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 Monday, February 15 2021 12:24
David Stepanyan

Amiran Khevtsuriani: Abkhazian railway will make Georgia dependent on  Russia

Amiran Khevtsuriani: Abkhazian railway will make Georgia dependent on  Russia

ArmInfo.  Professor of the  Georgian Technical University, doctor of international relations,  conflictologist Amiran Khevtsuriani, in an interview with ArmInfo,  comments on the prospects of unblocking the Abkhazian section of the  railway linking Russia, Georgia and Armenia from the point of view of  Tbilisi.

The other day the Abkhaz parliament, in an appeal to the State Duma  of the Russian Federation, announced Abkhazia's readiness to  participate in a project to unblock the railway communication between  Russia and Armenia through Abkhazia. What, in your opinion, is the  reason for the Abkhaz interest in this project right now and is there  any connection here with the results and, most importantly,  subsequent events after the last year's war in Artsakh?

Moscow's next promotion of the issue of restoring the Abkhaz railway  after the signing of a trilateral statement following the 44-day war  in Artsakh and the strengthening of Russian positions in the South  Caucasus was indeed quite expected. However, this time Moscow changed  its tactics, using its Abkhazian puppets to voice this idea.  According to our sources, the number of supporters of the restoration  of the section of the railway connecting Abkhazia with Armenia has  been growing like mushrooms in the Abkhaz parliament lately. It looks  rather strange considering that they have never shown such excessive  interest in this issue before. As it turns out, this process is led  by the chairman of the Abkhaz parliamentary committee for  international inter-parliamentary relations and relations with  compatriots Astamur Logua. And according to Russian media, a special  request was even sent from Sukhumi to Moscow in this regard. It is  obvious that the separatist regime in Abkhazia could not start this  game on its own.  Why do you think so?

The fact is that the issue of restoring the Black Sea section of the  Transcaucasian railway in Sukhumi has always been treated with  caution and suspicion, considering it primarily in a political rather  than an economic context. As for Mr. Logua's fears that "Abkhazia  cannot exist for a long time as a depot country, a dead-end country",  this is an obvious fact. Their dream of "independent Abkhazia" was  finally buried in 2008, when Russia formally recognized it as an  independent state, and in fact annexed Abkhazia. We are, of course,  concerned about the dubious and undesirable reality that reigns today  in Abkhazia, and we take on a certain responsibility for this. The  Abkhaz people are the people closest to us. We have no problems with  the Abkhaz, and this has been repeatedly proven by the Georgian state  and Georgian society over the years. Thousands of our Abkhaz  compatriots continue to use various free medical and educational  services.  And, paradoxically, the separatist regime often does not  allow them to receive these benefits. Accordingly, we have a problem  not with the Abkhaz people, but with the separatist regime in  Abkhazia.  In Armenia, many  people believe that the economy, not  geopolitics, is behind the opening of the Abkhaz section. Do you have  a different opinion?

Despite multiple  speculations, I doubt that the restoration of the  Abkhaz section of the railroad is part of even the Kremlin's economic  interests in the South Caucasus. The project, the implementation of  which, according to experts, will require from 150 to 250 million  dollars, the return of which will take at least 100 years, cannot be  considered economically viable. In this light, we are no doubt again  dealing with Russia's unbridled political and geopolitical interests.  For Moscow, it is of interest, first of all, from the point of view  of the supply of Russian bases located in Armenia.

Can it be stated that unblocking the Abkhazian section of the railway  not only does not meet, but also contradicts, first of all, the  economic interests of Georgia?

At this stage, the opening of the railway to Abkhazia is only a  theoretical question. And for the project to move into a practical  plane, it will have to overcome many obstacles, ranging from  political, customs and visa, and ending with determining its economic  feasibility for our country. In general, I think that it is  unthinkable even to talk about the same passenger traffic due to the  absence of a visa regime with Russia and any legal mechanisms for  moving to Abkhazia. As for the economy, referring again to expert  assessments, I will note that this project has no serious direct  economic effect on Georgia. On the contrary, it may even be  unprofitable, because its implementation will primarily affect the  country's roads and our ports on the Black Sea. At the same time, the  question of the final determination of economic benefits requires  serious study and analysis, although any analysis should be based  primarily on the national interests of the country. In this light, if  this geopolitical project corresponds to transit interests, national  security or energy independence, we could seriously consider it even  if it is economically unacceptable. But in this case we are dealing  with a completely opposite situation: our economic, energy and  political independence depends on the very infrastructure projects  that bypass Russia. And these projects are of vital importance for  Georgia. The formula is simple - the less Russia, the more  independence and freedom.  Meanwhile, the Abkhazian section of the  railway makes Georgia more dependent on Russia.  Armenia is extremely  interested in the restoration of the Abkhazian section:

We understand very well how important it is for Armenia to restore  this railway. Armenia is our fraternal country. We view Armenia and  Azerbaijan in the context of the idea of a common Caucasian home, on  the implementation of which, over time, we pin great hopes. That is  why the recent Karabakh war turned out to be especially painful for  our state and society. We will never forget the fact that Armenia did  not allow the Russian troops stationed on its territory to  participate in the August 2008 war against Georgia. We understand  that this was a very difficult decision for Yerevan. At the same  time, it should be understood that Armenia is not Georgia's natural  partner in the restoration of the Abkhaz railway. Unfortunately, we  have other realities, we can only conduct such negotiations with  Russia. And there are enough red lines here.

For instance?

If the issue of restoring the railway is still on our agenda, then  questions will inevitably arise that need to be answered. For  example, what kind of cargo will be transported on this railway?  Military or just civilians?  We are well aware that the use of the  railway for military purposes is a common practice. We last saw this  in 2008. One more question - who will ensure the safety of goods on  the territory of Abkhazia? Let's not forget that since Abkhazian law  enforcement agencies are illegitimate for us, and the Russian  military are for us invaders. Perhaps the only solution is  international control mechanisms, which the Russian and Abkhaz sides  will clearly not welcome with great enthusiasm. The third most  important question is how can we restore the railway if the issues of  free movement have not yet been resolved? What documents will be  possible to use to travel on this railway? Where will the customs  officers, border guards stand?  From your words, an obvious link  emerges between these problems and the problem of the status of  Abkhazia.

Exactly. Based on all this, it is quite obvious that the restoration  of the Abkhazian section of the railway is directly related to the  restoration of the territorial integrity of Georgia. Only in such  conditions will this project acquire its natural appearance.  Therefore, it is inappropriate to present the restoration of railway  communication as a separate problem. It is completely absurd to think  that rebuilding the railroad will help de-escalate the situation and  restore relations. Until the seventh Russian occupation base is  located in the Abkhazian part of Georgia and until the official  Kremlin refuses to recognize Abkhazia, it is useless to even talk  about any economic preferences. 250 thousand Georgians have been  waiting for their return to their homes for almost 28 years. And we,  of course, cannot overshadow this issue. 

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