Russian Minister Discussed Railway Link via Abkhazia

Civil Georgia, Georgia
Nov. 2, 2004

Russian Minister Discussed Railway Link via Abkhazia

RIA Novosti news agency reported quoting an unnamed source in the
Georgian President’s administration that Russian Transport Minister
Igor Levitin, who visited Tbilisi on November 1, agreed with Georgian
officials over setting up joint governmental groups to work in regards
to `technical aspects’ of restoring the railway link between Russia and
Armenia via Georgia, which lies through breakaway Abkhazia.

On September 10 the railway link between Moscow and the capital of
Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia was re-opened, triggering protests from
Tbilisi, which insists that the process should be accompanied by the
return of the Georgian internally displaced persons to Abkhazia.

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania told reporters after his talks
with the Russian Transport Minister that the issue of the railway
connection was discussed during the meeting, but added that `until the
normalization of situation in Abkhazia talks over restoration of
railway make no sense.’

But Georgian Economy Minister Kakha Bendukidze, who has also met with
the Russian Transport Minister, downplayed Russia’s unilateral decision
to reopen its rail link with Abkhazia by telling reporters on November
1: `OK they [Russians] have resumed the railway connection and what do
you suppose we should do? Shall we bite them for that?’

Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin said at a news briefing after
his talks with Zurab Zhvania and Kakha Bendukidze on November 1 that
the Georgian officials showed an `understanding’ towards Russia’s
decision to reopen its railway link with Abkhazia. He added that
reopening of the route `should not lead to a worsening of relations’
between the two countries.

Armenia also insists on reopening of the rail route via Abkhazia, which
will enable landlocked Armenia to restore its railway connection with
its strategic partner, Russia. Armenian President Robert Kocharian
pushed this issue during recent talks with the Georgian leadership
during his visit to Tbilisi in late October.

On March 7, 2003 Russian President Vladimir Putin and Georgia’s
ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze signed an agreement in Sochi
envisaging a `synchronization’ of the two processes – the return of the
internally displaced persons to Abkhazia’s westernmost Gali region and
the resumption of the railway connection. The two presidents also
agreed to set up two separate bilateral governmental commissions to
work over these issues. However, the commissions failed to take off.