Russian security services blamed Ukrainian military intelligence for the blast that killed at least four people and wrecked a section of the 19-kilometer road bridge used as a supply line for Russian troops fighting in southern Ukraine. Suspects arrested and charged by them include the Armenian driver of a truck which they say smuggled an explosive device from Bulgaria to Russia through Georgia and Armenia.
Russian authorities went on to tighten security checks at the Upper Lars crossing with Georgia heavily used by Armenian exporters and importers. Armenian trucks bound for Russia are reportedly subjected to particularly rigorous checks, with only small numbers of them able to cross the Georgian-Russian border every day.
This has led to long lines of such vehicles stranded on a Georgian highway leading to Upper Lars. Many of them are laden with fruits, vegetables and other perishables. Some have had to discard their decayed products and return to Armenia.
“I’ve been stuck here for 20 days,” one of the drivers told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Friday.
“A truck carrying our flowers from [the Armenian town of] Aparan threw them away the other day,” he said. “Then another did the same. Others threw away fish. Tomatoes of [the Armenian agribusiness company] Spayka were also thrown out along with cucumbers.”
“For one month I’ve been unable to pass 200 kilometers,” complained another driver. “We’ve had this problem for a year. It’s not new. But it wasn’t this serious.”
The unprecedented border bottleneck did not ease even after talks held by Armenian and Russian government officials in Moscow last month.
Sona Harutiunian, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures, said the Armenian side made a number of proposals meant to end the crisis threatening Armenia’s vital exports to Russia.
In particular, she said, the Armenian customs service is ready to share with Russian authorities the results of its X-ray scans of Armenian trucks so that they do not undergo the same checks at the Russian border.
Yerevan also proposed that the Russians install more X-ray facilities at Upper Lars. They responded by promising to expand the Russian border checkpoint, added Harutiunian.
For its part, the Armenian Ministry of Economy said that it keeps trying to arrange a ferry link between Georgia and Russian Black Sea ports.
Russia is Armenia’s main trading partner and export market, with bilateral trade exceeding $3.2billion in the first nine months of this year. Armenian exports to Russia more than doubled to $1.4 billion in this period, according official Armenian statistics. The bulk of Armenian-Russian trade is carried out via Georgia.