Russia Reopens South Caucasus Border

[Excerpts]

OSSETIA (RFE-RL)–Russia reopened its border with Georgia and Azerbaijan on Friday–ending a nearly two-month transport embargo that severed one of Armenia’s main supply lines.

"Starting from today–Verkhny Lars is open to both international cargo and passenger traffic," Anatoly Dryukov–the Russian ambassador to Armenia–said–referring to the main Russian-Georgian border crossing on the Caucasus mountain range.

The lifting of the blockade came two days after a phone conversation between Presidents Robert Kocharian and Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin said on Thursday that it took place at Kocharian’s request but gave no details.

Armenian officials said earlier that Kocharian has repeatedly raised the negative impact of the border closing with Putin. They said the phone talks between the two leaders were instrumental in the brief reopening of the Verkhny Lars crossing earlier this month. The move allowed hundreds of Armenian trucks–personal cars and buses stranded on its Russian side for more than a month to cross into Georgia and reach Armenia.

The checkpoint handles up to a quarter of Armenia’s commercial exchange with or through Russia. Its closure particularly hit small and medium-sized Armenian businesses involved in import and export.

In a related move–the Georgian authorities let in Thursday dozens of Armenian vehicles stranded on another major Russian-Georgian border crossing that passes through Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia. They were due to reach Armenia on Friday. The Caucasus Press news agency quoted Georgian officials as describing the move as a gesture of good will.

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