YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Relations between Georgia and Armenia are now better than at any other point in their long history, President Serzh Sarkisian said as he met with the visiting Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili on Friday.
“Serzh Sarkisian emphasized that Armenian-Georgian relations are at their highest historical level and that that enables the two countries to discuss, in a calm and relaxed manner, any issue related to not only bilateral relations but also regional developments,” the Armenian presidential press service said in a statement on their meeting.
The statement said the two men discussed the “rich agenda” of bilateral ties and regional security. It quoted Gharibashvili as saying that “Armenia is not only Georgia’s neighbor but also friend.”
Gharibashvili spoke of deepening commercial ties between the two neighboring states when he met with Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian at the start of his official visit to Armenia on Thursday. The two sides announced agreements to expand cross-border communication and mutual electricity supplies in the coming years. They also said that Georgia’s recent Association Agreement with the EU and Armenia’s plans to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) will not damage bilateral commercial ties.
Membership in the EEU will bar Armenia from negotiating bilateral free-trade deals with any country, including Georgia. Yerevan will also have to adopt the bloc’s considerably higher uniform duties for imported goods, a fact downplayed by some Armenian officials. Speaking ahead of Gharibashvili’s trip, Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian argued that several hundred types of goods will be exempt from those duties as part of trade preferences which the EIU is expected to grant Armenia.
The Georgian ambassador in Yerevan, Tengiz Sharmanashvili, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) last month that his government does not intend to unilaterally change the existing free-trade regime with Armenia. Gharibashvili stressed on Thursday that Georgian-Armenian trade soared by 42 percent in the first half of this year.
Visiting Tbilisi in June, Sarkisian claimed that the differing geopolitical priorities could even help Armenia and Georgia to deepen their economic ties. He said the Association Agreement with the EU will make Georgia more attractive to Armenian investors interested in permanent tariff-free access to the EU market.
“Conversely, Armenia’s membership in the union is opening up new prospects for those Georgian entrepreneurs who want to invest in Armenia and have export markets in Russia or the union’s other member states,” he said.
It is not clear whether the Armenian leaders discussed with Gharibashvili Georgia’s deepening defense links with Armenia’s two arch-foes, Azerbaijan and Turkey. The Azerbaijani, Georgian and Turkish defense ministers met in Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan enclave bordering Armenian on Tuesday. They agreed to hold more such talks twice a year and conduct joint military exercises.
A senior Armenian defense official said on Wednesday that Yerevan is “not quite” worried about this trilateral cooperation because it has “a wide range of mutual security interests with Georgia.”