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Georgia stands to lose in gamble over Abkhaz railway

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, January 30
State Minister for Reintegration Paata Zakareishvili recently announced that the railway passing through Abkhazia and connecting Russia with Georgia should be opened without any pre-conditions. It looks like this is not only his personal position, but a decision supported by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream coalition. Conversely, the leader of United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, Mikheil Saakashvili, insists on the de-occupation of Abkhazia as the main precondition for opening the railways.

The Georgian people are not against opening the railway connection through Abkhazia. However, they want Georgia to reap some benefit from the move; otherwise, as Saakashvili stated, the unconditional opening of the railways will be assessed as a betrayal of state interests.

This issue was aired by Zakareishvili when he was nominated as the minister and only three months later the issue was touched upon again during Ivanishvili’s visit to Armenia. The PM said that this issue should be solved as soon as possible and Paata Zakareishvili repeated this position on January 28.

It should also be mentioned that the restoration of the railway is connected with multiple technical, economic and political issues. Georgian analysts, politicians and journalists have touched on these issues many times, so these elements have to be revised once again and they will definitely be challenged by the various representatives within Georgian society.

Mikheil Saakashvili spoke about this topic during his meeting with the students and faculty members of Sokhumi University in exile in Tbilisi. He asked several questions: where should the Georgian border guards stay? Will the railway be another tool in Russia’s hands to subordinate the South Caucasus? Supporters of this move, however, remind Saakashvili that it was under his leadership that Georgia's territories became occupied by Russia.

Indeed, the opening of the railway creates an alternative to the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway now under construction. It will connect Russia and Armenia directly. This step will definitely reshuffle the balance in the South Caucasus. This land connection would definitely give Russia extra motivation in its policy towards the South Caucasus. These and many other questions should be thoroughly discussed, evaluated and a decision should be made accordingly.

In the end, it is easy to imagine the numerous benefits this railway will provide for Russia, but what will be Georgia’s gains? At first glance, nothing special. If this is just a gamble, simply waiting for further developments is a risky move. The IDPs from Abkhazia and within the Georgian population are waiting for measurable results. Unconditional steps in this case present great risk, and for the ruling Georgian Dream, this risk could cause considerable damage to their reputation and overall standing among Georgian society.