President Saakashvili told the ministers and dignitaries from Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries, including Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, that he was against of reopening railway via breakaway Abkhazia as it would pose threat to Georgia and lead to Russian “expansion in the Caucasus”.
Saakashvili also said that at the time when Russia took over the Armenian railway, Moscow probably already had its “insidious plan” and “calculations about Georgia’s elections”; he also added that Moscow probably had its “favorite” candidate with the latter having “concrete commitments” before Russia.
When PM Bidzina Ivanishvili visited Armenia in January, he said that his government was ready to launch work on reopening of the railway between Georgia and Russia via breakaway Abkhazia, which would also link Armenia with Russia; Ivanishvili, however, also noted that the issue was complicated because of troubled relations between Georgia and Russian and because of “uneasy relations with our Abkhaz brothers”.
President Saakashvili, who voiced his opposition to the idea of reopening of the Abkhaz railway for number of times since PM’s remarks, again raised the issue while hosting in the presidential palace participants of an informal Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting in Tbilisi, involving high ranking officials from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine; European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle and Vice President of the European Commission Siim Kallas were also present. Earlier on February 13 participants of the meeting from six countries of the Eastern Partnership held discussions on the issue of transport.
“On the one hand we have very close and warm relations with Armenia and I am grateful to Armenia, especially for its solidarity expressed towards Georgia in difficult circumstances in 2008 [during the August war],” President Saakashvili said, adding that Georgia did its best to help Armenia with solving transportation issues, including through reopening of Larsi border crossing point with Russia.
“But today the issue of reopening of railway through Abkhazia has been put on the agenda again. I do not want Armenia to face any kind of problem in respect of transportation of cargo in the future. I simply want them to know what my position about this railway is,” Saakashvili said.
“First of all we know that the Russian railway controls the Armenian railway,” Saakashvili said.
State-run Russian Railways (RZhD) took over the management of Armenian railway network under 30-year operating concession deal, which was signed in January, 2008.
“At the time when they [Russia] took over the Armenian railway and illegally seized the railway in occupied Abkhazia, there was no talk of reopening of railway [via Abkhazia], so I was asking a question: what was Russia’s plan? Why it needed Armenian railway if the railway via Abkhazia was not opened?” Saakashvili said.
“It seems that Russia had more far-sighted and insidious plan than I could have imagined,” he continued.
“They [Russia] had their calculations about Georgia’s elections; they probably had their favorite [candidate in Georgia’s elections], who had concrete commitments [before Russia]; otherwise I cannot explain why did they need to control Armenian railway and seized Abkhaz railway in the condition when [these two rail networks] were disconnected,” Saakashvili said.
With Russia’s continued occupation of Abkhazia, he said, reopening of the railway via the breakaway region would further increase Moscow’s grip over Abkhazia.
“It will be an instrument for [Russian] expansion in the Caucasus,” Saakashvili said. “Georgia will gain nothing from it; on the contrary it will complicate reintegration of Abkhazia and will create other types of military and political problems for Georgia.”
“I do not think that it is in the interests of any country in the Caucasus,” Saakashvili said. “It is only in the short-term, aggressive interests of one country.”
He also said that for the purpose of handling more cargo turnover via Georgia, including those destined for Armenia, the previous government of Georgia was intending to build a new port, Lazika, on the Black Sea coast close to Abkhazia.
President Saakashvili also spoke about the importance of EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative and especially welcomed participation of Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makey in the Eastern Partnership informal meeting in Tbilisi.
“We are very grateful to Belarus, like to other countries present here, for respecting Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in difficult circumstances. We think that dialogue with Belarus and engagement of Belarus in various European formats has a long-term importance not only for Belarus but for the entire Europe as well,” Saakashvili said.
Saakashvili also said that idea of granting Georgia a declaration on EU membership perspective was floating last year. “There is less talk about it now,” Saakashvili said. “I hope that that the chance for that is not completely lost.”
He also said that Georgia should “definitely” sign Association Agreement with EU.
“I am ready to help the Georgian government in this regard with everything possible. You know that there are many circumstances, which may turn problematic for Georgia in this regard; I am not at all happy about it,” Saakashvili said.
The President of the European People’s Party (EPP) Wilfried Martens and the Vice President of the EPP and Chairman of the EPP Group in Euronest Jacek Saryusz-Wolski released a statement on February 13 condemning February 8 incident outside the National Library in Tbilisi in which several UNM MPs were assaulted. The statement says that the conditions to continue a dialogue on Association Agreement with Georgia “are not met anymore” because, as the statement reads, “the situation continues to deteriorate dramatically” in Georgia. President Saakashvili’s UNM party is an observer member of EPP.