By Anna Saghabalian
Official Yerevan is making “active efforts” to get Russia to reopen its main border crossing point with Georgia which serves as one of Armenia’s few external trade routes, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said on Tuesday.
“We are working with the Russian side and hope that solutions will be found,” Oskanian said without elaborating.
Moscow closed the Upper Lars post on Thursday ostensibly to carry out repairs at the customs and border guard facilities on the Russian side of the rugged frontier. The move, which followed a controversial Russian ban on imports of Georgian wine and mineral water, was denounced as politically motivated by the authorities in Tbilisi.
Armenian officials have also expressed concern, with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian saying that the Russians should have at least informed the Georgian and Armenian authorities of their actions beforehand. Speaking during a weekend visit to the Georgian Black Sea region of Ajaria, Markarian said the closure of Upper Lars has created a “very difficult” situation for Armenian companies exporting goods to Russia and other former Soviet republics.
Scores of Armenian trucks were reportedly left stranded at the border crossing. Oskanian thanked the Georgian government for allowing some of them proceed to Russia via South Ossetia. But he said this “exception” was not a solution to the problem which threatens to hit particularly hard Armenian exporters of perishable agricultural products. Russia is their main market and they are now scrambling to re-route their shipments through the Georgian Black Sea ports of Poti and Batumi.
The Upper Lars checkpoint had already been closed for nearly two months in the autumn of 2004 as part of “anti-terrorist” measures taken by Moscow following the deadly seizure of a school in Belsan, North Ossetia by radical Chechen militants. The transport embargo was widely criticized in Armenia.