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Speculation over the reopening of railways in Abkhazia

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, September 10
On September 6, Secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council, Artur Baghdasaryan, in his interview with Novosti Armenia (News Armenia), stated that Russia, Georgia and Abkhazia have agreed to reopen the Abkhazian section of the railway connecting Georgia with Russia. “This is a process and we should understand that both sides of the conflict exist, but there exists the political goodwill to open this segment of the railway,” stated Baghdasaryan.

According to him, this issue is strategically important for Armenia’s economy and it was discussed during the meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Russia on September 3 in Moscow.

The issue is really crucial for Armenia. It has been discussed many times on different levels. However, it has been Georgia that has refrained from providing the push on this issue by putting forth certain preliminary conditions.

Armenia and Russia are strategic partners. Moscow is the guarantor of Armenia’s safety and security. It has taken commitment to protect Armenia in the case of any military confrontation, but these two countries do not have a common border and thus – land connections. The only possibility for ensuring such connection is via Georgia. There is only one road – the Georgian military road, which runs through the Larsi checkpoint and enables Russian and Armenian cargo circulation. There is also the possibility to transport goods between Armenia and Russia via the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti. However, both these ways are complicated; they take much time and extra expenses. So, of course Armenia is interested in having a railway connection with Russia so that the goods could be transported by the railways between the two countries on a regular basis.

As soon as Baghdasaryan had aired his statement, the Georgian political establishment, analysts and the media began discussing this issue. Tbilisi denied Baghdasaryan's allegations stating that the Georgian government had expressed interest towards this issue and even today it is ready to discuss the initiative. However, it does not mean that any decision has been made yet, the government’s statement reads. In fact, no official decisions have been made whatsoever, the Georgian government has stated.

The Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, who conducts bilateral negotiations with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin, said “We are not discussing the issue of opening the railways passing through Abkhazia with the Russian side.”

Abashidze said this topic has not been discussed with Mr. Karasin at all. “But if there is an initiative from the Russian side, we are ready to listen. However, if the railway is restored it would be on the basis of protecting Georgia’s territorial integrity,” Abashidze explained.

Commenting on the issue, Ivanishvili said that it is not only a simple economic question. The first factor that hinders reopening of the railway is Russia’s recognition of the independence of the separatist regimes.

Georgia’s former leadership form the United National Movement (UNM) thinks that this is not in the interest of Georgia to reopen the railway because the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is underway and carries strategic importance for the country.

Some analysts express their concern over the issue connecting Baghdasaryan’s statement with Armenia’s decision to join the Eurasian Union and its customs treaty. The analysts suspect that Yerevan will probably join this agreement and in return Moscow promises to regulate the railway issue with Georgia.

Unfortunately, Georgia knows very well how Russia can regulate relations with its neighbors.