Regional Divide: Sargsyan’s Georgia visit likely to have focused on Abkhazia railroad, customs issue

Regional Divide: Sargsyan’s Georgia visit likely to have focused on Abkhazia railroad, customs issue


Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan meeting with Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili in Tbilisi, June 19, 2014

During a two-day visit to Georgia on June 18-19, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan also addressed the issue of the re-opening of the Abkhazian section of the railroad connecting Armenia to Russia. But it does not appear to be a matter for serious consideration yet. This is approximately how the Armenian leader commented on the issue, which, according to analysts, was to have become the key one during Sargsyan’s visiting to the neighboring country.

This means that Armenia will still remain for a long time in the railroad blockade, which has been imposed on it not only by hostile Turkey and Azerbaijan, but also by allied Russia. A few hours before Sargsyan’s visit to Tbilisi the Armenian leader received head of the Russian Railways company Vladimir Yakunin, who said that Russia does not intend to build and finance the Iran-Armenia railroad project because now it is implementing a major railway project with Iran through Azerbaijan. He advised that Armenia focus on the Abkhazian railroad.

Russia also blocks offers of Iran and Western countries on the laying of the Iran-Armenia communications. However, judging by the reaction of Tbilisi the Abkhaz railway also appears to have little prospects yet. Its construction is stymied by the status of Abkhazia – Moscow and Sukhumi are trying to force Tbilisi to recognize the independence of Abkhazia, and Georgia stubbornly refuses to do so. However, as Georgian media write, the question of the Abkhazian railway will soon be brought up for discussions at the National Security Council of Georgia, but now Tbilisi is preoccupied with solving other problems.

On June 27, Georgia, as well as Moldova and Ukraine, intend to sign an association agreement with the European Union, while Armenia, also at the end of the month, may sign the Treaty of Accession to the Customs (Eurasian) Union. This will mean that the Armenian-Georgian border will become the customs border between the EU and Russia. This circumstance may affect both the price of Russian natural gas delivered to Armenia and the customs duties on other goods.

Apparently, customs duties were the main topic of discussions during Sargsyan’s meetings with Georgia’s top leadership. Armenia’s gateway to the Customs Union and Russia lies only through Georgia, and if Tbilisi does not agree to duty-free or other regimes, the meaning of Armenia’s accession to the Customs Union is lost.

In the official reports on the meetings of the Armenian president in Georgia there is no word on the likely arrangements regarding the railway or duty-free trade. Georgia has no motive to agree, moreover, becoming part of the European Economic Area, Georgia will be carrying out European policies. And now these policies are aimed at isolating Russia and blocking its communications.

The issue of the opening of the railway through Abkhazia became topical after an unexpected change of power in this breakaway republic earlier this month. The new government in Sukhumi officially declared its intention to become associated with the emerging Eurasian Economic Union. However, Georgia has not shown any ‘enthusiasm’ over this matter, and the Abkhazian railroad section continues to remain closed in a region that has already been divided into “Russian and European” parts. And Armenia remains in a state of an increasingly deepening isolation.