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Do Georgia and Armenia need to be linked?

By Temuri Kiguradze
Tuesday, October 7
Roads should be built between two countries only if there is a need for it, says Soso Tsiskarishvili, a Georgian political commentator, who together with his Georgian and Armenian colleagues has taken part in a video bridge linking Tbilisi and Yerevan at the RIA-Novosti International Press Centre on October 6.

The Georgian and Armenian political analysts discussed the results of the recent visit of Armenian President Serzh Sargsian to Tbilisi. “There were two important decisions made during this visit; the agreement to simplify border crossing rules for citizens of the two countries and the decision to build the new road connecting Yerevan with Batumi,” said Alexander Merkerov, Armenian political analyst and Professor. He believed that the new road linking the Armenian capital and Georgian seaside resort could have a big positive effect on the economies of both countries. This point of view was supported by Van Baiburt, the Georgian President’s counsellor. He pointed out that the new road would pass through Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region, populated mostly by ethnic Armenians. “The project is important for Georgia, and maybe even more than it is for Armenia,” said Baiburt, pointing out that the road infrastructure in this region of the country is in a very concerning condition.

“The project should reflect reality,” said Georgia’s Niko Orvelashvili. He doubted the possibility of realizing the project, and said that this plan had been discussed for many years already, but still no progress had been made. He also mentioned political instability as one of the reasons that may make the project unnecessary. Participants in the discussion also mentioned the statements of several Georgian opposition politicians who are protesting against the project. Niko Orvelashvili highlighted the statement of Shalva Natelashvili, leader of the Georgian Labour Party, who said that a Yerevan-Batumi road may serve as “the second Roki Tunnel,” meaning that in the case of conflict, Russian military forces from Armenian territory would easily be able to enter southern Georgian regions in the same way that Russian troops entered breakaway South Ossetia through the Roki Tunnel during the August conflict.

Soso Tsiskarishvili said that after the Russian-Georgian war Russian troops, which had occupied a large part of Georgian territory, are now finally leaving the country. “Many of them have returned to military bases located in Armenia. These troops dream about a good road which will give them the possibility of easily entering Georgia once again,” said Tsiskarishvili. He also added that he would welcome the road project if it was dedicated to the economic development of the two countries, but he was concerned that the new road might be another “Putin preparation” for a future conflict.

“No conflicts are started because of tunnels or roads,” said Armenia’s Alexander Iskanderian. He said that the Ossetian conflict didn’t start because of the Roki Tunnel. He considered that isolation is not the way to solve problems. Iskanderian thinks that the road is necessary for both Armenian businessmen who transport cargo and Armenian tourists who spend their summer holidays at the Georgian seaside. He also pointed that the road might be useful for the infrastructure of the Georgian regions it will pass through.

The new road might reduce the traveling distance from the Armenian capital to the Georgian seaside by 30%. At present the most direct route between Yerevan and Batumi is 750 kilometres long. The new road as projected would be only 450 kilometres long.