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Georgian-Armenian relations should develop without third party involvement

By Messenger Staff
Friday, June 26
President Saakashvili’s recent visit to Armenia was very important not only on the bilateral level but from a regional point of view. Georgian-Armenian relations have been seriously challenged recently and Armenia is Russia’s key strategic partner in the South Caucasus, whereas Moscow considers Tbilisi its main enemy and is occupying almost 1/5 of Georgian territory. Armenia is also occupying the territory of its neighbour Azerbaijan.

Some analysts predict a further Russian attack on Georgia and also some tension between Armenia and Georgia provoked and encouraged by the Kremlin. In these very complicated circumstances it is very important for both countries, Armenia and Georgia, to maintain good neighbourly relations. For Georgia this means calming the Armenian separatist forces in southern Georgia, which is populated by Georgians of Armenian descent. For Armenia it is very important to maintain transport and communication links through Georgia to the Black Sea, Russia and the rest of the world. Both Presidents, Serzh Sargsyan and Mikheil Saakashvili, have highlighted these topics.

It is in the national interest of Armenia that Georgian-Russian relations are promptly reestablished, said the Armenian President. Armenia has strategic relations with Russia and at the same time it has a long historic relationship with Georgia. Armenia is openly deepening its relations with both Russia and Georgia. If Armenia’s good relations with both Russia and Georgia will facilitate the establishment of good relations between Georgia and Russia Armenia will be very happy, stated Sargsyan. President Saakashvili stated that it is unacceptable to conduct divide and rule politics in the South Caucasus. He said that actions were being planned which sought to prevent unity in the region and reduce its international significance. Saakashvili mentioned that the Caucasus has a united future which should be based on the concept that no outside party should be able to manipulate any one of the Caucasus countries at the expense of another.

Of course good Armenian-Russian relations will not in themselves facilitate good Georgian-Russian relations but it is very important for Georgia that Armenia does not adopt Russia’s aggressive policies. Most likely Saakashvili received guarantees to this effect in Yerevan. In return Tbilisi is ready to provide Armenia with regular transportation and communication links with Russia via Georgia, specifically the Kavkaz Russia-Poti ferry and the Zemo Larsi customs checkpoint on the Russian-Georgian border.

For Armenia the stable functioning of the Georgian transport corridor is vitally important as it is unlikely that the Armenian-Turkish border will open very soon. The Zemo Larsi customs checkpoint was closed by the Russian side in July 2006, officially so that construction works could be undertaken, but in reality as one of the punitive measures Moscow applied in that year against Georgia to create problems for its southern neighbour. On May 5, 2009 the Russians declared that the construction works have been completed but when Georgia and Russia have no diplomatic relations, Moscow has occupied Georgian territories and is adopting aggressive policies towards Tbilisi it is not easy to reestablish normal border and customs relations.

Tbilisi is aware that any steps taken by Russia always involve a disguised threat. Moscow’s readiness to reopen the Zemo Larsi checkpoint and reestablish normal border exchange relations with Tbilisi presumably has two motivations behind it. The first is that the reopening of this border would be beneficial for Russia’s strategic partner Armenia, and although Georgia would gain no direct benefit from it would still have to behave in a civilized way when dealing with the Russians. The second is that if Georgia refused to reopen the border this would upset Yerevan, which suffered a lot from its closure in 2006, and the problems this created between Georgia and Armenia would be exploited by Russia for its own ends. The Georgian leadership did not fall into the Russian trap this time. “Armenia’s welfare has a positive influence on Georgia’s welfare,” stated Saakashvili. He also suggested a further simplification of border procedures between the two countries and invited Armenian tourists to take more summer holidays at the Georgian seaside.

Historically speaking Georgia and Armenia are ‘doomed’ to enjoy good neighbourly relations and this has been and should be the precondition of stability in the Caucasus, in particular the South Caucasus region. Much could therefore be achieved, if only these two countries were left to get on with it.