TBILISI: New Armenia-Russia cargo route bypasses Georgia

The Messenger, Georgia
Oct 18 2004

New Armenia-Russia cargo route bypasses Georgia
By M. Alkhazashvili

The closing of the Larsi checkpoint on the Georgian-Russian border
has damaged both Armenia and Georgia, as it has effectively closed
land borders between the two countries and Russia.

The only other land border between Georgia and Russia – the Roki
tunnel which links South and North Ossetia – is currently
inaccessible because Georgia does not allow cargo to enter South

Larsi was closed on September 3, on the order of Russian President
Putin, following the Beslan tragedy. Although the closure was
explained as a way of preventing further terrorist acts, analysts
believe that it was intended to put pressure on Georgia. Armenia has
been damaged even more, however, and so Moscow is planning to
transport cargo to Armenia via Iran along the Astrakhan-Enzel-Megri

Larsi checkpoint, which has been reopened twice on a temporary basis,
will now remain permanently closed, except for people who live near
the border.

However, Moscow has decided that the Roki tunnel, which is currently
controlled by the Kokoiti regime, represents no threat and will
remain open. Several days ago, near Ergneti village, Georgian law
enforcers detained two buses coming from Russia to Armenia, which
passed through the Roki tunnel.

According to the newspaper Akhali Taoba, the president’s
representative in Shida Kartli Mikheil Kareli says that the Russian
government’s decision to allow people and cargo to pass through the
Roki tunnel indicates that Russia wants to “enrich” the separatist
government of Tskhinvali.

If the Georgian government permitted it, then the transportation of
both cargo and passengers between Russia and the South Caucasus would
pass through the Roki tunnel, but Kareli says this would allow
Tskhinvali to open new smuggling routes. Akhali Vertsia quotes Kareli
as saying, “the Georgian government will not permit cargo and
passengers to pass through Roki. It is impossible that cargo be
received from territory that is outside Georgia’s control.”

If Russia hoped to open Roki by closing Larsi, this has not worked
out. In the meantime, it was clear that Russia would not blockade its
strategic partner for long, hence the new transportation route.
Russia’s Minister of Telecommunication and Transport Igor Levitin and
Armenia’s Minister of Defense Serzh Raskisian announced the new
Astrakhani (Russia)-Enzeli (Iran)-Megri (Armenia) route after a
meeting held in Yerevan.

Georgian analysts have different opinions about this. Akhali Taoba
cites Sandro Tvalchrelidze as saying that the selection of an
alternative transportation line is connected with Russia’s intention
to bring Iran into its political sphere. In other words Russian,
policy is aimed at securing its geo-strategic interests rather than
being against Georgia.

However, Rezonansi quotes Demur Giorkhelidze as saying that the
alternative transportation line is entirely artificial and is without
doubt against Georgia. He says that the Astrakhan-Enzeli-Megri
transportation line will increase transportation expenses and that
the closing of Larsi will continue to affect Armenia, not least
because this route is very problematic in the winter period because
it crosses mountains in Armenia.