Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin 08YEREVAN653 2008-08-15 12:12 2011-02-18 00:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Yerevan
VZCZCXRO1697 PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHYE #0653/01 2281258 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 151258Z AUG 08 FM AMEMBASSY YEREVAN TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7899 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 YEREVAN 000653
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/14/2018 TAGS: PREL EAID PGOV GG AM SUBJECT: TFGG01: ARMENIAN FRUSTRATION MOUNTS OVER PERCEIVED GEORGIAN SNUBS, IN THE FACE OF SINCERE ARMENIAN AIMS TO...
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 YEREVAN 000653 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/14/2018 TAGS: PREL EAID PGOV GG AM
SUBJECT: TFGG01: ARMENIAN FRUSTRATION MOUNTS OVER PERCEIVED GEORGIAN SNUBS, IN THE FACE OF SINCERE ARMENIAN AIMS TO BE HELPFUL REF: YEREVAN 649 Classified By: CDA Joseph Pennington, reasons 1.4 (b,d)
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Top Armenian officials are growing increasingly offended by Georgians's non-responsiveness to Armenian efforts to reach out. The most discourteous, perhaps, was the Georgian FM's refusal even to meet FM Nalbandian for a few minutes in Yerevan airport, as she passed through en route overland to Georgia in the early morning of August 15. President Sargsian is starting to take domestic criticism for his presumed "failure" to call Saakashvili, after he did call President Medvedev. Armenians feel their good intentions have been met with an undeserved cold shoulder. Both the president and foreign minister remain new enough in their jobs for such perceived slights to sting more than perhaps would be the case of more seasoned hands. END SUMMARY> 2. (C) AN ATTEMPT AT BALANCE: Armenian officials are growing increasingly agitated, in private meetings with CDA, about the continuing refusal of their Georgian counterparts to take their calls, whether at the presidential, prime minister, or foreign minister level. A key presidential aide confided to CDA that President Sargsian had wanted to call Presidents Saakashvili and Medvedev on the same day, so as to avoid any appearance of Armenian bias between the two sides, but that when Medvedev took the call and Saakashvili did not, the appearance of pro-Russian preference was created. After repeated attempts to get a call through, Sargsian finally just sent a letter to Saakashvili, in a substitute effort to show support for the Georgian side. Local opposition newspapers have already sharply criticized President Sargsian for calling Medvedev and not phoning Saakashvili, and have accused him of sacrificing Armenia's national interests in a misguided effort to cozy up to Russia. This is galling to Sargsian after his efforts to get Saakashvili on the telephone to offer condolences and assistance. The Prime Minister, likewise, was frustrated (reftel) by his inability to reach his Georgian counterpart to discuss trade and transportation issues which are of critical importance to the Armenian economy. Meanwhile, Armenian officials have kept their public statements about Georgia determinedly positive, even as their private exasperation mounts, though they have begun to suggest that they will take a sharper public tone if the cold shoulder from Tbilisi continues much longer. 3. (C) FM'S PIQUE: The Foreign Minister called in CDA August 15 for a one on one meeting, in which he vented his own simmering frustration, over what he termed Georgia's "hostile attitude." Visibly agitated, FM Nalbandian noted that Armenia is trying to help Georgia by taking in more than 4,000 refugees and offering to serve as a humanitarian corridor for international relief efforts. He stressed that Armenia needs a good relationship with Georgia not only for economic reasons, but also for its contribution to regional stability. Nalbandian added that the GOAM had meticulously avoided any statements that could be construed as siding with the Russians. Despite these efforts, Nalbandian fumed, Saakashvili has refused to return repeated calls from President Sargsian, an the Georgian PM has ignored calls from his Armenian counterpart "for more than a week." The final indignity, according to the FM, was when FM Tkeshelashvili arrived at Yerevan airport at 4:00am on August 15 en route overland to Tbilisi and declined Nalbandian's proposal for a short airport meeting at that hour. Tkeshelashvili said she was "under instructions" to return to Tbilisi immediately. "What more do they want from us?" Nalbandian asked rhetorically. He said that the GOAM is "avoiding any negative public statements about Georgia," and warned that were such a statement to be issued, the reaction of ethnic Armenians in Javakheti would be "very dangerous" for Georgia. Despite the obvious threat behind his words, Nalbandian insisted that "this is not a card we could play" with Georgia, but "just a reality." 4. (C) GEORGIAN AMBASSADOR TRYING: CDA spoke briefly with the Georgian Ambassador August 15, after signing the embassy condolence book. When CDA gave a brief synopsis of the meeting with Nalbandian, the Georgian ambassador said he had been working the phones with Tbilisi for several days to try to set up a Saakashvili-Sargsian call, but to no avail. Although he expressed frustration at Tbilisi's lack of responsiveness, he attributed the failure to the exigencies of the current emergency rather than to any desire to slight the Armenians. The Ambassador added that he would inform Saakashvili's office in his next communication that the American Charge had been called in by Nalbandian about this issue. 5. (C) MEDIATION IDEA UNANSWERED: Polchief spoke several YEREVAN 00000653 002 OF 002 times this week with Major General Hayk Kotanjian, a strongly pro-Western thinker in the MOD, who retains close ties to President Sargsian from the latter's long tenure as defense minister. Kotanjian was eager to position President Sargsian as a potential U.S. and Georgian back-channel to PM Putin to help defuse the conflict, noting that Sargsian has good access to Putin and other senior Russian leaders. Kotanjian said he had spoken to President Sargsian, and the president was primed and ready to act in this capacity. Post conveyed this offer to Embassy Tbilisi by classified e-mail. 6. (C) COMMENT: Armenian leaders initially accepted the (very valid) arguments of Georgian preoccupation with urgent crisis management, but are beginning to suspect that the GOG is snubbing the GOAM on purpose. This hypothesis is only fueled by the still-unexplained temporary hold-up of Armenian goods at Poti and Sadakhlo, while at the same time, Armenians insist, Azerbaijani cargo passed through unimpeded. While we consistently try to soothe Armenian pique and point out that Georgia is in severe crisis mode, receptivity to this explanation has waned. The suspicion is that the Georgians are taking out their anti-Russian rage on neighboring Armenia, counting Armenia a close friend of Russia, and one that can be more easily snubbed. This is particularly upsetting to Armenians because they believe they have bent over backward to be even-handed, to reach out in good faith to Georgian leaders, to insist that Russia not use Armenian-based forces in Georgia, to welcome Georgian refugees with open arms (waiving passport and document requirements, dispatching the Migration Agency chief to the border to smooth every difficulty), and to facilitate any kind of humanitarian aid shipment to Georgia via Yerevan. In truth, Armenian leaders do not want to be purely dependent on Russia, and see Armenia's strong strategic interest in maintaining strong, good-neighbor relations with Georgia. If Georgia's cold shoulder treatment continues, Armenian leaders may start to complain publicly in the press, partly out of anger and partly out of political self-defense, to head off opposition criticism. Another aggravating factor in the Armenian reaction, we suspect, is that top Armenian officials are all new in their jobs, still taking their first steps on the world stage, and not yet feeling fully comfortable or secure in their new roles. Perceived slights are probably being felt more keenly than would be the case with more seasoned officials. PENNINGTON