By Emil Danielyan
Georgia is unexpectedly obstructing plans to build a controversial regional railway that would connect Turkey to Azerbaijan and bypass Armenian, reports from Ankara claimed on Tuesday.
“Georgia is deliberately delaying the start of work on the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku railway,” an unnamed senior official from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in remarks reported by the Baku daily “Zerkalo.”
“Georgia is one of the countries that will draw great benefits from this project,” the official was quoted as saying. “Despite that, Tbilisi is creating all kinds of bureaucratic obstacles to delay the railway’s construction. This is absolutely incomprehensible.”
The Turkish, Georgian and Azerbaijani governments have for years been discussing the project estimated to cost $400 million, saying that it will promote regional stability and economic integration.
The Armenian government is fiercely opposed to its implementation and says its main purpose to deepen Armenia’s economic isolation. Official Yerevan says Turkey already has a rail rink with the South Caucasus running through Armenia. The Kars-Gyumri railroad has stood idle for more than a decade as part of the continuing Turkish economic blockade of Armenia.
Armenian-American organizations have successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress to ban any U.S. government assistance to the project. The Senate’s Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee approved an appropriate bill late last week. The U.S. administration has not objected to the ban.
Turkish and Azerbaijani officials have dismissed the congressional restrictions, saying that Ankara and Baku have sufficient resources of their own to finance the project. According to the unidentified Turkish official, Ankara is ready to spend $220 million for that purpose. The head of Georgia’s state rail company announced earlier this month that work on the 192-kilometer-long Georgian section of the planned railway will be financed by an Azerbaijani government loan.