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Saakashvili against reopening Abkhazian railway

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, February 15
President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili once again reiterated that he is against reopening the railway that would link Armenia and Georgia to Russia via the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Saakahsvili made the statement during a meeting with the ministers and dignitaries from Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries, including Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on February 13th.

Saakashvili emphasized that if the Abkhazian railway is opened it will create a security threat for Georgia, for the Caucasus and Georgia's foreign allies. According to the President if the railway is reopened it will allow Russia domination of transportation links in the South Caucasus. Russia de-facto controls Abkhazia and owns Armenian Railways as well. The President hinted that Russia has a "long term plan" to take over the South Caucasian railways.

“After taking control of Armenian Railways, Russia illegally grabbed Abkhazian Railways. I wondered how Russia could use the Armenian and Abkhazian railways without access to Georgian Railways. I think that Russia had plans concerning the Georgian elections and now there is somebody in charge who will work favorably with them. I cannot think of another explanation for the situation.” Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili also warned that reopening of the railway via the breakaway region would further increase Moscow’s grip over Abkhazia.

“It will be an instrument for Russia to carry out expansion in the Caucasus.” Saakashvili said.

“Georgia will gain nothing from it; on the contrary it will complicate the reintegration of Abkhazia and will create other types of military and political problems for Georgia.” Saakashvili stated, adding that the reopening of the railway will be beneficial for Russia only.

Saakashvili stressed that the former UNM government wanted to expand Georgia's export and import capacity by building the port of Lazika. However, according to Saakashvili the plan is suspended currently.

During his visit to Armenia several weeks ago Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili stated that reopening of the Abkhazian railway is possible in the future but cautioned that certain preconditions would be necessary and that the issue will not be resolved in the near future.

“Reopening the railway is possible but we have huge problems in our relationship with Russia. The problems are huge and unfortunately they are still unresolved. We hope to restore and mend ties with Russia. The most problematic issue concerns Georgia’s territorial integrity.” Ivanishvili said.

Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Giorgi Kvirikashvili stated that the issue is not being discussed currently in the government. However, the Minister stated that better connecting residents of Abkhazia to the outside world will be beneficial.

Head of the European Research Centre Kakha Gogolashvili agrees that the reopening of the Abkhazian railway will be difficult. He thinks however, that if reopened the railway will provide more positives for Georgia than negatives.

“Common trade and economic programs will be launched between Georgia and Abkhazia in such a case, public diplomacy will be restored…time has revealed that isolation from Abkhazia has negatively affected reintegration. Having the occupied territories isolated works in Russia's interest.” Gogolashvili said.