The messenger logo

Russia creeping southwards on railroads

By M. Alkhazashvili
(Translated by Davit Kipiani)
Wednesday, June 18
Russia’s moves in Georgia are a clear-cut attempt to effectively annex part of the country—but Moscow’s ambitions do not stop at maintaining control of Abkhazia. The Kremlin will not be satisfied until it restores control over the entire South Caucasus and the lucrative trade and energy routes threading through the region.

Witness the deployment of military engineers into Abkhazia, where they are rebuilding the railways there at this very moment over strenuous Georgian protest. The repairs are a national security threat in that they could pave the way for Russia to rapidly move troops and tanks southward, but in the longer-term also bring Russia closer to dominating north-south transport links in the South Caucasus.

Russia media, in fact, have played up the need to reconnect Russia to Armenia, which lies landlocked south of Georgia, particularly given the uncertain prospects of the ferry line circuitously connecting the two countries via Georgia after the close of the Georgian-Russian border.

Repairing the Abkhazian railways was discussed during Shevardnadze’s time, when the ex-president offered Russian access to improved railroads in exchange for help in returning Georgian refugees to Abkhazia and other conflict settlement goals.

Moscow opted not to deal, preferring to take the railways on its own terms. Today, the signs point towards a reinvigorated bid from the Kremlin to establish control over not just Abkhazia’s but the region’s railways. A Russian company now runs Armenia’s national railway system, and Russia has effective control of Abkhazia’s rails. Even Georgia’s railway is up for grabs, and the tender is repeatedly attracting bids from companies of uncertain provenance.

Political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze says there is much talk about Russian capital being invested in Abkhazia, but less attention paid to Russian capital being invested—possibly insidiously—into Georgia. The danger, he and others warn, is that Russia could grasp the South Caucasus transport links from under our noses.