Reopening of a railway via breakaway Abkhazia is in Russia’s interest and addressing this issue outside the context of de-occupation will be “criminal, anti-state, anti-Georgian” act, President Saakashvili said on January 17.
He made the remarks when asked during a press conference in Tbilisi to comment on PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s statement made earlier on the same day while visiting Armenia.
Asked during the press conference in Yerevan if restoration of the railway link between Georgia and Russia via Abkhazia, which could also link Armenia to Russia, was possible, Georgian PM Ivanishvili responded: “It’s possible.” He, however, added that the issue was complicated because of troubled relations between Georgia and Russian and because of “uneasy relations with our Abkhaz brothers”.
“You know that there are no problems in relationships between Georgia and Armenia,” Ivanishvili said. “But we have huge problems in relationship with Russia. The problems were huge and they unfortunately still remain. We try it to restore and mend ties with Russia. Profound and the most problematic issue is about Georgia’s territorial integrity.”
Ivanishvili, however, also said that the issue of railway could be resolved in case of a political will from all the parties. “The Georgian side voiced its readiness in this regard. On our part there is full readiness for solving all the issues as soon as possible,” Ivanishvili added.
Commenting on PM’s remarks President Saakashvili told journalists that “the statement has several elements and all of these elements are very alarming.”
“This is the statement which does not at all take into consideration Georgia’s geopolitical and strategic interests,” Saakashvili said.
He said that after new Baku-Akhalkalaki-Karsi railway link, connecting Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia, is put into operation “there will be actually no need for Georgia” in a railway via Abkhazia because Georgia would have an alternative route towards Europe in a form of the Baku-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway.
Saakashvili said that the Baku-Akhalkalaki-Karsi railway would connect Asia with Europe and thus would represent a competitor to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway.
“Our railway poses a huge threat to the Trans-Siberian Railway; it’s a huge competitor to the Trans-Siberian Railway. We created a competitor to Russia in respect of energy transit corridor and likewise we are now creating a competitor to Russia in terms of cargo transportation,” Saakashvili said.
“What Russia wants is to destroy this [alternative] route for cargo transportation,” Saakashvili said.
“Secondly, with the reopening of this railway [via Abkhazia] Russia wants to actually legitimize Abkhazia’s occupation, because in the condition when the Russian Railway seized Abkhaz [section] of the railway and in the condition when the Russian Railway also owns the Armenian railway based on an agreement with Armenia, the status of reopening this railway [via Abkhazia] will be completely unacceptable, because Russia considers Abkhazia… as independent states,” Saakashvili said.
“Georgia should take not a single step that will contribute to it, unless de-occupation of Abkhazia is fully resolved; or this issue can be resolved in parallel with de-occupation of Abkhazia and can be discussed as part of the de-occupation,” he said.
“Discussing this issue [of railway reopening] separately is criminal, anti-state, anti-Georgian, anti-national act, which is fundamentally in the interest of the occupying force,” Saakashvili said.
“I think that those who make such statements and such statements are made by the Georgian government they either have no idea about strategic political interests of Georgia or they wittingly undermine Georgia’s foreign policy vector, Georgia’s independence, Georgia’s future and act directly upon orders from the occupying force. I have no other explanations about it; this is very categorical statement unfortunately, but I have to tell the truth to my people.”
“I can’t remain silent when it is said that we should implement Russia’s big plan about railway,” Saakashvili said, adding that history will not forgive him if he does not speak out now.
“We of course want good relations with Armenia and we have done much for it,” Saakashvili said, adding that reopening of Larsi border checkpoint with Russia aimed just this purpose.
“It has never been in Georgia’s interests to isolate Armenia,” he said. “But one thing is having good relations with Armenia and another – implementation strategic plans of the occupying force.”
“At the same time we should take into consideration that such statements and statements like those questioning Karsi-Akhalkalaki railway project of course strains our relations with our other neighbors. As you know we have now unfortunately seriously complicated relations with Turkey and it is demonstrated in many issues – many Turkish investments have been suspended,” Saakashvili said, adding that “by creating any problems in [ties] with Turkey we are losing the historic chance of joining NATO.”
In early 2006 Georgia was in talks with Russia and Armenia about potential joint consortium to deal with multi-million project of rehabilitating Abkhaz section of the railway; those talks, however, yielded no tangible results.
In a November, 2012 public opinion survey, commissioned by the U.S. National Democratic Institute (NDI), 68% of Georgian respondents said they would approve reestablishment of a railway link between Georgia and Russia via breakaway Abkhazia; 6% disapproved and 24% did not know.