China's interests are served by the strategic importance of Anaklia as a port. This is an area where separatism should be excluded

21.06.24 12:00

The recent visit of Russian leader Vladimir Putin to North Korea left even well-informed Russian patriots with a heavy impression. Russia, which found itself in international isolation as a result of the Ukrainian war, is now really becoming dependent on cooperation with the North Korean regime and arms supplies from there. It is also worth noting that North Korea is, in fact, a vassal of China. This allows the regime in Pyongyang to implement certain policies and ideas, such as the Juche ideology, which may be perceived as unconventional by those who are unfamiliar with North Korea. Beijing's isolation of the vassal state may be seen as a means of strengthening its position and ensuring greater compliance.


It is becoming increasingly clear that Russia is also moving towards a similar position to that of the DPRK, which is internationally isolated and Beijing's vassal. This could be seen as a meeting of two vassals of the Celestial Empire in Pyongyang. It would be fair to say that the last time a similar situation occurred was in the distant times of the Genghisid Empire, when under Khubilai Khan, the capital of the vast Mongol Empire was moved to Beijing. This era in Chinese historiography is known as the era of the Yuan Dynasty. At that time, both the Korean and Russian principalities were only vassals of this dynasty.


It would seem that China is encouraging the Russian Federation, which is currently engaged in the Ukrainian conflict, to strengthen its ties with Beijing. This is even though the Russian Federation is becoming increasingly dependent on Beijing. However, it is important to note that the Russian Federation should not allow its interests to be compromised by China, particularly in Central Asia (Turkestan) and the South Caucasus. These regions are of great importance to China, as it is building a corridor that will bypass the Russian Federation.


It seems likely that the successful liquidation of the separatist "Artsakh" last year also took place with China's approval. The de-occupation of Karabakh and the complete elimination of the "Artsakh" separatist project, as it is known, only benefited the functioning of the Middle Corridor through the countries of the South Caucasus. Only France tried to "stand up" for the separatists, which is known to do everything to create problems in the functioning of this corridor. In the autumn of 2023, the separatists in Khankendi were hoping that Russia would follow the "Tskhinvali scenario" about them. This would mean that the "peacekeepers" would enter the war on the side of the separatists and, together with them, the Russian army.


We recall that in August 2008, Russia, using as a pretext the alleged "attack on peacekeepers," invaded the Tskhinvali region on Georgian territory, supporting the separatists, and then effectively annexed Abkhazia and South Ossetia. France, represented by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, supported this scenario. China in 2008 at least did not prevent Russian aggression and Russia's support of the separatists. However, the then-President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, to avoid such obstacles, not by chance, personally traveled to Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games. At that time, the Middle Corridor was not as vital to China as it has become in recent times, and Russia's dependence on China was not as comprehensive as it is today.


As one of the main investors in the region, China has consistently favoured the restoration of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. This, at least based on economic considerations, has increased the predictability of investments and transit along the Middle Corridor. Most interestingly, Armenian nationalists, who have tried to raise concerns about the alleged "threat of genocide" for the Armenians of Artsakh, have not alarmed China. They have realised that it is not a productive approach.


Two occupied separatist territories – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – remain in the South Caucasus. It seems likely that the issue of their de-occupation will not be resolved without taking into account China's position.


It would be remiss not to mention that, in the interests of China and the full functioning of the Middle Corridor in Georgia, construction of a deep-water port in Anaklia, not far from the administrative border with the still-occupied Abkhazia, has begun. The depth of the water area of the port will reach 20 metres. In terms of size and depth, this port will be similar to the port in Novorossiysk. For context, the depth of the water area of the port in Batumi is 14 metres, while in Poti it is 8.5 metres. This will enable the port in Anaklia to receive tankers and large ocean container ships with a capacity of 50 to 150 thousand tonnes, which is currently not possible in Georgia.


China is the main investor in this project. At the same time, Anaklia will become a key port on the transport route from China to Europe, bypassing Russia. It is understandable that if Russia were not in a position to request China's assistance, it could try to find ways to influence this project. However, in its current position, Russia is constrained by the interests of its "senior partner" and is therefore compelled not only to consider them but also to facilitate them by trying to "accommodate" them. The most vivid example is the modernisation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which was completed in early spring. Ten years ago, Russia attempted to slow down the implementation of this project, but now it is actively using this railway line to transport its cargoes to Turkey.


Some experts believe that the construction of the Russian Navy base in Ochamchira (Abkhazia) simultaneously with the port in Anaklia will not impede the interests of China. Some analysts believe that the main task of this base will be to protect and defend the Chinese port in Anaklia. However, the question of the legal status of the Russian military in Abkhazia inevitably arises. The current status as an alleged "ally" of the unrecognised separatist regime of Sukhumi does not suit China. A vassal of the Celestial Empire must consider the status of its "askari" (as European colonisers called "native" troops that served in their interests). As a result, negotiations will begin between Georgia and Russia on the de-occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the "harmonisation" of the legal status of military bases, and the restoration of diplomatic relations. This also applies to the return of refugees.


To protect Chinese investments in Georgia, it would be beneficial for the Russian Federation, as a "vassal" of China, to consider ways of eliminating the risks of armed conflict in the South Caucasus and resolving the outstanding issues with the separatist regimes. The first step in this process has been the resolution of the Karabakh issue. The second step would be the resolution of the Abkhazian issue.


Beijing is not particularly interested in how to do this so that Russia will "save the image". This is already the task of Russian propaganda. Russian peacekeepers have recently completely left Karabakh, and there have been no negative consequences, although Armenian nationalists recently expressed concern that it would be a "defeat" and "shame" for Russia to "abandon" such "loyal allies" as "Artsakh" Armenians. It is worth noting that Armenians themselves voluntarily left Karabakh, where they settled only 150–190 years ago. Even later, Armenians settled in Georgian Abkhazia, where they became the majority and did not want to leave this place. However, it is understandable that they have already realised the threat that they will have to give "trophy property" to returning Georgian refugees. In light of the potential for an agreement between Russia and Georgia on Abkhazia, Armenian propagandists are expressing concern that the "freedom-loving" Abkhazians may not be able to live as part of Georgia.


Abkhazian Armenians have the right to choose whether or not they wish to live as part of Georgia. The example of the Karabakh Armenians is a clear and present one. If you do not wish to become a citizen of the country in which you reside and abide by its laws, you are free to make that choice. For the Abkhazians, the only way forward is to seek reconciliation with their Georgian neighbours and to live together in a single state. According to the Constitution of Georgia, Abkhazia enjoys broad autonomy, and the Abkhazian language is recognised as the state language.


Alexandre Zakariadze

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