Russia, Georgia Ready to Start Talks on Border Opening

TBILISI (Messenger)–Tbilisi announced on Tuesday that it is ready to start negotiations with Moscow on the eventual opening of their border, closed since 2006, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.

Russia closed the border in July 2006, citing a need to carry out technical modernization. The Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi is located 40 kilometeres from Vladikavkaz, the capital of Russian North Ossetia. The other two border crossings linking the two countries are located in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which declared independence in August last year after a brief war between Tbilisi and Moscow.

Earlier this month, Russia announced that construction had been completed on the border check point and boasted that it now had the capacity to serve 400 vehicles a day.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry said it had been notified by the Swiss embassy, which has been mediating between the two countries, that the Russian side completed reconstruction works at the Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi border and was ready to hold talks on the “technical issues” of its reopening.

The Foreign Ministry said that Tbilisi was also ready to hold talks on the matter. “We have received a message about a Russian initiative…through the Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi. The Georgian side announces that it agrees to this,” said Shota Gvineria, a spokesperson for the Georgian Foreign Ministry, at a press conference in Tbilisi.

Gvineria added that negotiations are now being conducted at the official level.

Georgian Foreign Minster Grigol Vashadze confirmed that negotiations will take place at a special press conference the same day, noting however that the talks will be conducted only in the presence of Swiss diplomats because “provocations are not excluded” during these talks.

According to Georgia’s former ambassador to Russia, Zurab Abashidze, the start of talks for the eventual opening of the border speaks to the pragmatism of both sides. But the opening of the border does not mean that the two sides will establish normal relations, he noted, speaking to the Georgian Messenger newspaper.

The negative impact on Armenia’s economy—and not the normalization of relations—may be one factor motivating the two sides to start negotiations.

Meanwhile, Armenia’s Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan was quoted this week as saying that Armenia is “extremely interested” in the opening of the route. “Russia has assured us that all the repairs are finished,” Sargsyan said.

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