Georgia regards Russian military presence in the South Caucasus as a threat to its security, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said on Monday, confirming Tbilisi’s concerns over a new Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed recently.
Still, visiting Yerevan, he stopped short of publicly criticizing the Armenian government for deepening its military ties with Moscow and insisted that Armenia and Georgia are “finding understanding regarding each and every matter.”
“I would like to stress that Armenia is a sovereign nation and Armenia has the right to decide what kind of a security arrangement is good for this nation. Nobody doubts that,” Vashadze said after talks with his Armenian counterpart, Edward Nalbandian.
“But Georgia has the sovereign right to make comments about the presence of a Russian military base in the South Caucasus, notwithstanding whether that bases is present. We have five bases in Georgia and, trust me, it is a persistent threat to our security, independence and sovereignty,” he said, referring to Russian troops stationed in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“And when we are discussing the fate of the South Caucasus and its three independent states, it would nice to remember 1921, when we, all three of us, lost independence during one year,” Vashadze added in reference to Armenia’s, and Azerbaijan’s and Georgia’s forced incorporation into the Soviet Union.
The Russian-Armenian pact signed in late August extended Russia’s long-term lease on a military base headquartered in Gyumri until 2044 and upgraded its role in Armenia’s security. It also calls for Russian arms deliveries to the Armenian military.
Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalanadze indicated later in August that Tbilisi is not worried about the deal, saying that Yerevan is “conscious of threats to Georgia emanating from Russia.” However, Vashadze was quoted by an Azerbaijani news agency in early September as calling the pact “a big threat to the region.”
The Armenian Foreign Ministry suggested that the comments were distorted by the APA agency. “In any case, no foreign official has the right to meddle in our affairs and make comments on our security issues,” a ministry spokesman said at the time.
“I’ve been never making comments about Armenian security, stability, independence or sovereignty,” Vashadze told a joint news conference with Nalbandian. He said in that context that his statements are “sometimes not described quite accurately” by media.
Speaking in English, the Georgian minister also downplayed the differing geopolitical orientations of the two neighboring states, saying that Georgian-Armenian relations “have not been better than they are today.” “As close friends and neighboring countries, we will always have some issues to discuss, but we are trying not to transform those issues into problems,” he said. “I should say that we are finding understanding regarding each and every matter.”
Nalbandian agreed, presenting frequent meetings between Armenian and Georgian leaders as proof of that understanding. “There will always be issues between neighboring countries, between families or within a family, and those issues should be solved through meetings or negotiations,” he said. “There are no issues which we can’t solve through negotiations.”
Neither minister clarified whether the Russian troop presence was on the agenda of their talks. A statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said they discussed “a broad range of issues,” including bilateral economic ties.
Nalbandian emphasized the fact that the volume of Armenian-Georgian trade soared by over 50 percent to $140 million in the first nine months of this year. While welcoming the surge, Vashadze described the absolute figure as “shameful.” “We shall seriously work on increasing that figure,” he said.