11 July, 2013
The halted railway route connecting Tbilisi to Moscow and Yerevan through Georgian conflicting region of Abkhazia unfolds some kind of economic reconciliation prospects as it may bring apparent economic benefits to all politically contesting parties located along the route.
Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia very likely will agree on restoration of the railway connection between Russia and Armenia running through Georgia and Abkhazia as it holds enticing transit and cheap cargo transportation prospects that attracts political rivals Tbilisi-Moscow and Tbilisi-Sukhumi
to find common language. “Abkhazia will agree to restore the railway,” Abkhazian ex-prime minister Sergey Shamba is reported as saying by ekhokavkaza.com during the international conference “Crisis in Near and Middle East, South Caucasus and Caspian Security Problems” held in Moscow past week. According to him, the issue of restoration of the said railway route [suspended for over 20 years already as a part of economic blockade Georgian imposed on the seceded region] is interesting to Abkhazia in spite that it has communications with Russia that solves all military-strategic and economic issues to Sukhumi. “However, taking into account Abkhazian loyalty to Russian alliance I have no doubt that it [Abkhazia] finally will agree on the said project,” Shamaba said adding that Georgia should be more interested in the railway project than Abkhaiza and if official Tbilisi turns down the project it will get farther from Abkhazia. He believes if the regional countries are interested in security they should find a compromise. Ditrikh Muller, a co-founder of Georgian Investment Group, believes the railway restoration via Abkhazia includes such economic benefits to Russia and its political allies of Abkhazia and Armenia that they should be initiators of the project. As a matter of fact Russia needs direct on-land connection with Armenia which depends on Russian economic relationship and where the Kremlin keeps its military bases that need supply and maintenance provided by detours through expensive marine and air-transportation at the moment. The Kremlin acquired Armenian railway assets but this route is a dead lock in fact without Tbilisi-Sukhumi passage cut out by now. Moreover, the increasing Russian-Turkish trade expected to reach USD 100 million in future will be more perspective through cheap railway connection running from Georgian-Turkish border directly to Russian border in Abkhazia while today this cargos are sent through double expensive marine-and-vehicle transportation. To Abkhazia restoration of the railway means lifting economic blockade bringing bigger trade and cargo turnover as well as more jobs and welfare in the cut-out region completely dependent on Russian money today. Tbilisi may have both economic and political benefits: more routes translate into enhanced transit capacity and more incomes. Besides, railway connection via Abkhazia connects Georgia with its key markets of Ukraine, Belarus, Baltic countries, Poland through cheaper and more comfortable route rather than maritime shipment provides today. Now when Russian market opened up to Georgia again the direct railway connection with Russia may play the first fiddle to Georgian agriculture product to get there.
“The economic relationship may lead to find solutions to political problems between Tbilisi and Sukhumi gradually,” Muller elaborates. “Just let’s be focused on pure economic framework now and it will automatically lead to political integration.”
As soon as the power shifted in Georgia past fall Yerevan suggested addressing to the Moscow -Tbilisi-Yerevan railway reunion project and official Tbilisi loved the idea that put Baku [with political tension to Armenia] on alert. Later in this past April Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili accentuated in his speech at the Assembly of Euro Council that the railway route through Abkhazia will be restored for sure but not hastily as far as it is interwoven with delicate political issues. Abkhazian side turned out reluctant initially to join the project. Official Kremlin keeps silence but is believed to have its voice heard latently through Yerevan and Sukhumi – the former ardently supporting the railway reunion idea and the latter starting to melt.
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