As Turkey’s once-hailed approach to foreign policy flounders in the Middle East, the spirit of “zero problems” continues to consolidate gains in other neighboring areas, notably the Caucasus. Georgia, though lacking many of the national bonds that mortar Turkish ties with Azerbaijan, has become a particular beneficiary of Turkey’s Caucasus strategy. For Turkey, Georgia is a fundamental part of its regional energy strategy and an important buffer between it and historical rival Russia. For Georgia, Turkey is a trade partner, a window to the Euro-Atlantic and a powerful regional advocate.
Over the past decade, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s “zero problems with neighbors” principle became a touchstone for Turkey’s foreign policy, driving regional engagement and justifying a more “independent” course, until the policy’s marquee achievements, détente with Syria and Iran, were violently overturned by the events of the Arab Spring. However, despite the flood of obituaries written for Zero Problems in the past 18 months, its legacy remains intact and effective in nearby regions like the Balkans and the Caucasus. In many ways, the strength of the Zero Problems strategy may be even more durable in the Caucasus, which has developed from a backyard of instability into an arc of Turkish influence via longtime ally Azerbaijan and an increasingly friendly and geopolitically synchronous Georgia.
Bilateral relations with Georgia have grown by leaps and bounds since the accession of the ruling AK party in Turkey and the Rose Revolution in Georgia. Unlike Azerbaijan, which has always enjoyed a degree of Turkish patronage following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia’s relations with Turkey have developed more gradually. Though ties were cordial following Georgia’s independence, it was not until the past decade that the two states’ interests began to converge, providing the basis for expanded relations.