The sole functioning crossing on the Russian-Georgian border, which serves as Armenia’s main trade route to Russia, has mostly reopened to traffic two weeks after being blocked by a massive mudslide.
The June 23 mudslide washed away a nearly one-kilometer-long Georgian section of the road near the Upper Lars crossing. Hundreds of Armenian and other trucks were left stranded at the mountainous checkpoint.
The calamity occurred during a busy season for exporters of Armenian agricultural products to Russia, their main market abroad. Armenia’s government and private cargo firms scrambled to launch an emergency ferry service between Georgian and Russian Black Sea ports for their delivery to Russia.
The ferries have a limited capacity and are reportedly more expensive than heavy trucks, meaning that Armenian exporters suffered losses during the Upper Lars closure.
Armenian Transport Minister Gagik Beglarian met with Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili in Tbilisi on Tuesday to discuss the Georgian government’s efforts to rebuild the damaged section of the Upper Lars road.
Beglarian’s ministry announced the following day that daytime traffic through the border crossing will resume on Wednesday afternoon. It said the Russian-Georgian checkpoint will remain closed at night for the time being.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Yerevan on Thursday, Beglarian warned of a serious risk of another mudslide at Upper Lars. “They are thinking about building an overland tunnel there in the future, which would be quite costly,” he said.
“In any case, that road will always be dangerous for us. We may face problems after every rainfall,” warned Beglarian.
The minister said Armenian exporters oriented towards the Russian market should therefore have contingency plans for rapidly rerouting their shipments through the Russian-Georgian ferry link.
Russia was Armenia’s number trading partner in the first five months of this year, accounting for 28 percent of its foreign trade. According to official Armenian statistics, Russian-Armenian trade rose by 20 percent to $536 million in that period. The robust growth was driven by a doubling of Armenian exports to Russia.