Douglas Muir: "Russia has BBFs too"

Douglas Muir compares separatism in the Caucasus to the Balkans. While focusing mainly on the relations of the different states towards Russia, the following passages give a good insight into Armenian-Georgian relations.

"The Armenians are annoyed at the Georgians for their generally shoddy treatment of the Armenian minority in Georgia. More to the point, Armenians generally look down their magnificent noses at Georgians, considering them self-indulgent, emotional, shrill, slovenly, unreliable, and just generally second-rate. Georgians don’t love Armenians either — they consider them sly, stuck-up and grasping. There are no exactly equivalent Western European stereotypes, but if you think “dour Scots versus hand-waving Italians” you’ll get the general idea.

The state of relations between the two peoples is such that, when a rumor arose that the Russians were using Armenian air bases to bomb them, it was immediately and widely believed by the Georgians. (It wasn’t true.)

At the same time, most Armenians have warm feelings towards Russia. Which warm feelings are not entirely requited — Russians don’t view Armenians with a lot of affection and respect — but that’s another story. Imperial Russia rescued them from the Turks, after all, and then the USSR allowed Armenia to industrialize and Armenians to rise almost to the top of the Soviet hierarchy.

There’s a widespread belief in Armenia that Russia tilts their way in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute… probably not true, but there it is. More to the point, there are a couple of thousand Russian soldiers in Armenia; it doesn’t get a lot of publicity, but they’ve been there since the 1990s, quietly watching Armenia’s border with Turkey. Drive south from Yerevan, and you’ll see their bases, Russian flags and all.

And then of course, there’s Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians are grimly determined to hang on to NK. So they have a strong interest in seeing some post-Soviet boundary changes. If Russia claws off South Ossetia and Abkhazia, not just de facto but de jure, that’ll be a powerful precedent in Armenia’s favor.

All that said, Armenia’s position in the recent conflict has been… nuanced. You see, Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed. They have a land border with Iran, but it’s short, and crossed by a single two-lane road that closes every winter. So, pretty much everything that goes in or out of Armenia — including the single rail line, the single highway, the single fiber-optic cable, and the microwave phone link — goes through Georgia. 90% of their imports come in through Georgia, and about 95% of their exports go out that way. The Georgian port of Poti is Armenia’s window on the world. Simply put, Armenia is a man trying to eat, drink and breathe through a fairly narrow hose. If the Georgians were to become sufficiently annoyed, they could devastate Armenia’s economy overnight.

So, while Armenian public opinion is firmly on Russia’s side, the Armenian government is playing it safe. They’re a friendly neutral to Russia, coolly correct to Georgia."

The full article, published August 22, 2008, can be found at A fistful of Euros.

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