Home / Articles / Strategic Connectivity in the Black Sea: A Focus on Georgia
This report argues that the government of Georgia needs to reshuffle its priorities in advancing its strategic connectivity in three major areas: democratic statecraft, economic modernization, and geopolitical identity. By prioritizing these three areas, Georgia can secure a better place as a major hub for transportation and logistics. Taking concrete actions and reforms will secure sustainable economic growth if Tbilisi reinforces its strategic partnerships. The wider Black Sea region has become a strategically important area because it connects Europe to the Eurasian landmass and allows the development of multidimensional and multimodal linkages related to energy, infrastructure, logistics, cyber, military, environment, and migration.
This report provides policy recommendations on transportation, logistics, and critical infrastructure supporting proactive approaches for risk management and increasing resilience. The recommendations include innovative public-private cooperation for introducing modern technological and financial solutions. Other recommendations include a Western strategy to push back on Russian aggression and to strengthen security and stability.
Noted geopolitical theorist Halford Mackinder once wrote: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world.” This statement is as true today as it was when Mackinder first wrote it. After the end of the Cold War, connectivity acquired a geopolitical dimension and triggered several major international initiatives. Those initiatives induced competition and laid the foundation for the current global order. This “strategic connectivity” encompasses several well-known concepts like interdependence, interoperability, and diversification across all major areas of interstate relations like energy, infrastructure, logistics, cyber, military, environment, and migration. The post-Cold War order led to the creation of a “Europe Whole and Free and at Peace,” which included waves of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European Union (EU) enlargement.
NATO’s partial enlargement on the Black Sea created important momentum for continuing the post-Cold War process of transforming former adversaries into partners, with significant investments for interoperability. Former members of the Warsaw Pact shifted to Western standards linguistically, technologically, and logistically. NATO’s Host Nation Support Concept upgraded and synchronized NATO and partner countries’ infrastructures to common standards. Operating procedures for potential contingencies increased the commercial value of logistical connectivity. In addition to military and technical interoperability, most of these states democratized and then joined NATO as full members. This process brought unprecedented peace, security, and stability in Europe. Georgia and Ukraine were supposed to be next in the decades-long process, which halted in 2008 at the Black Sea. Moscow launched wars against Georgia and Ukraine to stop the continuation of NATO and EU enlargement.
The strategic importance of the wider Black Sea area has increased dramatically. The Black Sea serves as a connection between Europe and the Eurasian landmass (Mackinder’s Heartland), and the development of multidimensional and multimodal linkages attracted greater interest from Western competitors. Western interests have been directly confronted by the strategic interests of the Russian Federation and People’s Republic of China. Russia, a Black Sea littoral country, used military means against Western interests to increase its strategic foothold.
A vivid example of this geopolitical rivalry occurred during NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operation in Afghanistan. When Russia started imposing roadblocks on its territory in the Northern Distribution Network for the logistical supply of troops, the route shifted south through the Black and Caspian Seas and operated smoothly until the operation’s completion. This operation was a clear demonstration of the effect of U.S. leadership, strategic interest, and logistical connectivity. Georgia and its strategic soft and hard logistical infrastructure played a critical role in the rapid readjustment of supply routes for coalition troops. This process highlighted the commercial potential of this connectivity.
Moscow and Beijing have introduced competing connectivity ideas: the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Russian Eurasian Union (“Russki Mir” and “Orthodox unity”). The two countries have attached great political and strategic meaning to their initiatives. The Black Sea region, particularly Georgia, has been pressured to shift its strategic priorities in favor of those initiatives. Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reinforced Georgia’s strategic importance on the Black Sea, especially the importance of the Anaklia deep sea project.
It is obvious that post-Cold War strategic connectivity has a very strong ideological logic beyond its pragmatic economic value. Therefore, connectivity in today’s sense is much more than infrastructure, logistical, and commercial linkages—it holds a geopolitical and strategic relevance. Competition includes various disruptive efforts, which have been labeled as “hybrid warfare.” This term encompasses conventional military means, propaganda, and economic corruption. That is why Georgia has a much more significant role in global affairs than Tbilisi has been able to achieve: Georgia has the potential expand its role, function, and geopolitical identity in the wider Black Sea region and beyond.
For its efforts in democratization, modernization of governance, and progress in tackling corruption, Georgia has been considered as a leader in the region since the Rose Revolution of 2003. Georgia’s progress also made it a target of the Kremlin, even after the 2008 war. Russia’s hybrid war throughout Georgia continues. In last few years, Georgia’s democratic credentials have faded. Informal governance, weakened democratic institutions, and the concentration of power continue to undermine Georgian democracy. The economy—after substantial growth between 2003-2008 and fair growth between 2011-2013—has since slowed down. However, the Georgian public’s commitment to democratic development and Western integration remains firm.
Opposition supporters attend a rally against the results of a parliamentary election in Tbilisi, Georgia November 8, 2020. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
The development of strategic connectivity in the South Caucasus, particularly in energy infrastructure, transportation, and digital connectivity, would greatly benefit Georgia. Strategic connectivity for Georgia is a function that can strengthen security, support economic development, promote regional cooperation, and positively affect Georgia’s NATO integration. Some projects have already succeeded in utilizing Georgia’s strategic position on the Black Sea: the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, the Poti-Baku and Batumi-Baku rail connections, the Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway (BTAK).
The development of strategic connectivity through the Black Sea region plays an important role in providing alternative routes for energy, transportation, trade, and data connection to Western markets. As these improve and develop, so do regional security, economic development, and cooperation. The process also strengthens the sovereignty of these countries, decreases dependence on Russia, and opens new economic opportunities. The development of strategic connectivity in South Caucasus would be in the best interest of the United States and NATO members.
 John Halford MacKinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality: a Study in the Politics of Reconstruction (Washington: National Defense University Press, 1942), 150.