By Emil Danielyan
Armenia’s rail communication with the outside world, disrupted by the weekend sabotage attack in Georgia, could resume in the coming days through an old bridge bypassing the damaged section of the Georgian railway, officials in Yerevan said on Wednesday.
They also said that the Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti processing the bulk of Armenia’s foreign trade have continued to function even after one of them was again targeted by Russian troops occupying much of Georgian territory.
Armenian officials have been scrambling to maintain supplies of basic commodities to their country since Saturday’s explosion on a rail bridge close to the Russian-occupied central town of Gori. The Georgian government has accused the Russians of blowing it up, a charge strongly denied by Moscow.
Georgian officials said initially that the bridge will be restored within 10 days. But according to the Armenian Ministry of Transport and Communications, they now believe the ongoing repairs will take about a month.
A ministry spokeswoman, Susanna Tonoyan, told RFE/RL that Georgian repairmen, helped by a team of 12 construction specialists from Armenia, have finished preparing a smaller, disused rail bridge for use in the meantime. She said the bridge, built in the early 20th century, needs to undergo testing before trains moving to and from western Georgian can cross it. When asked when rail traffic through that section could start, Tonoyan said, “That depends on the Georgian side.”
A spokesman for Armenia’s rail network, which is managed by the Russian state railway, confirmed the information. Vahe Davtian told the Regnum news agency that the 12 Armenian repairmen have already returned to Yerevan. He said several Armenian government and railway officials who accompanied them will remain in Georgia until “that section of the railway begins to be exploited.”
The Georgian railway is the main transport link between Armenia and the Batumi and Poti ports processing more than 90 percent of freight shipped to and from the landlocked country. Cargo traffic through the ports was seriously complicated by Russian air strikes on civilian and military targets in Georgia. Russian forces were reported to have again entered Poti on Tuesday to arrest 20 Georgian police officers and to destroy more Georgian warships stationed there.
According to Tonoyan, both Georgian ports continued to operate on Wednesday. The Transport Ministry official said a rail-ferry link between Poti and Russia’s Port-Kavkaz, which mainly caters for Armenian cargos, also remains operational despite the military conflict between the two nations. She said Georgian dockers unloaded on Wednesday two ferries that arrived from the Russian port with 32 rail carriages bound for Armenia on board.
They are also preparing to unload another, Ukrainian rail-ferry carrying 62 carriages laden with Armenian imports, said Tonoyan. Three other commercial ships carrying a total of about 10,000 metric tons of wheat purchased by Armenian importers are on their way to Batumi and Poti, she added.
The official also said the Armenian government and cargo companies have yet to decide how to bring in these freight consignments as well as about 180 rail cars stranded on Georgian railway sections west of Gori.
In an effort to forestall fuel shortages, the government sent on Sunday a convoy of 39 heavy trucks to a petrol terminal in Batumi. In Tonoyan’s words, it has rushed no further transport columns to the port since then in hopes that the much less expensive rail communication will resume this week.