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Opening the Zemo Larsi checkpoint

By Messenger Staff
Monday, June 2
After keeping the Zemo Larsi checkpoint closed for 3 years Russia has decided to reopen it. This checkpoint was the only one connecting Georgia and Russia by land prior to its closure., although there were two further checkpoints on the territories controlled by the pro-Russian separatist regimes.

From June 8, 2006 Russia unilaterally blocked the Zemo Larsi checkpoint, explaining that it was reconstructing it, although in reality this was yet another attempt by the Kremlin to damage Georgia’s economy. Reopening the Russian side of the border now is not being done to benefit Georgia or its economy. Russia has occupied Georgia’s breakaway regions and there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries. Russia’s demonstrative opening of the border is a part of a PR campaign to show the world that everything is all right and Georgia is coping with the results of the Russian aggression.

Can Georgia refuse to open its side of the border? If it does Moscow will start saying that Georgia is creating problems for Armenia, thus triggering tension between Yerevan and Tbilisi. It is interesting that Moscow first informed Yerevan of its readiness to open the Russian side of the border and Tbilisi only heard about this afterwards. Armenia has the most to gain from the reopening of the Georgian-Russian border and its state officials have many times confirmed its interest and concern about the functioning of this checkpoint. Armenian PM Tigran Sarkisian has expressed his hope that the Georgian side will facilitate the full functioning of the checkpoint, so that Armenia can transport its goods through it. Armenian Transport and Communications Minister Gurgen Sarkisian has also hailed Russia’s decision, saying that improving Georgian-Russian relations should be beneficial for all sides, including Armenia.

We should take note of the situation in Turkey, which refuses to open the Armenia-Turkish border until Armenia withdraws its forces from the occupied Azeri territories. Some Georgian experts think that the only country which will fully benefit from Georgian-Russian border opening will be Armenia, so the Turkish model could be applied here, Georgia telling Armenia that if it facilitates the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia it will open the border between Georgia and Russia. However in reality the Georgian authorities have already expressed their readiness to open the Georgian side of the border as well. Foreign Minister Vashadze and Minister for Reintegration Iakobashvili have both expressed Georgia’s readiness to cooperate in this direction.

Iakobashvili has said that Georgia had never supported Russia’s blocking of the road and after cross-border transport starts moving again it will be controlled, with no military cargo being allowed to pass. Georgia has no intention of blocking any transit to Armenia and hopes that Georgian citizens will also be able to benefit from the checkpoint.