By Hrach Melkumian
Georgia’s defense minister, Lieutenant-General David Tevzadze, arrived in Armenia on Monday for a three-day official visit aimed at exploring possibilities of military cooperation between the two neighboring states.
Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian said after greeting his Georgian counterpart that the two sides will sign a protocol “outlining our joint actions in the future.”
The two men told reporters that it is too early to speculate about what concrete form Georgian-Armenian defense links will take. According to Tevzadze, Tbilisi and Yerevan have been holding “intensive discussions” to flesh out their plans for military cooperation.
Tevzadze insisted that his trip is not related to the latest escalation in the already tense Russian-Georgian relations that has raised the prospect of Russian military strikes against suspected Chechen rebel bases in Georgia’s lawless Pankisi gorge. “This visit was planned six months before the escalation,” he said.
Last week, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian expressed concern at the latest confrontation, highlighting Armenia’s drive to maintain simultaneously good relations with Georgia and Russia, its closest military ally. He said Yerevan is ready to mediate in the bitter dispute.
Tevzadze, meanwhile, suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “not fully informed” by his minsters and top aides about the real situation in the rugged area bordering Chechnya. He said he is confident that the ongoing Georgian military operation in Pankisi will end in success.
Sarkisian said the situation in Javakhetia, another restive Georgian region mostly populated by ethnic Armenians, is not on the agenda of his talks with Tevzadze. “We don’t see any significant problems there,” he said, again declining to comment on the local Armenians’ opposition to the closure of a Russian military base in the Javakhetian town of Akhalkalaki.
Tevzadze, for his part, stressed that the withdrawal of Russian troops stationed in various parts of Georgia is just a matter of time and that the Javakhetia Armenians are primarily concerned about its socio-economic consequences.