Markarian Warns of Russian-Georgian Escalation

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia has so far been unaffected by Russia’s blockade of neighboring Georgia but risks being effectively cut off from the outside world if the Russian-Georgian crisis continues to escalate, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said on Wednesday. "The blockade is not affecting us yet," he told parliament. "Hopefully the situation in Georgia will not become more complicated." Markarian insisted that Armenian companies are still able to ship goods to and from Russia despite Moscow’s decision to sever all transport links with Georgia. The Georgian Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti continue to handle Armenian cargos bound for the Russian market, he said. Some Armenian companies have claimed the opposite, saying that they have trouble ferrying their goods to Russia. But government officials argue that they could do so via the Ukrainian port of Ilyichevsk that handles the bulk of Armenian ferry traffic. Still, Markarian admitted that Yerevan is seriously worried that the Russian-Georgia row, sparked by the arrest in Tbilisi of four Russian officers on spying charges, could escalate into a military confrontation. He said he discussed the situation earlier on Wednesday with the visiting US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza and urged the United States to "take steps" to ease the tensions. "I told him that if the problem escalates and if certain processes unfold, Armenia will look like an island and our security will be in danger," Markarian said, speaking during his cabinet’s question-and-answer session at the National Assembly. The US and the European Union have urged Moscow and Tbilisi to show restraint and embark on a dialogue. They have also criticized the Russian sanctions on Georgia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has made it clear, however, that the blockade will not be lifted "for the time being." Asked by a lawmaker whether Yerevan is ready to mediate in the dispute, the Armenian premier said: "If the Russian or Georgian sides make such an offer to the government of Armenia, we will consider it. But we have received no such offers."

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