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Letter to the Editor

Thursday, March 4
Dear Editor:

I generally agree with the Messenger's editorials, finding them reasonable and balanced in a national political dialogue that is too rarely so.

I was therefore surprised to read the editorial of March 3, 2010 criticizing the Georgian Government for agreeing to re-open the Larsi checkpoint.

Re-opening the Larsi checkpoint is, simply put, in Georgia's best interests. It therefore is not necessary to bargain for any concessions from Russia in the re-opening of the checkpoint. With or without concessions from Russia, opening the Larsi checkpoint, and therefore resuming legal land communications between Russia, Georgia, and Armenia, is good for Georgia.

Let's start with an obvious fact: Georgia lies between Russia and Armenia. Georgia and Armenia share a border far from Russia, and a long, multi-layered history. Armenia has the capacity to cause great problems for Georgia should it choose to do so -- by stirring up separatism in Javakheti and by cooperating with Russian economic, political and military warfare against Georgia. It is therefore undeniably in Georgia's interests to do what it reasonably can do to incentivize Armenia not to use these political weapons against Georgia. The more Georgia can use its levers with Armenia -- access to Russia, access to the Black Sea -- the more Armenia has to lose by causing trouble for Georgia. Therefore opening the Larsi checkpoint is simply good politics for Georgia: more specifically, good Realpolitik in its relations with Armenia.

The argument that opening the border will somehow facilitate Russia's nefarious designs on Georgia is simply naive. Russia can and will pursue its nefarious designs against Georgia whether the Larsi border is open or not. It is absurd to think that the Russians can ship military equipment to Armenia now that the road is open which they could not fly into Armenia by air or smuggle across Armenia's southern border with the cooperation of Russia's and Armenia's other ally in this region, Iran. Georgia can easily monitor and control the traffic across the Larsi checkpoint and search all persons and cargos for trouble. If the Russians decide to send military equipment through Larsi despite Georgia's efforts to control it, it will make little difference whether the border is legally open or not. If things have reached that point, the Russians will do what they want to do anyway.

Finally, anyone who has been to Kazbegi (Stepatsminda) lately knows that the town is depressed -- more depressed than it was when the border was open. I would not lightly dismiss the opportunities for local commerce that will be generated by opening the border. Kazbegi could use a little hotel and restaurant business, not to mention the other kinds of business that might be promoted by an open border.

The risks that fear-mongers are crying about -- trouble among Ossetians in Kazbegi, enhanced Russian military designs on Georgia -- are risks that exist in any case and are not increased by opening the border. I personally think that the "risk" of ethnic Ossetian separatism within areas under the Georgian government's control is greatly exaggerated, and Georgians who create an issue out of it are playing a dangerous game that has already done enough harm to this country in the past twenty years. In any case, these external and (alleged) internal security risks have to be managed by intelligent state policy and the effective use of state power. Closing a border that it is in Georgia's best interests to open does not reduce those risks and only increases a multitude of other ones -- such as ethnic Armenian separatism in Javakheti and Armenian state cooperation with Russia -- that are considerably more real.

The Georgian government should be applauded for its intelligence and foresight in opening the Larsi checkpoint, not criticized.


Ted Jonas