Differences over legal status thwarted attempts to temporarily reopen road link to Russia via breakaway South Ossetia upon Armenia’s request, Georgia’s PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili said on Friday.
Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi, the only border crossing point between Russia and Georgia which is under Tbilisi’s control and which is also the only available land link for Armenia with Russia, remains closed since June 23.
800-meter long section of the road in the Dariali gorge in an immediate vicinity of the Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi border-crossing point in the northern mountainous part of Georgia was swept away by the Tergi river, which changed its course after mudflows originating from Devdoraki glacier on the slope of Mkinvartsveri (Mount Kazbek).
It will take “at least ten days, maximum two weeks” to restore the road and to resume the traffic, Nodar Javakhishvili, Georgian minister of infrastructure, who oversees construction works in Dariali gorge, said on July 1.
Armenian news agencies reported on June 30 citing country’s transport and communications minister Gagik Beglaryan that Yerevan was in talks aimed at reopening road via breakaway South Ossetia, at least temporarily before traffic through the Dariali gorge remained closed.
Georgian PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili confirmed on July 1 that there were talks on the issue, but attempt to reach an agreement with Russia has failed.
“Closure of the road [in the Dariali gorge] has created huge problems for Georgian exporters, as well as for Armenian businesses. We should be a reliable partner in order to fully make use of Georgia’s transit potential,” he told journalists.
“Therefore I had a conversation with the Armenian Prime Minister. They [Armenian authorities’] told us that they were ready to talk with the Russian Federation about opening the road [via South Ossetia] temporarily painlessly without touching upon the [South Ossetia’s] status issue,” PM Kvirikashvili said. “As you are aware law on occupied territories envisages status neutral transportation of cargo via South Ossetian territory in force majeure circumstances. So, we wanted to apply this regime.”
He was referring to Georgia’s law on occupied territories, adopted in 2008 after Russia recognized “independence” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The law, among other things, also bans use of roads in the breakaway regions for international transportation. The same law, however, also says that such ban can be lifted in “special cases” through the Georgian government’s decision if the measure “serves the interests of the Georgian state; peaceful resolution of the conflict; de-occupation; confidence-building… or humanitarian purposes.”
PM Kvirikashvili said that Russia’s response, conveyed via the Armenian side, implied making “direct link to the status of the territory, which Russia recognized.”
“So we declined to use this road [via South Ossetia]; our proposal was reopening of this [road] in force majeure circumstances only in frames of our legislation,” the PM said. “Unfortunately it was not possible; it would have significantly eased movement of cargo before the restoration of the road [in the Dariali gorge].”
He said that currently cargo en route to Russia both from Georgia and Armenia are ferried from Georgian Black Sea ports.
When commenting on the issue, the PM also touched upon the 2011 WTO deal between Georgia and Russia on customs monitoring.
He suggested that Russia delays to finalize procedures required for the deal to be put in practice.
“Actually, this [deal] provides for the mechanism for status-neutral transportation of cargo [via breakaway regions]. Regrettably, we still don’t have this mechanism,” the Georgian PM said.
Georgia agreed to give its go-ahead to Russia’s WTO membership only after Tbilisi and Moscow signed a Swiss-mediated agreement in November, 2011, envisaging putting in place sophisticated systems for tracking and auditing of cargo passing through breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The agreement envisages, among other issues, hiring of a “neutral private company” to carry out monitoring of cargo movement through three “trade corridors” two of which run in the breakaway regions and the third one on the Zemo Larsi-Kazbegi border crossing point on the undisputed section of Georgia-Russia border.
SGS, the world’s largest inspection, verification, testing and certification company headquartered in Geneva, has been selected for carrying out the monitoring. According to the deal Russia and Georgia should sign separate contracts with the company. Tbilisi says that unlike Russia it has already finalized all the procedures.
“Contract with SGS has been sent to the Russian side, but regrettably there is no response from them,” the Georgian PM said on July 1.