By Erik Davtyan (05/27/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On May 17, Armenia’s Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan paid a working visit to Batumi, Georgia and met his counterpart Irakli Gharibashvili. The interlocutors discussed the current level of bilateral relations, as well as issues of future economic cooperation. Georgia’s PM also met with Armenia’s Minister of Transport and Communications, Gagik Beglaryan, and the Chair of the Standing Committee on Economic Affairs of Armenia’s National Assembly, Vardan Ayvazyan. The one-day visit was of strategic importance for the future of Armenian-Georgian relations due to a recent diplomatic scandal that engaged the two neighboring countries.
On May 3, the Speaker of Armenia’s National Assembly, Galust Sahakyan, met with Anatoliy Bibilov, the Chairman of South Ossetia’s Parliament who arrived in Stepanakert to attend the parliamentary elections in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) as the head of South Ossetia’s observing group. Though the Armenian authorities emphasized that the meeting had a private, rather than political character, high Georgian officials expressed strong reservations against it. Georgia’s ambassador to Armenia Tengiz Sharmanashvili conveyed this message to Armenia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Manasaryan, who confirmed Armenia’s support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Moreover, Armenia’s ambassador to Georgia Yuri Vardanyan was summoned to Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 4. Deputy Foreign Minister Gigi Gigiadze noted that the Sahakyan-Bibilov meeting was detrimental to the friendly relationship between Georgia and Armenia. Gigiadze said that Georgia “does not accept any kind of meeting between officials of an allied republic and the occupation administration.” In turn, Prime Minister Abrahamyan called his colleague and reaffirmed Armenia’s recognition of Georgia's territorial integrity. At a joint session of some standing committees of Georgia’s Parliament, Georgia’s Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili expressed her firm belief that the Sahakyan-Bibilov meeting must have been organized by “forces that have serious and far-reaching plans.”
Simultaneously, on May 4 Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement, according to which the ministry “reaffirms its support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and does not recognize the so-called ‘Parliamentary Elections’ held in Nagorno-Karabakh.” Although Georgia, along with other states traditionally does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state, this statement was a unique response to Sahakyan’s meeting with a high representative of Georgia’s breakaway region. Generally, Armenia’s political parties have not criticized Sahakyan for his informal ties with Bibilov. Moreover, the head of the Heritage Faction, Rubik Hakobyan, stated that Georgia’s reluctance to recognize the elections in Stepanakert and its support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity indicates that Armenia should adjust its position towards Georgia to resemble that of Georgian authorities.
However, Prime Minister Abrahamyan’s short visit to Batumi and the outcomes of the diplomatic negotiations clearly show that the two governments have quickly overcome the tensions caused by the meeting. Armenia and Georgia are currently developing their relations especially in the energy field, and the visit of the Minister of Transport and Communications served to further enhance bilateral cooperation. In December 2014, Minister Beglaryan and Georgia’s Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili signed an agreement on the construction of a new border bridge, the Friendship Bridge, which will bolster bilateral commercial ties.
The two states are also planning to build a fourth high-voltage transmission line connecting their power grids. This estimated US$ 105 million project is projected to enhance mutual electricity supplies. Similarly, trade turnover between Armenia and Georgia is increasing. In 2014, Armenian foreign direct investments (FDI) in Georgia grew by 139 percent, compared to 2013.
Experts believe that Abrahamyan’s recent working visit signaled continuity in cordial relations and high level cooperation between Georgia and Armenia. Johnny Melikian, an expert on Georgian studies, stressed that “this visit was a message to all states that thought there was serious crisis between the two countries.” The expert explained that these kind of incidents always take place in interstate relations, but this one could not affect Georgia-Armenia relations for the worse.
During the working visit, the Prime Ministers agreed to hold the next meeting in Javakheti in order to discuss the problems that exist in the region.