“Georgia would never make steps directed against Armenia’s interests” – said Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagarishvili after the meeting with his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian on February 11.
During Oskanian’s visit to Georgia on February 11-12, several agreements have been concluded between the two neighboring countries. Vartan Oskanian met the President of Georgia, Speaker of the Parliament, Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church and representatives of the Armenian community in Georgia.
Statements made during the visit, indicate that the hidden tensions between Georgia and Armenia are defused to a certain extent and the rapprochement is expected both in politics and the economic projects.
Developing close partnership ties between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey were the main source of Armenia’s alarm. This issue of the planned tripartite security agreement between these countries topped the agenda of the Armenian official’s visit.
The issue was discussed in detail during the meeting of the two foreign ministers. Georgia maintains that the agreement’s primary target is arms and drugs trafficking. Georgian Foreign Minister denied information of the media sources that the agreement would harm Armenia’s interests in any respect and expressed hope that Armenia will join the agreement in the nearest future.
“We have no reasons to be alarmed with this agreement” – said Armenian Foreign Minister emerging from the meeting with his Georgian counterpart.
Armenia’s foreign policy is recently oriented towards closer cooperation with the European structures and participation in the regional projects as the country is trying to break with the past policy of self-isolation. In this regard joint agreement on mutual Georgian-Armenian engagement in the regional projects can be considered a major success for Armenia.
“This agreement with the Georgian side will not allow Baku to impede Armenia’s participation in the regional projects” – said Oskanyan on February 12.
Armenia, being blocked from the Turkish and Azerbaijan sides, is also seeking railway connection to its strategic ally, Russia. The railway runs through Abkhazian territory and does not operate since Abkhazian conflict. The Georgian diplomacy is trying to secure Armenian support to the Abkhazia conflict resolution based on shared interests in this respect.
“Reopening of the Abkhazian railroad is one of the most important issues for Armenia. Therefore Armenia will support resolution of the Abkhazian conflict with all means” – Oskanian stated. Armenian Foreign Minister added that reopening of the railroad would be beneficial for ethnic Armenian residents of Abkhazia as well.
Issue of Armenian community in Georgia is yet another hidden obstacle in the relations between the two countries. This issue is primarily connected with Armenian population of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region and Russian military base there.
This region of Georgia at the Turkish border is populated mostly by ethnic Armenians. 15% of Akhalkalaki residents are employed at the Russian base.
Georgia is urging Russia to withdraw its troops within three years, but many local residents fear that such decision would trigger unemployment. Oskanian discussed this issue during the meeting with the representatives of the Armenian community.
Representative of the community, member of the Georgian Parliament Van Baiburti, who attended meeting with the Armenian Foreign Minister, told Civil Georgia that except pure social-economic issues, local Armenians’ negative attitude to the liquidation of the base is dictated by relations with Turkey as well.
“Historic facts and Turkish attitude towards Armenians are still vivid in the memory of local residents. Russian military base creates certain guarantees for security of the local people” – Baiburti said.
During the meeting with the community members Oskanian said that the issue of the Russian base is Georgia’s internal affair, and Armenian side will not interfere in the decisions regarding its withdrawal.
For the Georgian authorities, signing of the agreement on rescheduling of Georgia’s debt to Armenia was one of the important results of the visit. On February 12 Georgian Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli and Armenian Foreign Minister signed an agreement, according to which repayment of Georgia’s 19,6 million USD debt to Armenia is postponed to year 2021. Interest rate will be reduced from 4 to 3%.
Recent meetings between the officials of the three South Caucasus republics show that the economic pragmatism is slowly becoming dominant in the region torn by the political disagreements and opposition. Visit of the Armenian Foreign Minister was yet another step in this direction.
By Giorgi Sepashvili, Civil Georgia