Friendlier Russian visas for Georgian carriers
16 January, 2014
Friendlier Russian visas for Georgian carriers
In 2014 Russia will make visa related procedures simpler and cheaper for Georgian carriers. Quotas are still being negotiated by Tbilisi and Moscow but sector pundits expect them to more than triple this year compared to last. The Russian route is also preferable to Georgian carriers unable to conform to higher European standards.
On 27 December 2013, the Russian Federation informed Georgia through the Swiss embassy that a decision had been made - Georgian carriers and their drivers will get
year-long business visas for multiple-use to the Russian Federation.
More importantly, carriers can apply for visas without preliminary registration or bypass queues. The visas will be dispensed within a maximum of 10 working days for USD 160. Accelerated visas are also available in three working days for USD 310.
This is significantly cheaper and corruption-freer to the policy in place until October 2006, when Russia stopped vehicle traffic to Georgia following the trade embargo imposed on Georgian wine, water and agriculture products in spring of the same year.
“The thing that we will be able to get visas bypassing queues is crucial,” Gia Tsipuria, Director General of Georgian International Road Carriers’ Association, said in an interview with Georgian Journal. “As a matter of fact, it eliminates loopholes for corruption in the visa-related procedures as far as time is crucial to carriers, and they would face difficulties in the past when they were waiting for visas like ordinary citizens.”
However, Land Transport Agency of Georgia - which announced an application submission launch for carriers on 10 January 2014 - never guarantees visa approval. Moscow will have the last word. But Tsipuria believes Georgian drivers and carriers will not face problems from Russia, since their skills, qualifications, and condition of vehicles are higher than required in Russia or any other member country of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
“As a matter of fact, when we lost the Russian route in 2006 - which made 70% of our business - we underwent a severe blow and had to shift to the European direction that required much higher skills and standards than the CIS,” Tsipuria said. “Now our Vehicle Park and drivers are in line with the EU standards and much above the CIS standards, including Russia. If the political will does not change, we expect no problems on the Russian side.”
Vehicle traffic between Georgia and Russia through the Upper Larsi crossing in the Caucasus highlands was restored in spring of 2010, at the request of Armenia, Russia’s political ally in the region. Armenia depends on Russian imports due to political tension with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Both closed their borders to Armenia in the 1990s.
However, Georgia suffered discrimination. Since the August 2008 war Russia has had a visa-free regime with all CIS countries. Tbilisi restored it unilaterally to Moscow in spring of 2012 but the latter has not reciprocated.
Thus only Azeri, Armenian and Russian drivers could drive on the Larsi road; and Georgian carrier companies had to hire them. Since the fall of 2012 Georgia has tried to negotiate this. In summer 2013 an agreement was reached, on parity-based quotas for 2013 that included admitting 500 international and transit carriers by the end of 2013, plus ten vehicles for irregular passenger transportation. This year Tsipuria expects the quotas to reach two thousand, since Russian demand is higher; re-opening of the Russian route is timely for Georgian carriers.
But the problem is that EU requires higher Euro-4 standards for carriers starting this year, whereas Georgian carriers are in line with Euro-2 and Euro-3 standards. Meeting higher qualifications requires significant expenses, hardly available to petty carriers who make up two thirds of Georgian Carrier Park. “The Russian destination will be a nice option for those who cannot go to the EU this year. I expect around 200 vehicles to shift to the Russian direction in 2014,” Tsipuria said.
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