Abkhazian Link: Experts in Yerevan discuss prospects of strategic railway’s reoperation

Abkhazian Link: Experts in Yerevan discuss prospects of strategic railway’s reoperation

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The prospect of the reopening of the currently disused railway connecting Armenia with the outside world seems realistic to some in Yerevan, but others believe the re-operation of the Abkhazian section of the Trans-Caucasus rail has no prospect for now.

The section of the railway was closed in 1993 as a result of the Georgian-Abkhazian war and it became one of the factors that added to Armenia’s economic blockade. Speculation about a possible reoperation of the link became more active last week as Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan paid a visit to Georgia.

Before traveling to Tbilisi, Sargsyan also met with Russian Railways Company head Vladimir Yakunin, who recommended that Armenia focus on the Abkhazian railway. But little of the matter seems to have been discussed during the Armenian leader’s visit to Georgia.

Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute Director Alexander Iskandaryan thinks that there are so many unresolved problems connected with the reopening of this railway section that at least in the near future it will be impossible to solve the matter.

“Technically, it is almost impossible. There are thousands of problems involved. Cargo security is one of them. Suppose your cargo gets lost in Armenia, Georgia or Russia. In that case you know whom to contact. And what would you do if your cargo were lost in Abkhazia, in the territory of an unrecognized state? What would the reaction of Georgia be in such situations? Where will the Georgian-Abkhazian customs checkpoint be situated? One can talk about such issues for hours. There are enormous difficulties involved – a lack of true desire from the Georgian and Abkhazian sides,” Iskandaryan said at a press conference on Wednesday, adding that the Abkhazian railway is a necessity only for Armenia.

Meanwhile, expert on Georgia Johnny Melikyan considers the reopening of the railway realistic and thinks that it is beneficial not only to Armenia, but to Georgia and Abkhazia as well.

Mass protests demanding the resignation of President Alexander Ankvab began in Abkhazia in late May. Eventually, the Ankvab government fell and forces advocating closer ties with Russia came to power in Abkhazia. According to Melikyan, the new authorities in Sukhumi acknowledge Russian assistance, but they also think that Abkhazia should develop its own economy.

“There was speculation also connected with the Abkhazian railway, which would also provide them with money for transit. And we can say today that the Abkhazian side is more constructive in this matter, the Georgian side is already discussing it, the main issue is Russia’s readiness, and at the moment there are conditions when due to serious lobbying activities one can get the discussions started in some new format,” Melikyan told ArmeniaNow.

He added that if all parties are constructive, the likelihood of the re-opening of the Abkhazian railway will be higher. “I think that the Armenian side is using these opportunities and during his most recent visit to Georgia this matter perhaps was discussed, but they did not speak loudly about it because neighboring Azerbaijan is not interested in Armenia’s overrunning the blockade,” the expert said.