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Larsi checkpoint reopens: so what?

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, March 3
The Larsi checkpoint reopened on March 1, following more than 6 months of negotiations between Russia and Georgia under Armenian mediation. Nothing is known about the content of these negotiations: what was discussed and who asked for what? There has been no convincing explanation of why this checkpoint has been opened at all, but the one thing we know for sure is that Georgia will gain nothing from the reestablishment of a land connection with Russia.

Georgia maintains that the checkpoint has been opened for the sake of Armenia, under some international pressure. The administration assures us that opening the checkpoint does not compromise Georgiaís security. However some analysts challenge this, insisting that under the existing circumstances an open border with Russia is extremely dangerous for Georgia.

There are no diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia. Moscow occupies 1/5th of Georgian territory and the Russian President has declared Saakashvili persona non grata. Despite all this the only land connection between Georgia and Russia, which Moscow closed unilaterally in 2006, has been reopened. While the negotiations were being conducted some Georgian analysts hoped that Russia would lift its embargo on Georgian agricultural products if it was also prepared to open the checkpoint, but others stated that territory cannot be exchanged for the chance to sell wine and mineral water. The checkpoint is open, the Russian embargo is still in force, Russia still occupies the breakaway regions. Nor have any special benefits been given to the Georgians living near the border. Georgia receives almost zero economic profit from the reopened checkpoint. Maybe the lorry drivers will stop and eat in a Georgian restaurant, buy goods here or fill their tanks with petrol on this side of the border. But thatís it.

We are told that if cargo can pass between Armenia and Russia through this checkpoint Armenia will be friendlier to Georgia. A possible separatist outbreak among Georgia's ethnic Armenians in Javakheti will be avoided, Armenia will refuse to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Armenian media will stop broadcasting anti Georgian material. However Georgian analysts suppose, not without serious grounds, that Russia will use the newly opened road to send military hardware, logistics supplies and spare parts to the Russian military base in Armenia. After the Russian aggression against Georgia in August 2008 this base and the rest of Armenia could only be supplied by plane. So it could be said that this is a very controversial deal. Is it not strange to be helping the enemy supply its bases in a neighbouring country? Analysts ask this question and express their utmost surprise and concern.

Some Georgian analysts expect further Russian provocations in the Kazbegi region now the checkpoint has been opened, as Russia has designs on occupying this region as well if the recent 'historical analysis' is to be believed. The Ossetian media has started saying that Kazbegi was historically Ossetian territory and should therefore belong to the Kokoity regime. A couple of hundred Ossetian families do live there, so the more pessimistic analysts think that these Ossetians might ask the Russians to help them and Russia will send its troops in response. The West, as is traditional, would express its concern about this but do no more, and more Georgian territory would therefore be lost. This is a very pessimistic scenario, and hopefully things will not turn out to be that bad, but it is a possibility.

It would have been more realistic for Georgia to ask for some conditions in return for opening the checkpoint, for example OSCE observers being allowed to enter the occupied territories or at least be based at the Larsi checkpoint. The administration may try and calm the population by saying there is no threat whatsoever in reopening Larsi, but most Georgians doubt the ability of the authorities to assess long term developments logically and realistically, having experienced the August 2008 war and the obvious provocations beforehand.