Source Reveals Russian Minister Discussed Railway Link via Abkhazia

(RIA Novosti)–An unnamed source in the Georgian President’s administration said that Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin–who visited Tbilisi on November 1–agreed with Georgian officials over setting up joint government groups to work on "technical aspects" of restoring the railway link between Russia and Armenia via Georgia–which lies through breakaway Abkhazia.

On September 10–the railway link between Moscow and the capital of Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia was re-opened–triggering protests from Tbilisi–which insists that the process should be accompanied by the return of Georgia’s internally displaced persons to Abkhazia.

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania told reporters after his talks with Levitin that the issue of railway connection was discussed during the meeting–but added that "until the normalization of the situation in Abkhazia occurs–talks over railway restoration make no sense."

Georgian Economy Minister Kakha Bendukidze–however–downplayed Russia’s unilateral decision to reopen its rail link with Abkhazia.

Minister Levitin said at a news briefing after his talks with Zhvania and Bendukidze on November 1 that the Georgian officials showed an "understanding" towards Russia’s decision to reopen its railway link with Abkhazia. He added that reopening of the route "should not lead to a worsening of relations" between the two countries.

Armenia also insists on the reopening of the railway link via Abkhazia–which will enable it to restore its railway connection with Russia. President Robert Kocharian pressed this issue during recent talks with the Georgian leadership during his visit to Tbilisi in late October.

On March 7–2003–Russian President Vladimir Putin and Georgia’s ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze signed an agreement in Sochi that envisioned "synchronization" of the two processes–the return of the internally displaced persons to Abkhazia’s westernmost Gali region and the resumption of the railway connection. The two presidents also agreed to set up two separate bilateral government commissions to work out these issues; however–the commissions failed to complete the task.

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