Georgia And Russia Re-open Road Traffic
05 September, 2013
Georgia And  Russia Re-open Road Traffic
Georgia and Russia agreed to re-open their border to cargo road transportation at the meeting held in Moscow on August 6-7, 2013. 500 cargo transportations will be allowed between the sides on parity basis by the end of 2013, and Georgia can transport cargos to Russia as well as through Russia to the third country. Land Transport Agency of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia will help interested Georgi
an entrepreneurs with documentations and permission-related issues needed for an entry in the Russian Federation. Restarting of the bus service between major Russian and Georgian cities suspended since 2006 was also agreed during the meeting.
Whether or not the recent vehicle traffic restoration will be a visa breakthrough in the tensed relationships between Tbilisi and Moscow with torn diplomatic ties since August of 2008 when Russia routed Georgia and occupied 20% of its territory depends on political will of the Kremlin, Georgian analysts believe. Russia canceled visa-free regime with Georgia since 2008; however, early in 2012 Georgian president unilaterally restored visa-free regime for Russian citizens. The vehicle traffic between Georgia and Russia through Upper Larsi border passage of the Caucasus highland was again closed in 2006 by Russia, when it imposed a trade embargo on Georgian agriculture product; however, it was restored in spring of 2010 by the request of neighboring Armenia, Russia’s political ally in the region that significantly depends on Russian import due to political tension with its immediate neighbors, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Both of them have closed borders to Armenia, thus isolating the country in fact. After re-opening the Larsi highway and unilateral visa-free regime to Russia, Georgian side remained discriminated: due to visa and trade barriers with Russia, only Armenian, Azeri, Turkish and Russian vehicles could enjoy cargo transportation through Georgian-Russian highway. To remove this discrimination, the Georgian side asked Moscow to ase visa problems for Georgians, traveling to Russia, on which the agreement was reached recently, and according to the Russian side, the issue will be solved in the nearest future. But nobody can say how soon it will happen. As a matter of fact, negotiations between Tbilisi and Moscow started last fall and it took a year to reach an agreement. Georgian analysts believe that re-opening of road traffic between Tbilisi and Moscow is more handy to Russia than Georgia, for its increasing trade with Turkey [accounting for USD 34 billion currently and expected to reach USD 100 million] as well as having a direct link with Armenia - its political ally in the region where Russia has military bases. The cargo traffic to both Turkey and Armenia will be twice quicker and easier via Larsi road: the point is that today Russian-bound cargos go bypassing Georgia from Turkish ports to Russian ports, from where freights head to Moscow [and other cities] by road. The vehicle route may also discharge Russian Black Sea ports that [unlike Georgian Black Sea ports] cannot accept big ships during wintertime for inclement weather conditions.
However, Georgia has also significant expectations to enhance its transit potential as the road traffic through Russia opens extra routes to Asian and Eastern European countries. According to Gia Tsipuria, Director General of Georgian International Road Carriers’ Association (GIRCA), Georgian vehicle transit may grow by 30% if the Russian route is free. He believes that if Kremlin shows goodwill and gives visas to 500 vehicles as agreed, the ice will start melting gradually and the quota will increase little by little in the coming year. Demur Giorkhelidze, an economic analyst, still finds discrimination in introducing any kind of trade and transit restrictions on the part of Russia on Georgia, since both of them are the members of the World Trade Organization that forbids trade barriers among its member states. “It means that an ordinary Georgian citizen cannot take his product to Russia for sale without governmental permission, that’s discriminating red tape, imposed by Russia on Georgia, while Russians face no difficulties in crossing Georgia’s border,” he said, adding that Georgian government has to work harder to streamline conditions that hinders Georgian entrepreneurs from getting back to the Russian market.
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