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Georgia ready to open border with Russia

By Temuri Kiguradze
Wednesday, May 27
Tbilisi has announced its readiness to start negotiations with Moscow about the unblocking of the Kazbegi-Upper Lars passage on May 26.

“We have received a message about a Russian initiative to the [blocked Kazbegi-Upper Lars] block post for traffic through the Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi. The Georgian side announces that it agrees to this,” said spokesperson for the Georgian Foreign Ministry Shota Gvineria at a press conference in Tbilisi. Gvineria announced that negotiations about this are now being conducted at expert level.

Georgian Foreign Minster Grigol Vashadze confirmed this information on the special briefing on Tuesday, noting however that the negotiations with Russia will be conducted only in the presence of Swiss diplomats because “provocations are not excluded” during these talks. “To be honest I don’t believe that the Russian initiative has been prompted by humanitarian concerns. Maybe they thought Georgia would reject this suggestion, so they could then start some hysteria in the Russian media, saying that we don’t care about the interests of our people or the people of Armenia,” said Vashadze at the briefing.

Movement through the Upper Lars block post was suspended by Russia in 2006. The official reason given for doing this was that technical modernisation of the block post, the only legal passage point on the Russian-Georgian border, needed to be undertaken. Tbilisi regarded the move as another of the political sanctions imposed on Georgia that year. The Upper Lars block post 40 kilometres from Vladikavkaz, the capital of Russian North Ossetia. Moscow announced the “end of the repair works” on May 5, and said the block post will now be able to process up to 400 vehicles per day.

“The start of negotiations on the opening of the block post is a sign of the pragmatism of both the [Georgian and Russian] sides,” stated Zurab Abashidze, Georgian political expert and the former Georgian envoy to Russia. Speaking to The Messenger on May 25, Abashidze announced that “many factors” had provoked the start of these negotiations, including pressure from Western countries and Armenia’s interest in this project. However the expert states that it is “less than likely that the opening of the Upper Lars block post will lead to the improvement of relations between Georgia and Russia.”

Armenia’s borders are blocked almost everywhere due to its broken relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Most of the cargo that enters or leaves Armenia passes through Georgian territory. “We’re extremely interested in the reinstitution of this road route. Russia has assured us that all the repairs are finished,” stated Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, as quoted by the News Armenia news agency.

Georgia broke off diplomatic relations with Russia after the August 2008 conflict and Moscow’s recognition of the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as ‘independent states’, a move condemned by the international community. Only Nicaragua has joined Russia in recognising these two regions as independent, and relations with this country were also broken off by Georgia in late 2008. At the beginning of this year the Swiss Embassy agreed to represent Russia’s interests in Georgia and Georgia’s interests in Russia. Russian citizens can enter Georgia freely through third countries.