By Emil Danielyan
The stormy political developments in Georgia have so far had no negative effects on Armenia’s transport communication with the outside world, Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian said on Wednesday.
He also expressed hope that Georgia’s president-in-waiting will honor his pledge to lower transit fees for Armenian cargos, seen as disproportionately high by Armenia’s government and business community.
“There have been no problems with the railway transit up until now,” Manukian told the parliament in Yerevan. “We continue to smoothly receive freight in [the Georgian Black Sea ports of] Batumi and Poti and transport it to Armenia by rail. There have been no instances of theft or other obstacles.”
“But I don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” he added, underlining Yerevan’s lingering fears that a further destabilization of the political situation in Georgia could disrupt Armenia’s vital external trade. Over 90 percent of it is carried out via Georgian territory.
One potential source of trouble is the mounting friction between Georgia’s new staunchly pro-Western government and Aslan Abashidze, the powerful leader of the Black Sea region of Ajaria of which Batumi is the capital. Abashidze refuses to recognize the legitimacy of President Eduard Shevardnadze’s November 23 ouster and has partly sealed Ajaria’s administrative border with the rest of Georgia.
Manukian’s comments suggest that railway communication between Tbilisi and Batumi continues to function in a normal regime. He also said that the authorities in Batumi maintain a ferry link with the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Ilyichevsk. Armenian companies increasingly rely on it for transporting goods to and from Europe.
Incidentally, the minister spoke in response to a question from Gurgen Arsenian, a parliament deputy and millionaire businessman involved in imports of fuel and cigarettes.
The likely winner of the upcoming Georgian presidential election, Mikhail Saakashvili, admitted last week that the transit fees levied from Armenian cargos are too high and vowed to cut them once in office. Manukian welcomed the pledge.
“We hope that the tariffs will decrease because they are too high even with a discount [offered by the Shevardnadze administration],” he said. The Georgian government promised before Shevardnadze’s resignation to charge 27 percent less for fuel and 17 percent less for other products imported to or exported from Armenia, he added.
Neighboring Azerbaijan, by contrast, gets a 50 percent discount from the Georgians.