Russia and Georgia appear to have moved a step closer to opening new Russian-Georgian transport corridors that would facilitate cargo shipments to and from Armenia.
Landlocked Armenia’s trade with Russia, its leading commercial partner, is mainly carried out through the sole Russian-Georgian border crossing at Upper Lars. Traffic along that mountainous road is periodically blocked by bad weather, especially in winter months.
The two other roads connecting Georgia and Russia pass through the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. They were closed even before the 2008 Russian-Georgian war and Moscow’s ensuing recognition of both regions as independent states.
In 2011, Moscow and Tbilisi agreed to hire a Swiss company to operate special customs checkpoints to be set up on the administrative boundaries of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Georgian government signed a relevant contract with the Swiss company, SGS, last December.
The Russian side followed suit on Friday. Announcing the signing of the contract with SGS, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow has thus “completed procedures necessary for the start of a practical implementation” of the 2011 agreement.
Zurab Abashidze, Georgia’s chief negotiator in talks with Russia, said on Sunday that the Russian move paves the way for the opening of the corridors.
Abashidze told RFE/RL that he and his Russian opposite number, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, will set up a Russian-Georgian “working group” during the next round of bilateral talks that will be held in Prague on Thursday. The group will be tasked with working out practical modalities of opening and operating the new trade routes, he said.
Armenian leaders have repeatedly expressed hope that the 2011 Russian-Georgian deal will be implemented. Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said in December that his government is ready to allow Armenia as well as Turkey and other countries to use, in case of a “force majeure situation,” the road passing through South Ossetia.