Relations with Neighboring Countries
Of particular importance to Georgia's postcommunist foreign policy and national security was the improvement of relations with neighbors on all sides: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Turkey. This goal was complicated by a number of ethnic and political issues as well as by historical differences.
Armenia and Azerbaijan
Among former Soviet republics, the neighboring Transcaucasian nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan have special significance for Georgia. Despite Georgia's obvious cultural and religious affinities with Armenia, relations between Georgia and Muslim Azerbaijan generally have been closer than those with Christian Armenia. Economic and political factors have contributed to this situation. First, Georgian fuel needs make good relations with Azerbaijan vital to the health of the Georgian economy. Second, Georgians have sympathized with Azerbaijan's position in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh because of similarities to Georgia's internal problems with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Both countries cite the principle of "inviolability of state borders" in defending national interests against claims by ethnic minorities.
In December 1990, Georgia under Gamsakhurdia signed a cooperation agreement with Azerbaijan affecting the economic, scientific, technical, and cultural spheres. In February 1993, Georgia under Shevardnadze concluded a far-reaching treaty of friendship, cooperation, and mutual relations with Azerbaijan, including a mutual security arrangement and assurances that Georgia would not reexport Azerbaijani oil or natural gas to Armenia. In 1993 Azerbaijan exerted some pressure on Georgia to join the blockade of Armenia and to curb incursions by Armenians from Georgian territory into Azerbaijan. The issue of discrimination against the Azerbaijani minority in Georgia, a serious matter during Gamsakhurdia's tenure, was partially resolved under Shevardnadze.
In the early 1990s, Armenia maintained fundamentally good relations with Georgia. The main incentive for this policy was the fact that Azerbaijan's blockade of Armenian transport routes and pipelines meant that routes through Georgia were Armenia's only direct connection with the outside world. Other considerations in the Armenian view were the need to protect the Armenians in Georgia and the need to stem the overflow of violence from Georgian territory. The official ties that Georgia forged with Azerbaijan between 1991 and 1993 strained relations with Armenia, which was in a state of virtual war with Azerbaijan for much of that period. Nevertheless, Gamsakhurdia signed a treaty with Armenia on principles of cooperation in July 1991, and Shevardnadze signed a friendship treaty with Armenia in May 1993. With the aim of restoring mutually beneficial economic relations in the Caucasus, Shevardnadze also attempted (without success) to mediate the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in early 1993.
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