Sarkisian traveled to the Black Sea port city on what his office called a “private visit” ahead of the reopening on Monday of Georgia’s main border crossing with Russia that had served as one of Armenia’s few commercial conduits to the outside world.
The Upper Lars crossing running through a narrow pass in the Caucasus Mountains was controversially closed by Moscow in June 2006, hitting hard Armenian exporters of agricultural produce and other goods. Yerevan has since repeatedly urged the Russians to reopen it.
The Georgian and Russian governments announced in late December that they will allow renewed commercial and passenger traffic through the mountain pass from March 1. The agreement was reportedly reached under Swiss and Armenian mediation.
Reuters news agency reported that checkpoints both sides of Upper Lars were opened from early in the morning on Monday, but no vehicles had passed the border by midday Georgian time. Armenian trading companies had been particularly reliant on the crossing in summer and autumn months.
According to the Armenian presidential press office, Sarkisian and Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili discussed in Batumi “efforts to open the Upper Lars checkpoint” along with other economic issues of mutual interest.
Saakashvili described the Georgian-Armenian relationship as “cloudless” as he greeted his Armenian counterpart on Saturday. The two men spent the weekend holding talks and taking a stroll in a city that has been a popular destination of Armenian vacationers in recent years.
“We agreed that the integration of our countries' economies should further intensify,” Saakashvili told journalists Sunday. “We need more communication and more work to bring our peoples together, though they already are close to each other. Such meetings will take place much more frequently and this will benefit everyone.”
“We are small countries and we need each other very much. We are dependent upon each other and we should use this circumstance for good,” he added in televised remarks.
“We should work together more closely and think very seriously about integration processes,” agreed Sarkisian. “I am confident that this year will see a turning point in our relations, even if those relations have always been very good and are very good now too.”
Neither leader announced any concrete agreements reached during their talks. Saakashvili spoke instead of his admiration for Sarkisian.
“I want to say that the Armenian president is a brave man who inspires me in a lot of ways,” he said. “I am delighted with how the country is achieving success.”