Georgia Under Fire For Karabakh Position, Or What Moscow’s Political Order Bodes For Tbilisi

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 19 March 2019
Georgia Under Fire For Karabakh Position, Or What Moscow’s Political Order Bodes For Tbilisi

NATO exercises have been kicked off in Georgia to Moscow’s apparent displeasure with military personnel from 21 NATO member countries and alliance’s partner states, including Azerbaijan, Sweden and Finland. Tbilisi also expects to hail NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during the military drills.

Under official theory, the military drills should advance the process of preparing Georgia for joining the alliance. NATO membership is not just a political decision since great attention is paid to the possibility of joint actions by military contingents, for which the unification of weapons, "command chains", military infrastructure and so on is of pivotal importance.

And it is this interaction that is practiced in the exercises. Under unofficial version, new outbreaks of hostilities against Georgia are also not excluded. In South Ossetia, the "creeping annexation" of Georgian territory continues, with understandable tension, the front line in Abkhazia is also being watched here.

But now experts do not exclude a sort of “third front” from Armenia and the matter is not only that in Yerevan despite confirmation Armenia decided not participate in the exercises. The press secretary of the Armenian Defense Ministry, Artsrun Hovhannisyan, “the exercises were not of interest to Yerevan”. What is much more important is that the relations between Georgia and Armenia heat up quietly.

They began to worry in Yerevan after the visit of Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili to Baku, where she clearly and unequivocally expressed her support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The Armenian political "get-together" cherished hopes that shortly thereafter, Ms. Zourabishvili would make a visit to Yerevan and "balance" her Baku statements.

The visit took place and inflicted some disappointments to the Yerevan beau monde. At a meeting with Armenian Parliamentary Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan, Salome Zurabishvili harshly and publicly accused Yerevan that representatives of the occupying regime, created by Armenia in Karabakh, regularly visit Russia-controlled Tskhinvali and Sukhumi.

She noted: “We believe that there is no goodwill that should be in relation to our country”. Another "shot" was made at a meeting with Catholicos of Echmiadzin Garegin II. Here, Ms. Zurabishvili not only raised the issue of “controversial churches” in Georgia itself, but also stated: “One question that I want to give you from the patriarch concerns the Armenian Church in Abkhazia.

These are both old and newly-built churches, which today are subordinate to the Metropolitan in Russia. The patriarch says that this is a very big pain for Georgia. And so that our sovereignty is not violated, it is desirable that these churches submit to the Georgian Diocese or at least to you, Your Holiness.”
Garegin II became impudent, began to assure that this was supposedly a “temporary measure”, but it came out somehow unconvincingly.

Especially if you recall how the late Patriarch of All Russia, Aleksi II in 2008 did not reassign Orthodox churches in the captured Georgian regions to Moscow. If earlier Tbilisi tried to keep neutrality, now it stands much more clearly on the side of Baku and this change of policy enrages Yerevan and threatens to further corner it.

Of course, at the official level in Armenia, they are not satisfied with a tough debate with Tbilisi. Moreover, they are trying in every possible way to convince the public that everything went “in a warm and friendly atmosphere”. But one cannot help noticing: after Zurabishvili’s departure, the Armenian media unleashed an impressive “information war” against Georgia.

Thus, Yerevan’s Sputnik news agency once again claimed about the alternative proposed by Georgia to the truly overloaded Upper Lars checkpoint.

This, we recall, is a multimodal type of transportation from the ports of Kavkaz-Poti, Novorossiysk-Poti and further, by rail, to Yerevan. In Tbilisi, this idea is considered brilliant, but in Yerevan they do not share optimism: first, the distance is long and takes longer, and second, it is expensive, especially, given the current state of the Armenian economy. And the talk is primarily about transport of wheat, where the slightest change in tariffs will immediately reflect on the price of such a “socially significant” product as bread.

Armenia, of course, would like to get permission from Georgia to use the Roki tunnel for the transit of cargoes, but for such a step, Georgia will have to compromise with Russia on such issues as its own territorial integrity, and even for the sake of Armenia’s interests - this is “shouldering other people's sins". For obvious reasons, this is unacceptable for Tbilisi. And it is unlikely that Armenian journalists do not understand this.

One can brush it off: say, Sputnik fulfills the order of Moscow. But on the same day, Yerevan’s Voice of Armenia publishes an impressive collection of “historical references” to various Russian editions of the XIX-XX centuries, mainly to the Caucasus calendar of the middle of the nineteenth century, pushing its readers to conclude that the main population of Georgian Akhalkalaki was Armenians in those years.

This, of course, is a good reason to recall the famous “calendars lie everything” adage, but much more important is another thing: with such fake “excursions into history”, Armenia started current claims to Karabakh, and the Voice of Armenia, formerly, Russian-speaking Communist in Yerevan, played a leading role to this end. And it is precisely the bitter experience of Karabakh that no longer allows one to simply dismiss such “excursions into history”.

Moreover, it is clear that it is unlikely that in Armenia, with all the grievances against Georgia, they decided to do this at their own peril and risk. It is not just risky for Armenia to so aggravate the situation in relations with Georgia: it is a “political-economic” suicide. It is unlikely that this is not understood in Yerevan.

But if, nevertheless, “they are playing for aggravation”, it is a sure sign of “order from the outside,” more precisely, in the reality of Yerevan from above - from Moscow. They cannot afford to disobey such an order in Yerevan, despite all the pathos and the recent “smoke-smoke-huh”.

Only here with this, either they missed out of attention, or they did not dare to think about something else. Against the background of the current maturity of the Georgian state, the existing level of attention of the West and NATO to the situation in Georgia and all the political troubles of Russia, it is unlikely that it will be able to realize a full-fledged scenario of external aggression disguised as a separatist insurrection against Georgia.

But, in contrast to Tskhinvali and Sukhumi, in the case of very weighty Akhalkalaki, we will select the softest epithet, “bumps” will fall on Armenia - with all the consequences. Another thing is that the Kremlin strategists are far from being interested in the opinion of the “outpost” and the degree of risk for it.