Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili condemned Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili late on Thursday for pledging to help reactivate a railway connecting his country as well as neighboring Armenia to Russia.
Saakashvili reportedly voiced strong opposition to renewed railway communication between Russia and Georgia via Abkhazia just hours after Ivanishvili reaffirmed the pledge during an official visit to Yerevan.
Armenian leaders welcomed the Georgian premier’s stated intention and promised to assist in its realization. Successive Armenian governments have sought the re-launch of the railway in the hope of reducing high transport costs in Armenia’s trade with Russia and Europe.
Ivanishvili argued in Yerevan that improving Georgian-Russian relations would facilitate the resolution of the conflicts over Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Saakashvili, who is increasingly at loggerheads with Ivanishvili’s government, said, however, that Georgia does not need the Soviet-era rail link because it is currently building a new railway that will connect Azerbaijan to Turkey through the Georgian town of Akhalkalaki.
“The reactivation of that railway would be good for Russia for only one reason: the Akhalkalaki railway will compete with the Trans-Siberian railway,” Saakashvili told a news conference in Tbilisi, according to Apsny.ge. “That railway carries freight from China and Central Asia to Europe and our railway poses a serious threat to it.”
“Secondly, Russia wants to effectively legalize its occupation of Abkhazia with the opening of that railroad,” he said, adding that Ivanishvili’s idea would therefore “undermine Georgia’s independence.”
Saakashvili also insisted that Georgia has done its best to facilitate Armenia’s commercial traffic with the outside world through its Black Sea ports and the Upper Lars crossing on the Russian-Georgian border. “We have never tried to isolate Armenia,” he said. “But it’s one thing to have good relations with Armenia and another thing to execute the aggressor’s strategic plan.”
Ivanishvili first called for the restoration of Georgia’s railway communication with Russia shortly after his Georgian Dream alliance defeated Saakashvili’s Untied National Movement party in parliamentary elections last October. His plans also prompted serious concern in Armenia’s arch-foe Azerbaijan. The authorities in Baku fear that the Abkhaz railway would boost the Armenian economy and thus strengthen Yerevan’s hand in the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Ivanishvili paid an official visit to Baku late last month.