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Abkhaz railway-geopolitical challenge

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, July 18
The de-facto Abkhazian presidential candidates have renewed talks regarding the re-opening of the railway linking Armenia and Russia via Abkhazia.

Aslan Bzhania, one of the four “presidential candidates” running in the August 24 early election, has stated that Abkhazia will benefit both economically and politically if the railway is restored.

He claims that Sokhumi should actively push for the restoration of the railway.

Bzhania stresses that through the route, Abkhazia will gain a number of benefits through the cargo transit from Russia, Armenia, Iran and Georgia.

“From the political point of view, the restoration of the railway will put forward the recognition of Abkhazia as an independent state by those countries which will be involved in the transit,” the Abkhazian politician states, emphasizing that the legal status of the Abkhaz section of the railway should not even be a subject of negotiations. “It is the property of the Abkhazian republic, and this project should cause no threat to the security of the state,” Bzhania said.

Georgia was holding consultations with the Armenian and Russian sides in 2006 regarding the restoration of the railway. However, the negotiations yielded no outcome.

Armenian media was speculating that the issue would have been discussed during the Armenian president’s visit to Georgia in June. However, Georgian officials claimed that the issue was not on the agenda at all. Minister of Reintegration Paata Zakareishvili claims that the issue should be discussed between Georgia and Russia, and Akhazia should stand aside, as the de-facto region should not have any involvement in such issues. Zakareishvili stresses that it is a political issue, requiring better relations with Russia. “However, the topic is not being discussed now,” Zakareishvili stated.

Analysts are unanimous that the railway has a regional connotation, and it might change the region’s countries’ geopolitical status. It is agreed that the opening of the railway is essentially important for Armenia as through the route, Armenia which is in a blockade due to its conflicts, will find a direct way to Russia.

“Despite economic benefits, opening the route will be too significant from a political point of view. Through the opening of the route, Turkey’s increasing influence on Georgia will be reduced. “We urgently require opening the railway. However, it is beneficial for Georgia as well,” Armenian analyst Armen Saprastian stated.

Azeri analysts doubt that through the railway Russia might support Armenia with weapons. They stress that such a development might affect Georgian-Azerbaijan relations.

“Azerbaijan is a strategic partner of Georgia. We are carrying out investments in Georgia, providing the country with cheap gas. All these issues should be considered and Georgians should consult with the Azeri side,” Azeri analyst Farkhan Mekhtiev suggested.

Head of the Caucasus Research Centre Kakha Gogolashvili believes that the re-opening the railway is in the interests of Russia and Turkey as well, as the countries would manage to have direct links.

“Re-opening the railway is a hard task, where each detail should be considered. However, from a political and economic point of view, the project is beneficial for Georgia. Georgians and Abkhazians will start joint economic projects that create nice bases for reconciliation. Herewith, when there are tight economic links between the countries, the risk of war goes down,” the analyst stated, noting that the re-opening of the railway will not cause any complications between Georgia and Azerbaijan. “As Azerbaijan needs Georgia more than the contrary. Of course, they are providing us with gas. However, we are not totally dependent on them and in case of re-opening the railway Georgia might get gas from Russia as well, at a lower price,” Gogolashvili stated. However, the analyst stresses that weapons or other military equipment must not be transited via the route.

Member of the parliamentary minority Davit Darchiashvili stated that “the devil hides in the details” and any aspect of the issue might cause problems. He is suspicious of the current government getting the issue positively resolved and meeting the country’s interests.