Abkhazia will benefit both economically and politically if the railway linking Armenia and Russia is restored via Abkhazia, said Aslan Bzhania, one of the four presidential candidates running in the August 24 early election.
Bzhania, who served as chief of breakaway region’s security service up until July 16, said in an interview with the Abkhaz news agency Apsnipress that Sokhumi should actively push for the restoration of the railway.
“It is obvious for me that we will gain number of benefits if transit of cargo from Russia, Armenia, Iran and Georgia as well goes through [Abkhazia],” he said.
From the economic point of view, he said, it would give Abkhazia additional revenues.
“From the political point of view… it will represent our recognition by those states, who will be involved in this transit route. Secondly, transit country will strengthen its negotiating positions over various issues vis-à-vis those who use this transit route,” Bzhania said. “Abkhazia should not only support this idea of reopening of this transit route, but should be actively pushing this project in its relations with Russia and Armenia.”
He said that legal status of the Abkhaz section of the railway should not even be a subject of negotiations. “It is the property of the [Abkhaz] state and this project should pose no threat to the security of the state,” Bzhania said.
Renewed debate about railway in Abkhazia was triggered by an appeal made on July 7 by four current and former members of the Abkhaz Parliament of ethnic Armenian origin, among them incumbent vice speaker of the breakaway region’s legislative body Vagharshak Kosoyan.
In their joint statement, the four former and current lawmakers called for launch of “broad public discussion” of restoration of the Abkhaz section of the railway, which, they said, would foster Abkhazia’s accession to the Russian-led “Eurasian integration structures as a sovereign state” and will also boost region’s coffers. They called on the presidential candidates running in the August 24 early elections to engage actively in these debates. Their statement also says that new president, who will be elected in the August election, “should initiate negotiations on prompt opening of the Abkhaz-Georgian section of the railway.”
Some Abkhaz lawmakers reacted angrily on this statement. At a parliamentary session on July 10, MP Artur Mikvabia suggested that wording of this statement was leaving a wrong impression as if “we do not want to reopen the railway”; such portrayal of the situation, he said, “is provocative” and “drives a wedge between Abkhazians and citizens of Abkhazia of the Armenian ethnicity.”
Vladimir Yakunin, head of the state-owned Russian Railways, who visited Armenia last month, said in an interview with Russian news website, Regnum, that “in the condition of blockade of Armenia, our expectation for growth in traffic does not correspond to a business plan, which concession agreement was based on.” Under this concession agreement Russia operates Armenian railway network since 2008.
“We have reported our opinion to the Armenian President and he expressed an opinion about a great need in restoration of the railway traffic via Georgia, but before that happens, re-launch of the Abkhaz section of this [railway] is required and that largely depends on the position of the Abkhaz authorities,” Yakunin said.
He also said that Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which will connect Azerbaijan with Turkey via Georgia, “is a politically motivated project.”
Georgian officials said after Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan visited Tbilisi on June 18 that restoration of the railway via Abkhazia was not on the agenda of talks. The Georgian government officials say that although Tbilisi is ready to consider the issue, currently this politically sensitive issue is not even being discussed.
In early 2006 Georgia was in talks with Russia and Armenia about potential joint consortium to deal with rehabilitating Abkhaz section of the railway; those talks, however, yielded no results.