The media reports on possible reopening of the railway link between Russia and Georgia via Abkhazia, which emerged following the visit of Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan to Tbilisi on February 23-24, have triggered speculation in Georgia that Tbilisi might be secretly negotiating on the issue with the Russian and the Armenian Governments.
The Armenian Government’s press office reported in its February 24 press release of the visit that “speaking on the alternative to the Zemo Larsi route,” the only border crossing point between Russia and Georgia which is under Tbilisi’s control and which is also the only available land link for Armenia with Russia, the Prime Minister stated the following: “we have discussed the issue, rest assured, that there will be [an alternative].”
The United National Movement issued a statement on February 27 saying that the reopening of the railway link between Russia and Georgia via Abkhazia is “completely unacceptable.”
“This will be disastrous for the country’s territorial integrity, our non-recognition policy and restoration of Georgia’s sovereignty and it will rule out [the possibility of] the return of internally displaced persons [from Abkhazia and South Ossetia],” UNM’s Nika Rurua stated at his special press briefing.
“Reopening of the Abkhazia railway is an open betrayal of national interests and is unacceptable, an adversarial step, which will benefit the Russians and the separatists only,” Rurua stated.
Moreover, he added, the reopening “will worsen” Georgia’s economic standing, as it will decrease the turnover in the Poti port and “exacerbate” relations with Azerbaijan.
“It is noteworthy, that the information was first voiced in the Abashidze-Karasin format, which clearly exceeds their authorities. The reopening of the Abkhazia railway is a political issue and exactly because of that, [Zurab] Abashidze should come to the Parliament and respond to all the questions, which have been accumulated towards him,” he stated.
Rurua also called on the Government to abandon “the behind-the-scenes negotiations” and enable “the broad public” to discuss the topic openly, otherwise, the party “will resort to extreme forms of protest.”
MP Sergi Kapanadze of the Movement for Liberty – European Georgia, who also made a statement on February 27, underlined that the railway reopening might be “damaging” for Georgia, if the country’s interests are not taken into account.
“In the last few months, we have seen the Government take many steps that are contrary to the country’s interests, including the Gazprom deal … Therefore, we have a ground to believe that such negotiations are indeed taking place,” Sergi Kapanadze stated.
“The reopening, as it was formulated by [Bidzina] Ivanishvili, will have catastrophic consequences for our territorial integrity,” Kapanadze explained.
“Of course, the Russian side and the occupation regime are interested in the reopening since its beneficial for them. [But] we should remember that territorial integrity is the most important [interest]. There has to be openness, people should have a right of free movement and return, and security should be guaranteed. We can, of course, discuss everything else once we achieve these goals,” MP Sergi Kapanadze added.
Zurab Abashidze, Georgian PM’s special representative for relations with Russia, was the first to respond to the opposition’s accusations.
“This is a lie and I reiterate once again that the Georgian Government is not negotiating with anyone on the Abkhazia railway,” Abashidze told civil.ge.
“Restoration of railway connection through Abkhazia is directly linked to the problem of Georgia’s territorial integrity,” Zurab Abashidze added.
Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze denied the opposition’s claims as well.
“The is the first time I hear about it. This is not an accurate information … We have not discussed anything related to this in the Cabinet,” Kaladze stated.
The Armenian Prime Minister’s remarks come three weeks after Zurab Abashidze’s meeting with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Prague, where the sides agreed to move forward with the implementation of the Swiss-mediated 2011 WTO deal, which entails placement of sophisticated systems for tracking and auditing of cargo passing through Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The agreement, among other issues, entails hiring of a “neutral private company” to carry out monitoring of cargo movement through three “trade corridors” two of which run in the breakaway regions and the third one on the Zemo Larsi-Kazbegi border crossing point on the undisputed section of Georgia-Russia border.