Concern In Baku Over Russia-Georgia-Armenia Military Transit
Recent reports that Russian military vehicles were appearing in Georgia have raised complaints in neighboring Azerbaijan that Tbilisi is “betraying” Baku by allowing the Russian military to ship military supplies into Armenia via its territory or airspace.
The story of the Russian vehicles in Georgia is almost certainly a tempest in a teapot – after footage surfaced of Russian-made ZIL 131 military trucks on Georgian streets, various theories quickly emerged. Georgia's opposition claimed the trucks were evidence that the current government was in cahoots with Moscow, while some suggested they may be on the way to Armenia, where Russia both has its own large military base and provides substantial military aid to the armed forces there. But it didn't take long for another, more banal explanation to come out: the vehicles were decommissioned in Russia and are being sold on the commercial market.
There's no indication that the Russian trucks were in fact destined for Armenia, but the question of how Russia supplies its base in Armenia, as well as delivers military aid there, has long been a secretive and contentious one. Armenia is separated from Russia by Azerbaijan and Turkey, which are hostile to Armenia, and Georgia, which is hostile to Russia. Georgia nevertheless did allow overflights of Russian military shipments to Armenia until 2011, when it publicly annulled the agreement with Russia allowing for that transit. The status of that transit is now unclear, though there have been various unconfirmed reports that it was reinstated even while former president Mikheil Saakashvili was in power.
Azerbaijani analyst Mubariz Ahmedoglu, in a Baku press conference March 5, accused Georgia of “betraying” Azerbaijan by allowing the transit. “Chronic problems in the Azerbaijan-Georgia relationship have shown themselves cumulatively. Georgia never expresses real support for Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. The only support is rhetorical,” Ahmedoglu said. He argued further that Georgia's government is going along with a Russian plan to annex Armenia via the Georgian occupied territories.
“Georgian officials can resort to sophistry to claim that the transit of military hardware via Georgia to Armenia does not pose a threat for Azerbaijan and Georgia. However, the incumbent Georgian leadership created the biggest threat for itself. This is both a military and geopolitical threat,” Ahmedoglu said.
It's not clear to what extent Ahmedoglu's views represent those in the government, but the fact that in Azerbaijan's increasingly repressive environment he held a press conference covered by pro-government media suggests it has official sanction.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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