By Emil Danielyan
Armenia on Wednesday ruled out any involvement in the political crisis in neighboring Georgia, dismissing speculation that embattled President Eduard Shevardnadze is seeking Yerevan’s support for neutralizing his political opponents who accuse him of rigging this month’s parliamentary elections.
President Robert Kocharian made the assurances through the Armenian embassy in Tbilisi following his unexpected talks the previous night with Aslan Abashidze, the leader of Georgia’s Autonomous Republic of Ajaria who is emerging as Shevardnadze’s principal ally in the standoff with the opposition. “Under no circumstances will the Republic of Armenia take any actions that might damage the Georgian state or be regarded as an interference in its internal affairs,” the embassy said in a statement.
Abashidze’s confidential trips to Yerevan and Baku the next morning were interpreted by Georgian opposition leaders as a sign of Shevardnadze’s plans to enlist support from Armenia, Azerbaijan and particularly Russia with which the autocratic Ajar leader has maintained close ties. Former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania, for example, claimed late Tuesday that Shevardnadze and Abashidze cut a secret deal to quash the daily street protests against the official results of the disputed vote that put their electoral blocs in the lead. Speaking on Georgian television, he said Shevardnadze wants to use Russian troops stationed in Armenia and Ajaria for that purpose.
"Abashidze is looking for support at the request of Shevardnadze from these countries," agreed Nino Burjanadze, the outgoing parliament’s speaker and Zhvania’s closest associate.
Another prominent oppositionist, Mikhail Saakashvili, went farther, alleging the Georgian leader is also keen to whip up tensions in areas populated by ethnic minorities, notably Armenians.
The Georgian president’s spokesman, Kakha Imnadze, was quick to shrug off the claims as “absurd” on Wednesday. He said Abashidze’s visit to Armenia was planned long before the elections and did not result from his meeting with Shevardnadze in the Ajar capital Batumi on Monday.
Analysts believe that the two former Communist bosses, who have a history of mutual antagonism, agreed to join forces against the pro-Western opposition led by Saakashvili, Burjanadze and Zhvania. The latter insist that the elections, criticized by Western observers, were falsified by the authorities.
According to preliminary vote results, Saakashvili’s National Movement party finished third with 18.2 percent of votes cast under the system of proportional representation. Burjanadze’s bloc got only 8 percent. Both political groups have warned that the authorities should annul the election outcome or face a campaign of civil disobedience.
“The Republic of Armenia is interested in political stability in the neighboring friendly state, especially considering the existing post-election situation in Georgia,” the embassy statement said. It said this was the message conveyed by Kocharian to Abashidze and Shevardnadze with whom he spoke by phone earlier on Tuesday.
“Official Yerevan also finds inadmissible various kinds of speculations about the Armenian community of Georgia which is sincerely interested in the unity, stability and prosperity of its state,” the statement added.
Some Armenian and Georgian observers suggest that the main purpose of Abashidze’s brief stay in Yerevan was to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov who was in the Armenian capital on a two-day visit. But no face-to-face contacts between the two men were officially announced. Officials at the Russian embassy in Yerevan were not available for comment.
Ivanov told reporters on Wednesday that Russia will “in no way” become involved in the Georgian crisis.