Zurab Abashidze: "Not just Armenia needs Georgian Military Road"

Interviews

Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan intends to carry out a two-day working visit to Georgia before the end of the year. Unlike ceremonial official or state visits, the working format means that the parties plan to discuss important issues or even draw up arrangements. The program of the visit has not yet been published. And it is not yet known what issues Sargsyan intends to discuss with President Georgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Georgi Kvirikashvili. The Georgian prime minister recently canceled his visit to Yerevan set for December 1 for unknown reasons.

Although the content of Sargsyan's forthcoming visit is not disclosed, it can be assumed that the topic of the forthcoming talks will be the solution of the problem of "sustainable land communication" between Armenia and Russia. Now main cargo flows from Armenia to Russia and back is delivered either by sea through the Black Sea ports of Poti and Novorossiysk (which is difficult and costly), or through the only highway Yerevan-Tbilisi-Kazbegi-Vladikavkaz (Military-Georgian road). But this highway has become dangerous for motor transport. The danger of avalanches is increasing in the winter, and there is a constant threat of mudslides. Therefore, automobile traffic is often stopped, and drivers of heavy vehicles get stuck on the road for days, or even weeks, or turn back if there is such an opportunity.

For many years, Armenia has been lobbied for Russian-Georgian agreements on the construction or restoration of communications for a stable connection between Russia and Transcaucasia. There are three options: rebuilding the railway line through Abkhazia, building a new highway from Georgia's Kakheti to Russia's Dagestan, as well as a road through South Ossetia of Gori-Tskhinvali-Vladikavkaz.

The latter option is most convenient, realistic, least costly, but the project for restoring the automobile traffic through Tskhinvali brings just as much trouble as other two projects. The main problem is the consent of the authorities of the former Georgian autonomy and Tbilisi. Until recently, these conflicts seemed unsolvable, since a politically explosive question arose of where customs clearance of goods would take place. But the Russian-Georgian agreements of 2011 on the establishment of trade corridors through Abkhazia and South Ossetia with the involvement of Swiss specialists give a chance to solve the problem.

Apparently, the forthcoming visit of the Armenian president is related to that. Special Envoy of the Georgian Prime Minister for Relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze, speaking with Vestnik Kavkaza, said that, as a result of his recent talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Prague, the parties have never been closer to reaching final agreements and engaging in neutral trade corridors that will be used by Armenia as well.

Since Zurab Abashidze is an experienced diplomat and weighs his every word, he was very careful what he says during the interview. Nevertheless, reading his diplomatic phraseology, one can conclude that the assumptions about the main goal of the future visit of the Armenian president to Georgia correspond to reality.

- Zurab Iraklievich, did you discuss the issue of strengthening the Georgian Military Road, for example, the construction of a tunnel, during your talks with Grigory Karasin?

- Infrastructural work on the renovation and upgrading of this road are conducted by both sides - in both Georgia and Russia. They will be continued next year as well.

- But did you discuss this issue with your Russian colleague?

- Yes. The work is carried out by both sides, including at the Verkhny Lars crossing post.

- Was the problem of sustainable land communication between Armenia and Russia raised?

- In connection with the trade growth, it is necessary to increase the capacity of this road. We need to rebuild it. Our government is interested in this. Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Turkish and Iranian goods are delivered through this road... This is a road for all of us. Therefore, we will continue road facilities construction works.

- Is it about lobbying for Armenia's interests, which is more interested in the development of communications than others?

- This road is used by all of us. Yes, first of all by our neighboring states, including Armenia. 50% of the goods shipped by it are Russian. By the way, the volume of Turkish cargo transported by the Military-Georgian road has significantly increased after the restoration of trade between the two countries. Therefore, I would not say that it is about the interests of just one country. As for the tunnel, which will facilitate the movement of goods, we do not discuss this issue with Moscow. Such specific issues are our internal affairs and decisions are made by the Georgian government. We proceed from the interests of Georgia - a transit country. Therefore, we develop all kinds of transit directions from east to west and from south to north. It is in the interests of our state.

- And what about alternative ways that can be used after the arrangement of agreements on trade corridors involving Swiss?

- The issue of possible arrangements with the Swiss company, which will monitor the flow of goods in other possible areas, will become clear in the near future.

- Can it happen before the end of December?

- We'll see. We will find out in the near future. Some progress is really being made. But it's impossible to say unequivocally. Although on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays I'm an optimist (laughs).