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Tbilisi discusses border opening

By Temuri Kiguradze
Monday, November 16
The Georgian Government discussed the planned opening of the state border with Russia at a session of the Georgian National Security Council (NSC) on November 13. The participants of this meeting, chaired by President Mikheil Saakashvili, spoke about progress in negotiations over the reopening of the Zemo Larsi border checkpoint.

“We have had talks in Yerevan - Georgian-Armenian talks with the participation of Russians - on the reopening of this point,” Saakashvili said at the meeting. “Some fear this possible reopening; we will brief you about the information available to us and you can then draw your own conclusions,” he said.

Answering the accusations of opposition parties that there were doubtful benefits for Georgia in opening this checkpoint and the country’s security might be compromised Secretary of the National Security Council Eka Tkeshelashvili, stated that the process “will only be positive for us and our neighbour [Armenia] and in no way pose a security threat to our country.”

Armenia has a special interest in the reopening of the Zemo Larsi point as it is the only way it can connect with the Russian Federation by land, as Armenia can’t gain access to Russian goods through its other neighbour Azerbaijan because of the tensions between two countries. “We will try to protect the interests both of Georgia and Armenia,” stated Tkeshelashvili. She added that the “leading role” in negotiations with the Russian side trough Armenian mediators will be taken by the Georgian Foreign Ministry. “This step [the border opening] will be beneficial both from the economic and social points of view,” the NSC Secretary added.

In his opening remarks at the Council session President Saakashvili welcomed opposition politicians’ participation in the meeting, saying it was an example of cooperation between the authorities and the opposition, including those “who were throwing carrots” at him. This comment was a reference to the opposition rallies conducted at the Presidential Residence, when some protesters threw vegetables into it calling him a “coward rabbit.” “Now I think we are moving from carrot politics to serious politics,” Saakashvili told the session, which was also attended by MP Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, whose Freedom Party was among the group of opposition parties behind the street protest rallies.

Land connection between Georgia and Russia ceased with the closure of the Zemo Larsi border crossing point by Russia in July 2006. There are two other checkpoints, in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but these are considered by Georgia to be operating illegally and entry into Abkhazia and South Ossetia through those points is banned by Georgian law as those Georgian breakaway regions are considered occupied by Russian troops.

The official reason for the closure of the Zemo Larsi checkpoint was the need to undertake repair work. On September 4 2009 this was completed. The United States allocated Georgia USD 2.4 million to add more traffic lanes on its side of the checkpoint, install modern search equipment and construct offices and barracks for the Georgian Patrol Police and Revenue Service, as well as installing radiation equipment to detect radioactive materials. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversaw the reconstruction of the Georgian side of the checkpoint.