By Astghik Bedevian
Senior lawmakers exposed official Yerevan’s frustration with Russia’s transport blockade of neighboring Georgia, telling their visiting Russian colleagues that it is taking an economic toll on Armenia.
Parliament speaker Tigran Torosian and his deputy Vahan Hovannisian complained during a meeting of a Russian-Armenian commission on inter-parliamentary cooperation that Moscow does not take into account the interests of its main regional ally in its dealings with Tbilisi.
Russia severed all transport and postal links with its pro-Western neighbor on October 2 in retaliation for the arrest by the Georgian authorities of four Russian officers accused of espionage. The sanctions further complicated Armenian exports to and imports from Russia carried out via Georgian territory.
Moscow had already closed its sole functioning border crossing with Georgia, also used by Armenian companies, last summer, ostensibly due to infrastructure repairs on the Russian side of the frontier. It has refused to reconsider the move despite protests from the Armenian government.
Hovannisian said he and other Armenian parliamentarians told Russian members of the commission, “If you, for example, close Upper Lars, you should tell us in advance so that our exporters can look for other markets. When that is not done, we suffer a real blow.”
“Of course they understand us very well,” Hovannisian told a joint news conference with Nikolay Ryzhkov, the commission’s Russian co-chairman. “But our Russian colleagues are at the same time telling us the following, ‘Enough is enough and we can’t show restraint towards [Georgian President Mikhail] Saakashvili’s regime anymore.’”
“And so they are now reacting with all their force, while realizing that their reaction is causing us serious trouble,” added the Armenian speaker.
Ryzhkov admitted that the atmosphere at the one-day meeting was not always cordial. “There were also unpleasant issues [on the agenda],” he said. “But we gather not to commend each other but to solve issues arising in relations between Russia and Armenia.”
Ryzhkov argued that Russia does not want to cause any damage to the Armenian economy hamstrung by disproportionately high transportation costs. “Armenia is a strategic partner of Russia,” he said. “Our relations are certified at the highest, presidential level.”
Consequences of the Russian-Georgian row were high on the agenda of last week’s meeting in Moscow of a separate Russian-Armenian inter-governmental commission on economic cooperation. Its Russian co-chairman, Transport Minister Igor Levitin, said afterwards that Armenian companies will be able to continue to ship cargos to and from Russia though Georgian Black Sea ports. But with a regular ferry service between Russia and Georgia suspended, it is not clear how that can be done in practice.
Ryzhkov suggested that Armenian firms trading with his country use Iranian territory instead. But analysts say that transit route is even more expensive.
(Photolur photo: Torosian, left, Hovannisian speak at the j oint news conference with Ryzhkov.)