Official Tbilisi is pointing to uncertainties in the fate of relations with Armenia more frequently lately. First of all, tax raise imposed on the goods of the Armenian origin is being speculated upon, with Armenia’s membership to the Eurasian Union shown as the reason. The subject however, is associated with greater geopolitical, political and economic factors. Yet the ties between the two countries may acquire newer substance. It must be reckoned that the Armenians can be employed in the capacity of separatists used against Georgia. All of this may complicate Armenia-Georgia relations.
Between Two Alliances: Dilemma of Armenian-Georgian Relations
Georgia-Armenia relations may encounter serious problems. One of these countries aspires towards the European Union while the other one chose Eurasian Union. These organizations have different standards. The member states must honour and implement the accepted norms rigorously. Otherwise, the membership is totally senseless. Moreover, European Union and Customs Union in fact are diverse geopolitical, economic and social-cultural environments. Surely, it is unusual that the two neighbors are torn by such differences. But the steps have already been taken and expected outcome deserves analysis.
Georgia’s associated membership with the EU means an influx of duty-free goods to the country. In the meantime, Georgia’s so far fragile economy is taken into consideration. Namely, a number of Georgian products may be granted privileges or measures to incentivize production may be introduced. Certainly, official Tbilisi is obliged to take these issues into account. Armenia on the other hand, must also observe regulations of the Eurasian Union. It turns out that Tbilisi and Yerevan would be deprived of a capability to conduct independent economic policies, being compelled to act within a framework put in place by the host organizations. They will have to regulate their economic relations with this aspect in mind.
This is the very point that troubles Armenia. They are evaluating the problem not just from the economic standpoint. Country’s geopolitical future, ensuring security and choice of the economic development model remain unclear. Armenian expert writes, ”Armenia’s membership to the Eurasian Union jeopardizes normal Georgia-Armenia relations. By itself, this provides means for additional Russian leverage on Armenian-Georgia ties. And push Armenia towards certain provocations against Georgia” (see: Арам Аматуни. Какое отклонение зафиксировала Грузия в Армении? ”1in.am”, 14 July 2014).
Interestingly, Armenia’s former National Security Chief D. Shakhnazaryan is also concerned about the fate of relations with Georgia. In his remarks at the even titled ”Georgia’s European Way” held in Batumi on 10-11 July 2014 he accused Moscow. With a distinctively Armenian cunning Shakhnazaryan reasoned about Kremlin’s negative role in the region (see: Давид Шахназарян: Россия стала главным дестабизирующим фактором и главной угрозой в регионе / ”1in.am”, 14 July 2014).
According to him, Armenia’s relations with Georgia may be derailed owing to external interference. But what puts a smile on a face that in the recent history Turkey used to be suggested in this particular capacity. Apparently, Russia has become Armenians’ new ”enemy”. Above all, concern of the Armenians is well-founded because the official Yerevan’s foreign policy has brought Armenia to the verge of the geopolitical cliff. Domestic growth is next to zero. People are rapidly fleeing the country in their masses. Armenian officials were alarmed by the facilitation of travel for the Armenians to Russia. Migration service chief warned that this may spur mass exodus. That the Armenians will become more attached to Russia and this would also become another influence instrument against the country.
Other than that, the official Yerevan ended up in a predicament on the Nagorno Karabakh issue. Most recent emphasis of the ”7 districts must be returned” formula by the U.S. officials had bewildered the Armenian leadership. Experts are acknowledging that Yerevan is stuck between the two powers – U.S. and Russia. Under such circumstances the fate of relations with the neighbors indeed bears great significance. For this reason, bringing up of the issue of tax increase with respect to the Armenian goods provokes panic in Yerevan.
This is when the toadying begins. Now the Armenians are imploring that Georgians keep the existing tax rate on the goods of the Armenian origin. Some even think that the Armenians may increase the volume of investments to Georgia (see: Арам Аматуни. Previous reference). But that would only further exacerbate domestic economic environment. Actually this means an impasse.
Armenia: Pursuit of Virtual Geopolitical Configuration
It must be stressed that Armenia’s hopes related with Iran are also fading. Russia factor is being outlined here because Moscow aims to take its cooperation with Iran to the next level (see: Игорь Иванов.Возвращение Ирана / ”Российская газета”, 16 July 2014). Russia considers Iran to be one of the most promising countries of the region. Armenian experts argue however, that it is Kremlin that determines the mood of Yerevan-Tehran exchange. That is why the Armenian leadership views the cooperation with Tehran through Moscow’s lenses.
There is an element of truth here. Nevertheless, it is the official Yerevan that bears responsibility. The outpost cannot behave any other way, meaning that in its relations with Georgia Armenia will also have to follow the orders. Thus, issue of Javakhetiya will continue to serve as a powder keg in Armenia-Georgia relations. In this context, another aspect capable of impacting bilateral relations between these countries must be emphasized.
Armenia has fomented separatism in Javakhetiya for a long time. During the Saakishvili’s presidency one of the radical Armenian leaders was imprisoned. Moreover, Armenians are rapidly acquiring Russian citizenship. Still, Tbilisi has applied some favorable tax conditions for certain Armenian products. Such measures have certainly failed to curtail separatism. On the contrary, there are speculations that once outside orders are given Armenians of Javakhetiya with the Russian passports would provoke unrest.
Armenian experts firmly refuse to address the very aspect of the issue. They are trying to attribute Georgia’s cautious position to external influence. This by itself is a dangerous point for Georgia as well because Armenians can stab from the back. It is likely that if cornered, Yerevan would do just that. Thus, it becomes obvious that a geopolitical and social-cultural gap has already emerged between Armenia and Georgia. Official Tbilisi has warned that membership to the Eurasian Union would further divide these nations. According to experts, this would bolster Turkey-Azerbaijan-Georgia cooperation whereas the Armenian experts favor Iran-Armenia-Georgia format.
All of this testifies that cooling of Armenia-Georgia relations stems from Yerevan’s inability to conduct independent policy. Official Tbilisi is indirectly implying this. However, the process is inadvertent. Moreover, Armenians continue along the path of sowing strife among the regional countries and play the blame game between the West and Russia. They are indignant over Moscow-Baku cooperation. The reality however, demonstrates that there are broader cooperation opportunities for the former two. Evidently, Armenia is gradually becoming a black stain in the geopolitical landscape of the region, and remains a factor of uncertainty and threat.