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By Atom Markarian
A senior Russian government official claimed on Tuesday that Georgia is softening its opposition to the use of transit routes passing through its breakaway Abkhaz Republic, which would restore crucial rail communication between Russia and Armenia.

“It seems to us that Georgia is softening its position on the reactivation of the railway,” Russian Minister of Industry, Science and Technology Ilya Klebanov told reporters in Yerevan. “It’s an extremely important issue which was discussed by our two presidents in Moscow.”

The Georgian government has until now opposed any commercial contacts with Abkhazia before the restoration of its sovereignty over the Black Sea region. The Abkhaz section of the railway, which has been in disuse for the past decade, has recently become a new source of Russian-Georgian tensions after Moscow opened its rail link with Abkhazia without asking for Tbilisi’s consent. The Georgians say the move violated international law.

Klebanov made the comments on his arrival in the Armenian at the head of a large Russian government delegation which will hold a regular session of the Russian-Armenian Commission on Economic Cooperation. The body is co-chaired by Klebanov and Armenian Defense Minster Serzh Sarkisian.

Officials from the two countries have long complained that the absence of rail communication seriously hampers bilateral commercial ties.

The commission meeting’s 11-point agenda includes discussions on the fate of Armenia’s Metsamor nuclear power station which has failed to secure fresh nuclear fuel from Russia because of its $32 million unpaid debt to Russian nuclear energy companies. The Russians have proposed to take over Metsamor’s management and financial operations in payment of the debt.

Energy Minister Armen Movsisian said last week that the Armenian government has not yet made a decision on the offer.

A similar scheme has already been used in the repayment of Yerevan’s separate $100 million debt to Russia. Klebanov and Sarkisian were instrumental in negotiating the deal last year.
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