Russia to Keep Georgian Border Closed Despite Armenian Protests

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin said on Wednesday that Moscow will try to address Armenia’s concerns regarding the closure of Russia’s main border crossing with Georgia but stopped short of promising its speedy reopening.

The issue featured large during Levitin’s one-day visit to Yerevan that involved talks with President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. The two men apparently reiterated Yerevan’s serious concerns about negative consequences of the effective shutdown of the Georgian-Russian land border which serves as one of Armenia’s few external trade routes.

"This issue was included into our memorandum signed today," Sarkisian told a joint news conference after the talks. "We agreed that after Mr. Levitin returns to Moscow he will report the matter to the leadership of the Russian Federation."

Levitin said the Russian government will discuss–among other things–ways of compensating Armenia for the losses incurred as a result of the border closure.

Levitin also assured reporters that the border crossing at Upper Lars was not closed by Russia as part of its clearly punitive economic measures taken against Georgia’s pro-Western government in recent months. He repeated Moscow’s claims that the move was necessary for repairing roads and border control facilities on the Russian side of the mountainous area. Such work can only be carried out during summer months–he said–declining to announce any time frames for its completion.

Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan complained at the weekend that the Russia’s failed to notify Yerevan about the unilateral measure–condemned by the Georgian government–beforehand. He said the border closure created a "very severe" situation for Armenia companies exporting goods to Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union via the Upper Lars crossing.

"The Armenian side was not told in advance that Upper Lars will be closed," admitted Levitin. He said the Armenian leaders asked him to make sure that they have prior knowledge of such Russia’s actions in the future.

Levitin and Sarkisian met in their capacity as the co-chairmen of an intergovernmental commission on Russian-Armenian economic cooperation. They reported and welcomed a sharp increase in the volume of bilateral trade during the first four months of this year.

The Russian minister also discussed the ongoing official inquiry into the causes of the May 3 crash off the Russian Black Sea coast of an Armenian airliner that killed all 113 passengers and crew on board. The Airbus A-320 of Armenia’s largest airline–Armavia–plunged into the sea under still uncertain circumstances as it tried to land at the Russian resort city of Sochi.

A Russian aviation official accompanying Levitin said Russian investigators have already examined the plane’s two black box flight recorders recovered from the Black Sea and other factual evidence and will present their findings later this month. "We have all the facts to fully and objectively establish the cause," said Tatyana Anodina–head of the Interstate Aviation Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States. "I think that all the materials will be made public in full by the end of July."


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