Moscow and Tbilisi fail to agree on 'Armenian transit'

Malkhaz Tsulukiani, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
Moscow and Tbilisi fail to agree on 'Armenian transit'

On Monday, Georgian prime minister’s envoy for relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze will hold consultations with Georgian Prime Minister Georgi Kvirikashvili to discuss the results of the last round of talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Prague. The main topic of discussions between the diplomats of the two countries was the issue of the road traffic from Transcaucasia to Russia and vice versa through the alternative road of Yerevan-Tbilisi-Gori-Tskhinvali-Vladikavkaz.

The issue has been discussed for several years upon Armenia's insistent request. This country often finds itself in a difficult situation due to the fact that the only functioning motorway, along the historical Georgian Military Road through the Verkhny Lars crossing post, is often blocked by mudflows, avalanches and ice slick. Hundreds of heavy vehicles from Georgia and Armenia are trapped on the road for weeks.

The Transcaucasian highway through South Ossetia is comparatively safer, more comfortable, stable and convenient, but its use in the interests of Armenia requires agreement between Russia and Georgia. The basis for such an agreement exists: the 2011 agreement on 'Customs cargo monitoring' was signed between Moscow and Tbilisi during the negotiating process on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. But, as the results of the last round of Karasin-Abashidze talks have demonstrated, the parties could not agree on important details of the final agreement. In particular, on whether there will be customs on the border between Georgia and South Ossetia.

Before meeting Abashidze in Prague, Karasin said that the 2011 fundamental agreement answers the question of where the customs border of Georgia is located. According to the Russian diplomat, the customs border of Georgia is along the borders with its former autonomies - Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But, as Abashidze explained to the Georgian journalists after the Prague talks, Tbilisi will not agree on the clearance of the Armenian cargoes at points not recognized by Georgia. According to Abashidze, Swiss experts which will monitor the flow of goods on both sides of trade corridors from Transcaucasia to Russia, will not be engaged in customs clearance of Georgian and Armenian cargoes.

"These points will be called 'cargo traffic control terminals', not 'customs'," Abashidze said. "Swiss 'monitors' have no right to deal with customs clearance, this is not their function." Abashidze expressed doubt that Georgia would be able to compromise on this issue, despite the desire to take into account the interests of powerful lobbyists. Abashidze said that he would inform the head of the government about the results of the talks, after which a final decision will be made.

Despite these statements and obvious contradictions, there are repeated optimistic statements in Yerevan about the imminent opening of the corridor. In particular, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, judging by his latest statements, is looking forward to opening of not just an automobile traffic through Abkhazia, but also railway. However, recent events demonstrate that the issue has not been resolved and all interested regional players have to hold a number of new negotiating rounds.