YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Two senior members of the Russian parliament strongly criticized Armenia on Friday for bestowing its highest state award for foreign dignitaries upon Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Saakashvili received the Medal of Honor from President Serzh Sarkisian at the start of his two-day official visit to Yerevan on Wednesday. Sarkisian’s office cited his contribution to “strengthening the centuries-old Georgian-Armenian friendship.”
The move did not go down well with Armenian activists who condemn the Saakashvili government of deliberately neglecting the socioeconomic woes of Georgia’s Javakhk region and violating the rights of its predominantly Armenian population. Several dozen of them tried to stage a protest on Thursday outside a Yerevan hotel where the Georgian leader stayed during the trip.
Police used force to disperse the protesters, many of them young activists of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation “Giving Saakashvili the Medal of Honor was incomprehensible,” said Giro Manoyan, the ARF’s political director.
Some Russian politicians seem to have been even more irked by Yerevan’s warm reception of a man vilified by Moscow for his staunchly pro-Western foreign policy. Valeri Bogomolov, a member of the State Duma committee on foreign relations affiliated with the ruling United Russia Party, called it a “very controversial event.”
“Every country is free to award anything to anything,” the Regnum news agency quoted Bogomolov as saying. “However, it is important to understand that you can’t spit into a water well from which you will need to drink on more than occasion.”
“The demonstrative granting of a high Armenian state award to the Georgian president was an untactful and unfriendly step towards Russia,” agreed Viktor Ilyukhin, another senior Duma member representing the opposition Communist Party.
Both lawmakers were confident, however, that Sarkisian’s gesture will not inflict serious damage on close relations between Armenia and Russia. “Russia is a great country which thinks that it should prove its so-called tolerance everywhere and understands the sometimes inexplicable actions of our partners,” said Bogomolov.
Speaking at Yerevan State University on Thursday, Saakashvili slammed Russian policy on both Georgia and Armenia. He claimed in particular that Moscow showed an utter disregard of “the interests of the Armenian side” during its August 2008 war with Georgia.