TBILISI (RFE/RL)–Military cooperation between Turkey and Georgia does not threaten security of Armenia or any other third country–Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili said on Monday–in another effort to allay Yerevan’s concerns about Ankara’s military engagement in the region.
"Tbilisi will not take steps directed against Armenia," Menagharishvili told the Georgian Prime News agency. "Therefore–such fears on the part of some elemen’s in Armenia’s political elite are unfounded," he said.
Earlier this year–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian expressed concern at the growing military contacts between Armenia’s two western neighbors–warning that they could disrupt the existing "balance of forces" in the South Caucasus. Georgian leaders–including President Eduard Shevardnadze–insist that the worries are not justified.
Turkey has provided $15 million worth of assistance to the cash-strapped Georgian army over the past four years. The most recent such grant worth $2.5 million was announced on June 4 during a visit to Tbilisi by a high-ranking delegation of the Turkish general staff. The bulk of the sum–$2 million–will go toward modernizing a motorized infantry division–rebuilding a military airfield near the Georgian-Armenian border and for equipment for the military academy in Tbilisi.
Sixty-six Georgian officers and 29 cadets are now undergoing training in Turkey. Fifteen more Georgian servicemen are to be sent to Turkey for the next academic year.
It is not clear if the subject of Turkish-Georgian military cooperation was on the agenda of regular "consultations" between senior Armenian and Georgian diplomats that ended in Yerevan over the weekend. Meeting with a visiting Georgian deputy foreign minister–Oskanian described the relationship between the two neighboring states as "the most important factor of stability in the region."
Tbilisi is also interested in developing ties with NATO and has not ruled out the possibility of seeking alliance membership some time in the future. As recently as last week–it hosted military exercises in western Georgia under NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. More than 4,000 troops and 40 ships from 11 countries–including Turkey and Azerbaijan–practiced peacekeeping duties–rehearsed earthquake relief and the rescue of a ship in distress–and conducted anti-guerrilla exercises near the Black Sea port of Poti.
The exercises were "very successful and useful," according to Shevardnadze.