Prime Ministers Hovik Abrahamian of Armenia and Irakli Gharibashvili of Georgia met in Batumi over the weekend for talks which their offices said focused on bilateral economic ties.
Abrahamian travelled to the Georgian Black Sea city two weeks after official Tbilisi protested against Armenian parliament speaker Galust Sahakian’s meeting with a leader of South Ossetia, a breakaway Georgian region.
Sahakian and Anatoly Bibilov met early this month during their separate visits to Nagorno-Karabakh. Sahakian downplayed their short conversation as “private” and impromptu.
The explanation did not satisfy the Georgian government, which condemned the contact with the representative of what it regards as an “occupational regime” installed by Russia. The Armenian ambassador in Tbilisi was summoned to the Georgian Foreign Ministry and warned of “damage to bilateral relations” on May 4.
The controversy prompted Abrahamian to telephone Gharibashvili later on May 4. According official Georgian sources, the Armenian premier “reiterated firm support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
Abrahamian’s and Gharibashvili’s press offices made no mention of the diplomatic scandal in their separate statements on the Batumi talks. They both described Georgian-Armenian relations as “friendly and good-neighborly” and said the two men discussed ways of boosting bilateral commercial ties.
A short video released by Gharibashvili’s office showed the two prime ministers warmly greeting each other at Batumi airport and strolling along the city’s palm-lined seaside boulevard.
Among Armenian officials accompanying Abrahamian was Transport and Communications Minister Gagik Beglarian, suggesting that Georgian-Armenian transport projects were on the agenda of the talks.
Last December Beglarian and Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili signed in Yerevan an agreement on the construction of a new bridge at the main Georgian-Armenian border crossing. Officials from both countries said the Friendship Bridge will facilitate bilateral commerce and travel.
Armenia and Georgia are also due to start building this fall a fourth high-voltage transmission line connecting their power grids. According to the Armenian Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, the $105 million project will enable the two neighboring states to more than triple mutual electricity supplies.
While in Yerevan, Kvirikashvili also discussed trade-related implications of Armenia’s accession to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and Georgia’s Association Agreement with the European Union.
The EEU membership, effective from January, requires the Armenian government to gradually adopt significantly higher duties that are collected by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan from goods imported from third countries. Many expected that this would lead to the abolition of a free trade regime existing between Georgia and Armenia. However, Armenian officials indicated late last year that Yerevan will not have to scrap it after joining the ex-Soviet bloc.