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Tbilisi claims joint border control agreed with Russia, but details are open question

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, February 28
Georgian officials say Moscow has agreed to share control of two disputed border checkpoints, opening up a possible deal on Russian accession to the WTO. Putting the plan into practice, however, is another matter.

“Russia consented to joint control of the border and customs checkpoints at the Roki Tunnel and Psou,” said President Mikheil Saakashvili on February 26. “We don’t know the technical details of its implementation, but it’s a giant step and terrific breakthrough.”

The technical details will be sticky. The Georgian sides of the border points are in separatist-controlled territory.

“Georgia border guards will never be stationed on the Russian border. This is entirely out of the question,” de facto Abkhaz president Sergey Bagapsh told journalists on February 26.

How can Georgian border agents take over the checkpoints? A Foreign Ministry spokesperson declined to discuss particulars.

“We have repeatedly made comments on this issue and you can check them at our website,” a spokesperson said. The ministry’s website does not include comments directly addressing the practicalities of the agreement.

Analyst Archil Gegeshidze, of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, said there are options for instituting joint border control.

“It may be agreed that the joint customs checkpoint is stationed on the Russian side [of the border],” he told the newspaper yesterday, adding that the ideal agreement would be a trilateral decision with separatist consent, which would lower the chance of any confrontation.

Joint control of the Roki and Psou checkpoints is a longstanding Georgian demand, which officials say must be met before Tbilisi consents to Russian membership in the WTO. As a current WTO member, Georgia in essence holds veto power over new membership bids.

Russian officials have said they see no link between the two checkpoints and WTO conventions, and have not confirmed a deal on jointly controlling the Roki Tunnel and Psou checkpoints.

In fact, a statement on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website suggests any deal is far from ironclad.

“[Joint control of the checkpoints] is under discussion in Russian-Georgian consultations on WTO issues in Geneva,” the statement read. “In these talks, we have unambiguously stressed from the beginning that the practical implementation of [joint checkpoint control] depends entirely on the progress of the resolution of the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts, as well as on the agreement of [de facto secessionist capitals of] Sokhumi and Tskhinvali.”