, its economic advancement and, most recently, also facilitates in the fight against the pandemic.
About the Source
The domain of the pro-Russian outlet, Saqinform (Saqinform.ge), is owned by the pro-Russian organisation, Historical Legacy LLC, which also holds the ownership rights of Georgia and the World. The editor of Saqinform, Arno Khidirbegishvili, has promoted fake news numerous times. Mr Khidirbegishvili professes notoriously open pro-Russian positions and seeks to discredit Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration with false emphasis on the Treaty of Kars and criticism against the Anaklia sea port. Saqinform promoted Moscow’s government narratives in regard to the Russian GRU’s cyber-attack against Georgia. Saqinform also actively used the coronavirus issue to promote pro-Russian propaganda in Georgia. The media outlet also disseminated propaganda on the Russian vaccine and demanded its import to Georgia before proper clinical trials. Of note is that Arno Khidirbegishvili’s articles are published in such anti-Western Russian internet portals such as regnum.ru and sputniknews.ru’s Georgian outlet, sputnik-georgia.ru.
See Georgia’s Reform Associates’ (GRASS) Disinfometer reports for disinformation and propaganda promoted by Saqinform.
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