Hundreds of Armenian heavy trucks and other vehicles remain stranded at a border crossing between Georgia and Russia due to heavy snowfalls that have kept the mountainous road essentially closed for the past two weeks.
Armenia’s Transport and Communications Minister Vahan Martirosian visited the Upper Lars crossing on Tuesday before meeting with Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili in Tbilisi to discuss the situation there. Martirosian received assurances that Georgian authorities will reopen traffic through the road as soon as weather conditions improve.
“Meteorologists said the weather may change tomorrow,” Martirosian said in Yerevan on Thursday. “Let’s hope that it will change.”
The Armenian Ministry for Transport and Communications said later in the day that Georgian emergency services are now engaged in “large-scale cleaning work” at Upper Lars. Passenger cars and vans should be able to cross the border “in the coming hours,” it said in a statement.
Martirosian said around 700 Armenian vehicles remain stuck on either side of the Georgian-Russian border checkpoint. He talked to some of their drivers on Tuesday.
“They voiced both complaints and satisfaction,” the minister told journalists. “They said they are being helped by representatives of state bodies and their transport companies. But there are also people who complain of other things.”
Two Armenian truck drivers who to spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) by phone on Wednesday seemed in desperate mood. “We have run out of money and fuel for heating,” said one of them. “We can’t buy anything. You go to a café and ask for a coffee or juice and you are charged as much as you would pay for heart surgery.”
“I’ve been stuck in Georgian territory for seven days,” complained the other driver. “But the worst thing is that I have no hope.”
Ten of the stranded trucks belong to the Yerevan-based cargo firm Ararat Trans. “So far we have seen no concrete [government] steps,” its executive director, Rafael Manukian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Our trucks remain stuck. Nobody has approached us to ask for our needs or offer assistance.”
Vahram Mirakian, a businessman importing bananas from Russia to Armenia, has been waiting for his latest consignment for 12 days. “The products coming to Armenia [later than planned] will have to be sold at a higher price,” he said. “Not to mention the fact that some companies have suffered huge losses because their goods have simply perished.”
Upper Lars is a key transport route for Armenia’s import and export operations with Russia, its number one trading partner. Traffic through the border crossing is frequently blocked by blizzards in winter months. It was shut down for more than a month this summer following a massive mudslide in Georgia.
The shutdown did not prevent a sharp increase in Armenian exports to Russia shown by official Armenian statistics. According to the National Statistical Service (NSS), they totaled $295 million in January-October 2016, up by almost 53 percent year on year. Agricultural products, prepared foodstuffs and alcoholic beverages account for the bulk of those exports.
NSS figures also show Russian exports to Armenia rising by over 3 percent to $782 million in the same period.