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Armenian PM visits Georgia

By Temuri Kiguradze
Wednesday, December 10
Prime Minister of Armenia Tigran Sarkisian participated in a session of the Georgian-Armenian Economic Development Commission in Tbilisi on December 9.

Speaking to local journalists, Sarkisian stated that Georgian-Armenian relations are very important for Yerevan and the “enlarging and developing of relations between the two peoples is a primary task for the [Armenian and Georgian] Governments.”

Sarkisian met his Georgian counterpart Grigol Mgaloblishvili and said afterwards that he was “impressed” by the discussion, considering it would create a “good basis for a new beginning” for Georgian-Armenian cooperation. “There are no relations that can’t be negotiated. This is our first meeting and I am very grateful for the open and honest conversation,” stated the Armenian PM on December 9. Grigol Mgaloblishvili also expressed his satisfaction with the results of the meeting, saying it would give a “new impetus” to the future development of Georgian-Armenian relations.

One of the issues discussed by the Commission was the projected new road linking Armenia and the Georgian coast. Sarkisian stated that the Eurasia Foundation might sponsor this project and promised to “start serious work on it in the near future.” This project has aroused criticism among many Georgian experts and politicians for both economic and political reasons. “The project should reflect reality,” said Niko Orvelashvili, Georgian political and economical expert in October 2008. He doubted the possibility of its realization and pointed out that it had been discussed for many years already without any progress being made. He also mentioned political instability was one of the reasons that may make the road unnecessary.

Several Georgian opposition politicians have protested against the project. Niko Orvelashvili pointed to the statement of Shalva Natelashvili, leader of the Georgian Labour Party, that a Yerevan-Batumi road may serve as “a second Roki Tunnel,” meaning that in the event of conflict Russian military forces will be easily able to enter southern Georgia from Armenia as the Russian troops entered breakaway South Ossetia through the Roki Tunnel during the August conflict. Soso Tsiskarishvili, another Georgian expert, said that after the Russian-Georgian war, Russian troops which occupied a large part of Georgian territory are finally leaving the country, but adds: “Many of them have returned to military bases in Armenia. These troops can only dream about a good road which will allow them to easily enter Georgia once again.” He added that he would welcome the road if the project is dedicated to the economic development of the two countries, however he is concerned that the new road may be another “Putin preparation” for future conflict.

Among other issues discussed by the Commission were the restoration of direct flights between Tbilisi and Yerevan and changes in the Georgia-Armenia free trade agreement. Both parties signed the Programme on Cooperation between the Georgian and Armenian Ministries of Culture. Sarkisian was due to meet Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Tuesday evening.