Is a breakthrough in relations between Armenia and Georgia already close?
Despite a certain influence of internal and external forces, the difficult situation in the South Caucasus is changing for the better. Of course, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan are still very far from the United Caucasus, that implies the establishment of a stable and safe atmosphere in the region. But in the future Armenian-Georgian friendly relations can become the core for creating such an atmosphere.
The official visit of Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan to Georgia on July 24-25 was the first over the past three years. In the framework of the ne***iations, the representatives of two countries held a tete-a-tete discussion on the issues of the interstate agenda and regional security.
The significance of this event is related to what has now become obvious: Georgia is inclined to develop and expand transport links with Armenia and Russia, without entering into discussions regarding the political and legal status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Georgia is the only communication corridor that connects Yerevan with Russia and other countries of the CSTO and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) .
At the same time, Georgia is the only transit corridor that allows Azerbaijan to withdraw its energy resources and build transport communications with access to the world market.
Tbilisi turns to the main moderator in the complex geopolitical equation prevailing in the region. This creates many opportunities for the Georgian government to take advantage of the status quo. At the same time, this situation contains many risks, since external players operating in the region always have the temptation to change the regional geopolitical equation in one direction or the other through changing the internal political situation in Georgia.
That is why the anti-Russian protests that began on June 20 in Georgia, which grew into a political crisis, were closely monitored in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, the Armenian Foreign Minister was the first to visit Tbilisi. Perhaps Yerevan did it because the Georgian-Azerbaijani relations began to show problems associated with the demarcation of borders, especially in the area of the David Gareji architectural monastery complex. And loud statements about the historical affiliation of various territories were made by influential leaders and politicians of the two countries. In addition, Baku suddenly stopped supplying gas to Georgia, stating that the Azerbaijani side first of all wants to supply its consumers with gas and then continue its supply to Georgia. Therefore, Mnatsakanyan’s visit to Tbilisi looks like an operational one, built in the light of opportunistic circumstances.
Yerevan needs to determine on the spot the political state of the Georgian authorities in the conditions of crisis, to reveal their further intentions. First of all, it should be done in the sphere of building relations with Russia, taking into account, of course, the prospects of Armenia. The entry into force of the agreement on a free trade zone between Iran and the EEU countries is also important, which is why the possibilities of creating communication corridors between Iran and Russia through Armenia and Georgia are being seriously considered.
The expansion of trade and economic relations is facilitated by the free economic zone on the Armenian-Iranian border in Megri and the possibility of using it as a platform to ensure greater accessibility to the markets of third countries. In addition, a free trade regime is already in effect between Armenia and Georgia, Armenia is among the ten major trade partners of Georgia. Georgia may be offered to use the site of Armenia to enter the EEU market.
This leads us to the conclusion that the main purpose of Mnatsakanyan’s visit to Tbilisi is to identify the transit possibilities of the two countries. That is why he, in an interview with Armenian journalists, has turned his main attention to the alternative route to Upper Lars connecting Armenia and Russia.
At the same time, Mnatsakanyan made a sensational statement. According to him, "ne***iations between Georgia and Russia on this issue are entering a new round, " and "Armenia is closely following this, conducting talks with Russian and Georgian partners." And then "how things will go and what could be a breakthrough ... of course, after consultations and communication with our partners, I can express the hope that this situation will be, but I can’t say more." When asked to clarify whether this is a matter of the near future, Mnakatsanyan replied: "I hope so, because a new stage of ne***iations is coming."
In February 2019, at the Prague meeting of the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Grigory Karasin, and the Special Representative of the Georgian Prime Minister for Relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, there were ideas about opening routes through Abkhazia and South Ossetia that are alternative to Upper Lars. It was announced the creation of a special working group, although Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili declared the impossibility of implementing this project in the absence of diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia. "Passing a new road through Abkhazia and South Ossetia can mean automatic recognition of their independence, " they are confident in Tbilisi. It is difficult to say how events will develop, as Mnatsakanyan outlined the trend, but did not name specific dates.
Everything that happens indicates that Armenia and Georgia on the one hand, and Russia, and Armenia on the other, agree on the resuscitation of an important communication project. Obviously, Moscow and Tbilisi are looking for solutions that are now realistic.
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