Russia and Georgia have agreed to launch this year construction of a tunnel at a key crossing used by Armenian passengers and traders for travel and transportation of goods, Armenian Minister of Transportation Vahan Martirosian told media in Yerevan on Tuesday.
The Armenian official said that the tunnel design at the mountainous Upper Lars checkpoint where traffic is made particularly difficult in summer and winter due to mudslides and avalanche risks is nearing completion, but before that there is an agreement that the crossing will be modernized and the road will be broadened.
“It will, of course, take longer to complete the construction of the tunnel, but we hope that the rest of the modernization work will be completed by the end of the year,” Martirosian said.
Upper Lars is the transport corridor through which Armenia carries out most of its trade with its key economic and trade partner, Russia. Armenian companies incur losses when traffic through the crossing is complicated by natural calamities.
Issues related to the transportation sector were also discussed when Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili visited Yerevan and met with Armenia’s leaders last Friday. Although Upper Lars was not directly mentioned in the official information released about Kvirikashvili’s meetings, Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetian stressed that for both countries the transportation sphere was of special importance.
Visiting Tbilisi in February 2017, Karapetian said at a news briefing that there would be an alternative to the Upper Lars crossing. He did not elaborate then. In January 2018, talking to the Russian Kommersant daily, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Grigory Karasin said that Yerevan had turned to Moscow on the issue of using a road alternative to Upper Lars.
To the question of RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on whether an alternative road was discussed with the Georgian prime minister in Yerevan, Armenian Transportation Minister Martirosian said: “This matter is at the center of everyone’s attention, but I again want to point out that this is a matter of Russian-Georgian political relations. Of course, Armenia is working towards finding alternative ways, but I repeat that the alternative is not only the roads through Northern Ossetia and Abkhazia.Today we also have an alternative ferry route, which operates very successfully, and lots of cargo shipments are made through this corridor.”