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Tuesday, 01 September 2015

New prospects in Armenia-Georgia relations

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By Erik Davtyan (19/08/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

July was a productive month for bilateral cooperation between Armenia and Georgia. Firstly, the two states expanded their dialogue in the military sphere. On July 16, a delegation headed by Armenia’s first Deputy Minister of Defense Davit Tonoyan visited Tbilisi. A subsequent meeting between representatives of the two defense ministries took place on June 24-25 within the framework of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) Defense Ministers meeting in Brussels, during which Armenia’s and Georgia’s Defense Ministers Seyran Ohanyan and Tinatin Khidasheli discussed bilateral military ties. Khidasheli later explained that the parties agreed “to find new areas of cooperation.”

On July 16, the main focus of Armenian-Georgian talks was military education. As Khidasheli stated, “this visit aims to deepen cooperation between our military educational institutions in order to share experience and knowledge.” In this context, Armenia’s military participated in the four-week-long Intermediate Summer Mountain Training Course held under NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP), which officially ended on August 14. According to the Georgian Defense Ministry, Georgian instructors of the Sachkhere Mountain School conducted training for 12 military personnel from Armenia, Latvia, Ukraine and Jordan. Simultaneously, officers of the Georgian Armed Forces, as well as public servants undergo training at the American University of Armenia.

In an interview to the Mediamax news agency, Tonoyan mentioned that “a stable Armenia and a stable Georgia are equally important for our countries. The numerous meetings we had over the past years focused on the detailed discussion of all security-related issues, and we have arrived at absolute mutual trust, transparency and consideration and respect for one another’s views.” Moreover, Tonoyan underlined that despite their gradual integration in different security structures, “Armenia and Georgia are almost unanimous about regional security matters.”

Along with military affairs, Armenia and Georgia expanded their economic cooperation. On July 27, Armenia’s Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan paid a working visit to Georgia and together with his colleague Irakli Gharibashvili visited the Daryali-Verkhny Lars border checkpoint on the Georgian-Russian border. The two heads of government inspected the ongoing activities and the problems faced by Armenian Russia-bound transit trucks. The main result of the Armenian PM’s visit was a new arrangement, according to which the Daryali-Verkhny Lars checkpoint will be opened for an additional 3.5 hours per day. Under the new arrangement, the checkpoint will be open from 05.30 a.m. to midnight. The Daryali-Verkhny Lars checkpoint is of key importance for Armenian trade relations, as it is the only functioning land route connecting Armenia and Georgia to the Russian Federation.

Another impetus for developing Armenian-Georgian relations is the ongoing construction of a new checkpoint in Bagratashen. Prior to the meeting with his Georgian counterpart, Abrahamyan visited the Armenian-Georgian state border and inspected the current status of checkpoint improvements. “What matters most is that modern border crossing conditions will be offered to citizens and economic entities,” the Armenian PM said. The modernization of three checkpoints (in Bagratashen, Gogavan and Bavra) is estimated to cost US$ 70 million. The project is co-financed by the government of Armenia, the Office of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), as well as other international organizations.

Abrahamyan and Gharibashvili also discussed the project of the “Friendship” bridge, which is planned to be constructed on the interstate border in Bagratashen. Reportedly, 60 percent of the project will be financed by the Georgian government and the 40 percent by Armenian authorities. The total cost is estimated to € 10 million.

Armenian experts highlight the fact that Armenian-Georgian relations are currently becoming more productive than previously. Political scientist Hrant Melik-Shahnazaryan argues that Armenian-Georgian relations are developing not only from a bilateral point of view, but also in the context of infrastructure that facilitates transportation to Russia via Georgia and vice versa. The expert also believes that the frequency in mutual visits shows that “the two countries are prepare quite positive dynamics in their relations and will seek to bolster economic cooperation.” In an interview to Sputnik Armenia, the expert on Georgian studies Johnny Melikian argued that pragmatism dominates in bilateral relations. He described the Armenia-Georgia relationship as “a game with two distinct roles”: uninterrupted transit for Armenia and security for Georgia.

Generally, experts stress that matters of common concern for Armenia and Georgia are frequently solved at the highest level, due to the cordial relations between the incumbent Prime Ministers of the two states.

Image attribution: Boris Ajeganov

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