By Karine Kalantarian and Astghik BedevianArmenia on Friday expressed serious concern at the escalating crisis between neighboring Georgia and Russia and again denied any responsibility for Russian espionage alleged by Tbilisi.
“Armenia has always been and remains concerned about the tense Russian-Georgian relations,” said Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. “We are all the more concerned now because that tension is rising day by day. We are closely following the developments.”
The crisis was sparked on Wednesday by the arrest in Tbilisi of four Russian army officers and over a dozen Georgian citizens accused of spying for Russia’s GRU military intelligence service. Moscow has vehemently denied the charges and condemned the arrests as a “provocation.”
Oskanian insisted that Armenia has played no part in the spy scandal despite Georgian allegations that the arrested Russians acted on orders from a senior GRU agent based in Yerevan. “True, Armenia’s name has been mentioned, but that does not concern Armenia,” he said.
“We have to wait and see further developments. We are primarily concerned about the escalation and -- we hope things won’t get to that point -- break-up of Russian-Georgian relations,” he added.
The tensions, meanwhile, continued to mount on Friday as Russia began pulling out some of its diplomats and their families from Georgia and urged the UN Security Council to put pressure on Tbilisi. Georgian police, for their part, continued to surround a Russian military headquarters that controls two Russian military bases stationed in Georgia.
Oskanian’s concerns were echoed by other Armenian politicians who fear that the spy scandal might flare up into a military Georgian-Russian confrontation fraught with unpredictable consequences for Armenia. “I fear that a war might break out soon,” said Aram Karapetian, a pro-Russian opposition leader.
Hamlet Harutiunian, a parliament deputy from the governing Republican Party of Armenia, saw a “fifty-fifty chance” of such war. Both he and Karapetian agreed that Yerevan should avoid taking sides in the dispute.
(Itar-Tass-Photolur: Russian soldiers pictured outside their Tbilisi headquarters.)