The Russians persisted in presenting a gathering in Moscow on Friday as a meeting of "3 + 3", when in fact only five countries were present, and it was more the case of 2 + 3. Diplomatic deceit is not the basis on which South Caucasus regional co-operation should be built.
For more than a decade commonspace.eu has supported regional co-operation in the South Caucasus, even at times when to do so was not very fashionable. We always recognised that this co-operation needed to start with the three core countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, but when this could not happen, as was the case for most of the last 15 years, we also supported other configurations, such as the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey configuration, as the next best thing. We have also always recognised the value of other countries – such as Russia, Turkey, Iran, EU and US – joining these processes, and indeed on some issues their presence is necessary.
So when last week it was announced that Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Turkey were to meet at Deputy Foreign Minister level in Moscow on 10 December we also assessed this as a positive development. For the future of Armenia-Turkey relations in particular, such a format may be useful. It was therefore very disappointing that the Russians persisted in presenting a gathering in Moscow on Friday as a meeting of "3 + 3", when in fact only five countries were present, and it was more the case of 2 + 3.
So we wondered if in Moscow they had forgotten how to count from 1 to 3. That is until we saw a picture of the meeting which showed six flags – those of the five countries present, and of Georgia. This when Georgia had stated publicly and unequivocally that it was not going to attend the meeting and that it did not want to be part of the process. This clearly then was the case of Russian diplomatic mischief, and it sets the tone for the kind of co-operation to be expected from this format.
It is true that sometimes, if a country withdraws or suspends its participation from an international forum, its flag is still displayed, and sometimes, to make the point a seat is left vacant. However Georgia has never been a part of this imaginary "3+3 format", and has never showed any intention of participating. The reason is clear – Georgia cannot sit down in such a format with Russia whilst Russia keeps stoking the country’s disintegration. In Moscow, “representatives of the five participating countries agreed to adopt a flexible working format and expressed their hope that Georgia too will join the consultations in the future”. The Russians know very well what they have to do if they really want Georgia to join this process.
Moscow may have had its moment of fun, but in fact by its actions on Friday it has done harm to the prospect of regional co-operation in the South Caucasus and to the development of an inclusive framework that can contribute to regional peace and security.
The South Caucasus needs regional co-operation. This must start between the three core countries themselves. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia must find a way of overcoming decades of mistrust and start this process. Then it is up to them to decide if others should join the process.