Russian Envoy Calls Javakhk Arrests ‘A Regular Provocation’

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Russia’s ambassador to Armenia Thursday called last month’s arrest of two Javakhk community leaders “a regular provocation” by the authorities in Tbilisi, dismissing as groundless the espionage charges alleging the two are Russian Spies.

“The recent arrest of Javakheti Armenia’s and accusation of spying for Russia is nothing but a regular provocation by the Georgian leadership,” Ambassador Nikolay Pavlov told reporters during a press conference in Yerevan. He did not comment, however, on whether or not Tbilisi’s actions were also directed at the Armenian community in Georgia.

Grigor Minasyan and Sergei Hagopjanyan were arrested last on January 28, when Georgian Special Interior Ministry forces, backed up by Tbilisi police, ambushed the two and remanded them to custody in the capital. A Tbilisi court last week charged them with alleged involvement in organizing "armed groups" and spying. The two are to remain in custody for two months pending a trial.

Minasian–a youth club director– and Hakobjanian– the director of the "Charles Aznavour" Benevolent Organization–are to remain in custody for two months pending a trial.

The arrests came amid Georgia’s continued standoff with Russia and the Georgian opposition’s increasingly vocal calls on President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign.

The brief but devastating Russo-Georgian war in August that ended in the separation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia has left many in Georgia paranoid of the country’s other ethnic minorities. Interethnic relations, mainly in the Armenian populated Samtskhe-Javakheti region have frequently been tense, with Tbilisi encroaching on the community’s rights and using discrimination to encourage their emigration. Official statistics put the number of Armenia’s living in the Samstkhe-Javakheti region at roughly 100,000–more than half its population. Armenia’s also make up large majorities in the Akhalkalaki and Ninotsmindi areas. Another 100,000 or more live in the Georgian capital, as well as South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia’s strategic ally in the South Caucasus, Armenia relies on Georgia for its connection to the outside world and has long worked to relieve tensions in the Samtskhe-Javakheti province. Armenia’s relations with Russia have also been a complex issue between Yerevan and Tbilisi, with Armenia playing a difficult balancing act between the two.

Ambassador Pavlov dismissed rumors that a second Russian military base was being planned in Armenia, a move that would likely anger Tbilisi.

When asked by a reporter to comment on Moscow’s definition of self-determination as it relates to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, Pavolv responding vaguely, saying only that Russia, “as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, will support decisions taken within this structure.”

He also said that a document circulated by Azeri mass media alleging Russian arms transfers to Armenia is a fraud. “There was no transfer and there is nothing to comment on,” Pavlov said.

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