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PM approves of Georgia-Russia checkpoint opening

By Salome Modebadze
Monday, February 15
Nika Gilauri, the Prime Minister of Georgia, can't see any danger in Russia opening the Upper Larsi Border Checkpoint, Nikoloz Mchedlishvili, the Head of the Prime Minister’s Press Office, said at a special briefing on February 12.

“Russia plans to open the Upper Larsi Border Checkpoint in March 1. The Prime Minister believes that the opening of the checkpoint will have a positive effect on the economic conditions of the population in the border region. However the Government of Georgia does not expect any significant economic benefit from the opening of the customs,” said Mchedlishvili.

“The border checkpoint was actually closed on Russia’s initiative. Russia declared an economic blockade on Georgia, although Russian goods are still sold in our market. It was Russia which stopped issuing visas to Georgian citizens, even though the Russians never had any trouble crossing the border themselves. But Russia seems to have changed its decisions and we will welcome changes which concern other issues, too,” he added.

Last March Mamuka Areshidze, expert on Caucasus issues, told The Messenger that Georgia is not ready to open this border as it hasn’t considered the risks involved. "Why does Georgia need to open the border? This is the central question, but we not received a proper answer from the Government. Nika Gilauri has said that the region will benefit economically from the border opening, but I doubt this because Georgia doesn’t have any official relations with Russia, thus nothing will pass between the two countries in the near future. We are simply trying to open the border for Armenia's sake, which is important for us as a means of softening the anti-Georgia sentiments in Javakheti [populated largely by ethnic Armenians], but still Russia is the most interested party in this affair, as it seeks to reduce the expense of supplying its military bases in Armenia,” Areshidze told us.

“There are several risk factors which definitely suggest that the border should not be opened. I worry about the information being spread by both the South and North Ossetian information agencies about the Kazbegi Region, which North Ossetia claims as its own. Opening the border will encourage the people of this region to move from one country to another. It will also help drug smugglers, most embarrassingly of all. These are risks which unfortunately seem not to have been considered by the Georgian Government.

"It would be better to provide the 1,500 people of the region with social and economic support and then evaluate the danger of the opening the border. But if the Georgian Government has made a deal with the Russian side, let them simply tell us that,” Mamuka Areshidze told us.

At the briefing Mchedlishvili also introduced the Government's Draft Law on Technical Risk Control, aimed at merging the two public control agencies and increasing the effectiveness of the control of potential technical hazards. Two bodies now do this, but one body will do so after the adoption of the Draft Law. He also spoke about the official visit of Nika Gilauri to Dubai and Kuwait, at which he would meet the Manager of the Dubai International Financial Centre and other members of the UAE's Government, the Chairman of the UAE Chamber of Commerce, Kuwaiti Government and Chamber of Commerce representatives.