Linking Conflicting Sides?
12 September, 2013
Georgia, Russia and Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia agreed to reopen the railway connection, the Secretary of National Security Council of Armenia Arthur Bagdasaryan said on September 6, 2013. He says the railway has strategic implications for the economy of Armenia.
“The Georgian side has agreed, so did the Russian and Abkhazian sides. However, this is a process, and we need to understand that there are conflicting sides. However, more significant point is that there is a political will to
reopen the railway link and restore railway communication,” Bagdasaryan said.
Neither Georgian nor Russian sides has made any comment on the alleged agreement to reopen the direct railway route between Tbilisi and Moscow via Abkhazia. Georgian analysts nevertheless do not rule out that covert negotiations are underway and that a certain consensus may have been achieved, since none of the referred sides has rejected the statement of Armenian Secretary of National Security Council. As a neutral side, Armenia is supposed to play the role of a herald in the railway route restoration game that most probably will need to wait many years until the first train rolls along this disputed route. As soon as the ruling power was changed last Autumn, the Georgian side confirmed its political will to restore the railway connection with Moscow. Georgia’s PM Bidzina Ivanishvili officially made a statement on reopening of the railway connection between Georgia and Russia (suspended for two decades due to the territorial conflict with Abkhazia) at the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe this spring. The Georgian Authorities believe that restoration of economic communications with Abkhazia by railway route will gradually discharge political problems between Tbilisi and Sukhumi which has been claiming territorial sovereignty since 90s, as well as tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow which supported Abkhazia and another breakaway republic of South Ossetia in their territorial conflict with Tbilisi. Russia routed Georgia in a short-term war of 2008 and as a result occupied 20% of the Georgian territory. Georgian analysts believe economic and political interests of Russia are greatly interested in the direct railway link with Armenia (where Russia has military bases) and Iran, its political allies, and with Turkey, its important economic trade partner. Hence, apparently the railway reunion would be handier for the Kremlin than Georgia. Especially today, against the backdrop of aggravated political situation in the Middle East, reopening of the direct rail route between Moscow and Yerevan that indirectly implies unfettered connection with Iran poses serious security risks. As a reliable partner of the west in the region, Georgia cannot ignore the arms trade concerns. Therefore, it should carefully balance prospective economic benefits off the political risks.
“When the trade with Russia makes up 60% of the Georgian foreign trade, it may sound more realistic that we should have serious economic benefits through restoration of the direct railway connection. But now, when we have less than 15% trade with Russia, this economic benefit looks less persuading. As a big economy, Russia apparently has bigger interests to be connected with Turkey, Armenia and Iran and accordingly, these countries are interested in the direct link with Russia. Besides, we should remember that railway and cargo transportation is a very sensitive issue. The conflict in Abkhazia started over the railway when under the excuse of ensuring safety of railway cargo transportation Georgian armed forces entered Abkhazia. It looks like Georgia is the less interested side in this railway game from economic point of view and it should very carefully weigh political benefits it may enjoy in exchange,” economic analyst Soso Archvadze says.