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Georgia isn’t negotiating with Russia on border opening

By Temuri Kiguradze
Tuesday, November 3
The Georgian Foreign Ministry has denied reports that direct negotiations between Georgian and Russian officials on the issue of the re-opening of the Russian-Georgian border around the Zemo Larsi control point are taking place.

On October 30 the Russian Federal Agency on Border Arrangement announced that representatives of the Tbilisi and Moscow authorities had met each other in the Armenian capital Yerevan and “confirmed their principal interest in the swift resumption of traffic” through the Zemo Larsi checkpoint. The agency reported that the agreements were being made between its deputy head, Yuri Maltsev, and the deputy head of the Georgian Foreign Ministry’s European Department, Kakha Chitaia. It also said that the two sides had exchanged information about the border crossing point’s condition and “noted that from the technical point of view it was ready for reopening.” “Results of the working meeting of experts will be passed on to the Russian and Georgian leadership so a final decision can be taken,” the Russian federal agency said.

Speaking on November 2 Deputy Georgian Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze underlined that no Russian-Georgian meetings had been held in Yerevan. “The Georgian delegation deals with Armenian representatives who on their side are negotiating with the Russian side on the Larsi issue. The opening of the Zemo Larsi control point is vital for Armenia, and considering its interests the Georgian side may make some compromise decision on that issue and open the border under the same conditions as before it was closed. However despite this Russia still creates problems on this question,” Kalandadze stated.

The Zemo Larsi control point has been closed for three years. Back in 2006 the Russian side gave the necessity of repairing the checkpoint as the reason for its closure. These repairs on the Russian side were finished in early May 2009 and Georgia, with U.S. assistance, completed the reconstruction of its part of the checkpoint in September this year. However the reopening of this border point is complicated because of there have been no diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia since the August war and Russia’s decision to recognise the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as ‘independent states’. The Larsi opening issue has been negotiated with Moscow through the Swiss Embassy, as Switzerland represents the Kremlin’s interests in Georgia and Georgia’s interests in Moscow.

This summer during his visit to Yerevan Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that Georgia would be ready to open the Larsi checkpoint as soon as the repair works were finished. "We consider that all roads should be open for free movement. The closure of Zemo Larsi has led to problems in cargo transportation in Georgia, and especially in Armenia. We have told the Russian side that we are willing to negotiate on this issue with Switzerland, as this country represents the interests of Russia. We are now repairing the road to the checkpoint on our side. When we're done, we will be ready to open it," Saakashvili said at a joint press conference with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian in June 2009.