Moscow blocks Lars alternative through Tskhinvali

07.02.2018 | 11:25 | Foreign Policy

One of the most important issues of Armenia’s foreign policy is overcoming the blockade of the country. And the Russian-Georgian talks on opening the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are of crucial importance. Despite the recent positive tendencies in this process, there is a rather ambiguous situation at present.

Background

After the 2008 war, Russia and Georgia signed an agreement on customs monitoring in 2011, which shall allow Georgia to have trade with Abkhazia and South Ossetia that have de facto broken away from Georgia. According to that agreement, a Swiss private organization shall implement a customs service between Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which will allow avoiding the political aspects of the issue and discussing the status of the breakaway regions.

The Russian-Georgian talks, which are regularly held at the level of Deputy Foreign Ministers of the two countries in Prague, are of great importance for Armenia, since, if they are a success, Armenia will have the opportunity to make use of alternative routes to Russia. As it is known, the only land route from Armenia to Russia passes through the notorious Stepantsminda-Lars road, which is regularly closed due to unfavorable weather conditions. The importance of the issue has recently been raised by RA Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, who instructed the government to find alternative routes to Russia.

However, the situation slightly changed in December last year, when it became known that the Georgian side had already signed a contract with the Swiss SGS organization. According to Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, the contract will allow Armenia and Turkey to use the alternative corridor through South Ossetia in the events of force majeure when the Lars road is closed.

At the same time, there were also positive signals from the Russian side. Thus, in an interview with TASS agency on February 1, speaking about the implementation of the 2011 agreement, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin noted that the Russian side is about to complete the procedures, after which it will be reported to the Russian government, which will sign an agreement with the Swiss company.

A new issue

Nevertheless, the South-Ossetian side has made quite an unexpected and unfavorable statement for Armenia. In particular, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the unrecognized republic stated that South Ossetia did not take part in bilateral talks between Russia and Georgia, so it has no obligations in launching a transport corridor between the two countries. According to the South Ossetian side, direct negotiations with South Ossetian authorities are needed to implement any project that concerns them. “Any other means, including political or economic pressure, do not have the prospect of resolving the issue,” the statement of Tskhinvali said.

It turns out that with this statement, South Ossetia hampers the Russian-Georgian negotiation process. Naturally, official Tbilisi can not make concessions and negotiate with South Ossetia as an independent unit. Consequently, if the South Ossetian side continues to insist on its position, the implementation of the 2011 agreement will currently be unrealistic.

However, Russia’s position on this issue is of particular interest. As it is known, Russia recognizes the independence of South Ossetia. Moreover, it is the de facto sponsor of that state, and a proof of that is the federal law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 5, according to which the South Ossetian armed forces shall be included in the Russian Armed Forces.

In these circumstances, the question arises whether the South Ossetian response was agreed with Russia, and whether it is Russia blocking the negotiation process with Georgia through South Ossetian authorities. At any rate, it is clear that in this situation the most negatively affected party is Armenia.

Vahe Ghukasyan
“Union of Informed Citizens”


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