MOSCOW (RFE/RL)–Russia is ready to reopen its main border crossing with Georgia heavily used by Armenian exporters despite refusing to deal with the current Georgian leadership, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday.
The Upper Lars crossing served as Armenia’s sole overland conduit to the former Soviet Union and Europe until it was controversially shut down by the Russian authorities in June 2006, at the height of a Russian-Georgian spy scandal. Moscow attributed the closure to the start of infrastructure repairs on the Russian side of the border checkpoint.
The Armenian government has since repeatedly called for the reopening of Upper Lars and received corresponding assurances from the Russians. The latter signaled their readiness to allow renewed traffic through the mountainous Russian-Georgian frontier when they held indirect negotiations with Georgian officials in Yerevan in late October.
The proxy talks were mediated by the Armenian Foreign Ministry. The matter was also reportedly discussed at a subsequent meeting of Georgia’s National Security Council.
Speaking during an international media forum in Moscow, Medvedev stated that Moscow’s refusal to directly negotiate with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili should not hurt “the centuries-old friendship” between the Russian and Georgian peoples. He said he therefore sees no “particular obstacles” to reopening Upper Lars and resuming direct flight services between Russia and Georgia.
“I don’t see any particular obstacles because that primarily concerns the interests of ordinary people who have been and remain friends despite … the overt and tough standoff between our states on certain issues in the international stage,” explained Medvedev.
Both Saakashvili and other Georgian leaders have made clear that they are not against resuming Georgian-Russian commercial ties despite the fact that the two nations remain in a de facto state of war. “We have always said that we are ready to open the Upper Lars crossing,” the Georgian president said during a June visit to Yerevan.
Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze, for his part, was reported to stress last month that that will be economically beneficial for both sides. “The Georgian side deals with Armenia as a mediator, and Armenia further negotiates with Russia,” Vashadze added, according to News.am.
Armenian exporters of agricultural produce were particularly reliant on Upper Lars during summer and autumn months. They have had to re-route their deliveries through the more expensive and time-consuming rail-ferry services between Georgia and Russia as well as Ukraine.