New strategy or provocation?: Russian analyst’s article on “straight way” to Armenia via Georgia stirs controversy

In Russia they start voicing plans for the “opening” of a straight way to Armenia via Georgia. In particular, this is what deputy director of the Center of Strategic Situations Mikhail Chernov wrote in his article on the Russian portal. His article was taken as a provocation and probing of sentiments, still it caused a sharp reaction both in Armenia and Georgia.

The essence of the article by Chernova is that the military-strategic treaties between Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are being prepared for signing, may become prerequisites for Russia’s reaching the border with Armenia. Now the only overland route from Russia to Armenia lies through Georgia, and it is almost an insurmountable obstacle for the integration of Armenia into the “neo-Soviet” space.

The texts of the treaties are already in the Russian State Duma, and, according to Chernov, “the institution of bilateral treaties may become a new tool of Russian foreign policy allowing Russia to meet its objectives in the South Caucasus without unnecessary complications in international relations.”

“Russia has two such basic tasks in the region and they are closely related to each other. The first one is to prevent the creation of NATO military infrastructure in Georgia. The second objective is to ensure a reliable direct transport link with Armenia,” the Russian expert says. Besides, control of the Russian Federation over transport communications will provide full functioning of the Russian military base in Armenia.

The mechanism has also been devised. It turns out that on October 31 Vladikavkaz, the capital of Russia’s republic of North Ossetia hosted a congress of the International Public Movement called “The Supreme Council of the Ossetians”, which was also attended by former president of South Ossetia Eduard Kokoity. He raised the question of Trusovsky gorges and Kobin hollow being part of Ossetia. Presence in Kazbegi region will make it possible to control a small section of the strategically important Georgian Military Highway – the shortest route from Russia to Armenia.

“At the same time, Russia is more interested in the development of the Trans-Caucasian Highway. The ‘western’ route to Armenia passes through the Gori district, bypasses Trialet Ossetia, where a considerable number of Ossetians lived before the early 1990s, as well as the Armenian-populated Samtskhe-Javakheti region,” Chernov writes.

He hopes that if by some chance in Georgia on the basis of the current political crisis Maidan-like events start, Russia may introduce troops into Georgia for the “protection” of Ossetians and thus open up its route towards Armenia.

In an interview with Newspost former defense minister of Georgia Dimitri Shashkin said: “Alarm should be sounded over the document relating to the Tskhinvali region, which officially entered the [Russian State] Duma. Russian experts have already started openly speaking about the threat that concerns Russia’s big desire to create a direct link with its base in Gyumri (Armenia).”
According to Shashkin, on the basis of treaties being prepared with Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Russia is openly stating that it will protect them against Georgians.

“[Russian] protection of Georgian regions is another new challenge. It turns out that if about a hundred people are paid for setting up a group of provocateurs, they [Russians] may invade Kakheti in order to protect the local population. A hundred provocateurs can be found easily,” Shashkin said.

No official reaction to these statements have yet been made in Armenia, Georgia and Russia, however, at the level of experts there are opinions that such provocations can sow discord between Georgians and Armenians. Former Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, who stepped down recently, has repeatedly stated that the Russian base in Armenia is a threat for Georgia. It is these threats that do not allow Georgia and Armenia to establish mutually beneficial relations.