By Atom Markarian
The Armenian government was taking urgent measures on Monday to minimize the economic fallout from a renewed standoff between Georgia’s central government and the restive region of Ajaria that disrupted cargo traffic via a key Black Sea port.
Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian told RFE/RL that the government is “doing everything” to reroute landlocked Armenia’s number one supply line passing through the Ajar capital Batumi.
Transport communication with Batumi’s port became impossible on Sunday after the Ajar authorities blew up two bridges connecting the autonomous republic to the rest of Georgia. Ajaria’s strongman ruler, Aslan Abashidze, said he ordered the explosions to prevent Georgian troops from invading the Black Sea region.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili responded by issuing Abashidze with a ten-day ultimatum to submit to Georgian rule or face expulsion from power. Saakashvili at the same time reiterated his pledge to use only peaceful means in attempting to reassert Tbilisi’s control over Ajaria.
According to Manukian, a ferry carrying 63 freight cars laden with Armenia-bound fuel and other goods was left stranded in Batumi’s port. He said his ministry is now trying to redirect the ferry to Georgia’s second major Black Sea port, Poti.
“We have no other cargoes in Batumi at the moment,” Manukian said. “We have reached agreements with the Georgian side and there are no problems with the transit of our rail cars.”
Armenia already had to divert its commercial traffic with the outside world from Batumi to Poti when a similar crisis broke out last March. A transport blockade imposed on Ajaria by the central government caused delays in shipments of goods to and from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as the Poti port struggled to cope with the increased cargo turnover. The three impoverished states avoided serious financial losses at the time as the blockade lasted for only several days.