Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian welcomed on Tuesday the reopening of Georgia’s main border crossing with Russia and confirmed reports that a Russian-Georgian agreement to that effect was reached under Armenian mediation.
“I can confirm that [Russian-Georgian] negotiations indeed took place in Armenia and with Armenia’s mediation,” Nalbandian told journalists. “And now that the checkpoint is operational it can be said that that [agreement] is a big success for Russia and Georgia in the first instance and, of course, for Armenia as well.”
Russian and Georgian officials reportedly held indirect negotiations in Yerevan last October. Their governments announced in late December that they have agreed to reopen the Upper Lars crossing on March 1. Traffic through the narrow pass in the Caucasus Mountains resumed as planned on Monday.
Upper Lars is the only land border crossing that does not go through Georgia's Russian-backed breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It served as Armenia’s sole overland route to the former Soviet Union and Europe until being controversially shut down by the Russian authorities in June 2006, at the height of a Russian-Georgian spy scandal.
With Russian-Georgian trade having steadily declined over the past decade, the Upper Lars closure primarily hit trading companies shipping goods to and from Armenia. Armenian exporters of agricultural produce were particularly reliant on the crossing. They had to re-route their deliveries through the more expensive and time-consuming rail-ferry services between Georgia and Russia and Ukraine.
Arsen Ghazarian, chairman of the Armenian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, predicted on Monday the reopening of the Russian-Georgian border will boost exports of Armenian fruits and vegetables already this year. He said it would reduce transportation costs incurred by the exporters by at least 25 percent.
According to Ghazarian, who also owns a cargo shipment company, a single truck laden with agricultural products takes at least 23 days to reach Russia through the rail-ferry link. Going through Upper Lars will cut shipping time by half, he told journalists.