By Atom MarkarianRussian Transport Minister Igor Levitin pledged on Wednesday to lobby for the resumption of Armenia’s rail communication with Russia through neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan. But he did not comment on Moscow’s decision to close its border with the two ex-Soviet republics which disrupted one of Armenia’s main supply lines.
“Our delegation will fly from Armenia to Azerbaijan … and then on to Georgia in order to try to reopen [rail] traffic throughout the entire territory of the Transcaucasus,” Levitin told a Russian-Armenian business forum in Yerevan.
“We do realize what a difficult task it is. We must try to solve it together with you,” he added, referring to the conflicts over Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia that left Armenia without rail access to the outside world more than a decade ago.
Armenia has mainly relied since then on Georgia’s Black Sea ports as well as a Georgian-Russian border crossing to ship and receive commercial cargos. Last month’s closure of that crossing, announced immediately after the terrorist attack on a Russian school, thus further complicated its external trade.
Armenian leaders have tried hard in recent weeks to get the Russians to lift the blockade amid mounting criticism of Moscow’s policy voiced by the Armenian press and prominent politicians. The issue was expected to top the agenda of Levitin’s talks with officials in Yerevan that began on Wednesday.
Levitin, who co-chairs a Russian-Armenian commission on economic cooperation with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, did not mention the border crisis in his speech at the business forum. He instead criticized the Georgian government for its reluctance to agree to the reopening of a key railway connecting the South Caucasus to Russia via the breakaway republic of Abkhazia. Tbilisi links it with the repatriation of Abkhazia’s ethnic Georgian residents displaced in 1993.
Levitin sought to convince Armenians that Russia too has been suffering from the closed borders in the volatile region. He said Russian companies could have used it as a lucrative transit route for shipping up to 15 million tons of freight to other parts of the world every year.
(Itar-Tass-Photolur photo: Igor Levitin.)