The pre-election passions in Armenia have overshadowed quite a significant regional event. A few days ago, Georgia and Russia came to terms concerning the need to lift the blockade of the South Caucasian transport communications. But for the “nationally thinking” Armenian politicians, strategic problems affecting the population of their country have always been inferior to their personal affairs, money and plans. So, nobody has yet reacted to this news. The Armenian authorities were much more active when there was a chance to lift the blockade of the Armenian-Turkish border under the patronage of the United States but they missed it. Good riddance! For it would be their worst strategic mistake considering the current developments in Turkey and the Middle East. To be honest, it was a project imposed by Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Department of State. In the same way, the project to unblock the Russian-Georgian communications has always been Russia’s concern. And now the Russians’ efforts seem to be yielding some results.
The question is about the reanimation of the agreement on trade corridors signed in 2011 and enabling the sides to develop trade and transportation via Abkhazia and South Ossetia irrespective of the problem of their status. If realized, this agreement will bring stability to the region and will open up new opportunities for Armenia, who is suffering from an Azerbaijani-Turkish blockade.
The agreement was signed during a recent Prague meeting of Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and the Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze. After a long period of discord, Georgia and Russia have decided to be pragmatic and to put aside their unsolvable political problems. “We have decided to try to solve the problems we can solve without crossing the red lines,” Abashidze said, meaning the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the presence of Russian troops in those republics.
Thus, Russian-Georgian relations - qualified by Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili as “strategic patience” – seem to be getting somewhere. The sides have agreed that the communication corridors will be controlled by a third neutral party, more specifically, Switzerland.
If realized, this project will become a landmark event for the Armenians as it will bridge them with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. The Abkhazian and South Ossetian roads will become alternatives to the Georgian Military Road, the only route connecting Armenia with Russia. This will also be a good ground for the restart of the Abkhazian section of the South Caucasian railroad and a good chance for the Armenians to wreck the Azerbaijani-Turkish efforts to keep them in blockade.
In this light, we can expect Azerbaijan and Turkey to try to pressure Georgia (as both are Georgia’s biggest trade and economic partners). The Turks may also use their close contacts with the Abkhazian authorities. Under such circumstances, Armenia must urgently do something to keep this project afloat. Newly appointed Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan may be the first to take action but he may face resistance from those for whom the blockade has long ceased to be a disaster but is a means to earn money. We mean importers and their political patrons.
Experts do not believe that the agreement will be implemented soon. “There are lots of stumbling stoners here. For Abkhazia and South Ossetia, any Georgian-Russian agreement is a potential threat to their national interests. So, even if the sides manage to start the project they will not do it soon,” Russian expert on the Caucasus Sergey Markedonov says in an interview to EADaily.
Georgian expert, the Georgian Prime Minister’s former advisor Gia Khukhashvili shares Markedonov’s opinion. But he believes that the Georgians will welcome this project if it concerns only economic cooperation. “The opposition will object and will refer to the law on occupation. But the Georgians need to do at least something to unfreeze the conflict. So, the sides must do their best to get the ball rolling,” Khukashvili says.
EADaily’s South Caucasus Bureau