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President dismisses claims over Larsi reopening

By Mzia Kupunia
Wednesday, March 3
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has hailed the opening of Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi border crossing point and downplayed criticism from some of his opponents that the opening of a land checkpoint with Russia could bear a danger for Georgia.

“It will be the only legal border point on our territory [with Russia] and by reopening this the Russian side indirectly recognises that the total embargo policy, begun in 2005, has not been successful,” the President’s press speaker Manana Manjgaladze said at a special press briefing on Tuesday. “The President thinks that it is better to have legal relations with Russia at least on this one section, to have a controlled state border where everything will be done according to the Georgian legislation,” she added.

The Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi checkpoint opened on March 1 after brief Armenian and Swiss-mediated negotiations between the Georgian and the Russian sides last year. The decision to reopen a border crossing point with Russia has met with a varied reaction in Georgian political circles. Opposition Christian Democratic Movement MPs have criticised the move, saying that the opening could endanger the residents of Kazbegi region due to “insufficient” security measures at the crossing point. Saakashvili’s press speaker responded to these claims by saying that a closed border with armed guards at the checkpoint was a bigger threat than an open and legal border. “A tollbar has provided much less security than the open state border, secured with all means of control and all legal levers, did,” Manjgaladze told journalists.

Manjgaladze said that the statements of some opposition politicians and analysts that the Kazbegi region might share the same fate as the Akhalgori region are part of a “psychological war” aimed at influencing the Georgian population, investors and the development of the country in general. “As for the claims that Russia has towards Stepantsminda and Kobi-Gudauri, it should be noted that The Kremlin has the similar claims towards the whole of Georgia and its capital as well,” Manjgaladze stated.

The press speaker touched upon the issue of the Georgian-Russian relations, saying that reopening the land border with Russia does not mean improving relations with Moscow. “The negotiations were being held through the Swiss Embassy, which means they were not direct negotiations and do not imply an improvement in relations. It is hard to talk about there being any relations when the Russian Government does not recognise the democratically elected Government of Georgia, Georgia’s state border or sovereignty and is trying to legitimise the creation of 500,000 IDPs and ethnic cleansing,” Manjgaladze said. “Warming” and restoring relations with Moscow can only happen if Russia leaves Georgia’s occupied territories, Manjgaladze quoted President Saakashvili as saying.

Movement through the checkpoint has not been intensive so far, according to Russian officials. 6 people had crossed from both sides since it opened, RIA Novosti reported on March 2, based on information provided by the head of the Press Service of the Russian Federal Security Service's North Ossetian Border Department Alexander Solod. Two, citizens of Uzbekistan and Russia, crossed the border from the Georgian side, and the other four, citizens of Russia, Uzbekistan and Georgia, crossed from the Russian side, Solod said, according to RIA Novosti. An increase in the flow of people on the Russian-Georgian border is expected by May, according to the Russian Federal Security Service North Ossetian Border Department officials.