“We hope that in the coming three or five years it will be possible to resume railway service between Russia and Armenia through the territory of Georgia and which was suspended due to difficult Georgian-Abkhazian relations in the 90s” – said general director of “South Caucasian Railway” Shevket Shaidulin at the press-conference that was held in Yerevan on April 29th. According to him “of course, this is a political issue and depends of state of political affairs but there is a hope that this dream can come true”.
With this regard we would like to remind Mister Shaidulin that the railway that passes on the territory of Georgia became vital for Armenian population when relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan became extremely strained and they turned into armed confrontation. After the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict even this way was closed and Armenia found itself in a very difficult position. Naturally, Armenia that was in bad situation was very interested in quick regulation of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict that would as well help to resume railway movement between Russia and Armenia through Georgian territory. Given that the issue of resumption of the railway movement was discussed in the Georgian-Armenian relations on almost every high level governmental meeting. At the same time Armenia used to work very actively for these purposes with government circles of both Russia and the west and international organizations. As a result, in the process of the regulation of the conflict from time to time an issue of restoration of the railway on the territory of Abkhazia was entering the agenda and was becoming more acute. But we must say to our Armenian neighbours that Russia would have never allowed this to happen. Though if Russia were to be willing resolution of this problem would not have been difficult since the conflict parties would not have been against it. But the reason for Russia’s opposition was that by restoration of the railway in Abkhazia and resumption of railway service Russia would have been faced with unwanted reality as resumption of railway service would have opened way for the population on both sides of the division line for deepening of contacts, beginning of cooperation in various spheres, restoration of economical and cultural relations and so on. All this in the end would have been a significant success on the way to the resolution of the conflict and that would have stood in the way of fulfillment of Russia’s insiidous plans.
Then many believed in Russia’s role as mediator. All the more that regarding the issue of restoration of the railway, as in many other issues, Russia at first always played a positive role. But as soon as it felt “danger” that the conflict parties were about to reach a consensus in a series of issues relevant reaction followed. Through security services they were able to easily provoke one or the other side as a result of which reached agreements were broken and negotiations were in the dead-end.
The issue of restoration of the Abkhazian section of the railway and resumption of railway transit with Armenia was raised by Aslan Abashidze back during the Shevardnadze governance. At that time the Kremlin saw Aslan Abashidze as an alternative to Shevardnadze and as Ajara factor would not have been enough and in order to raise his rating among the refugee population of Abkhazia Moscow charged him with a role of a mediator for resolution of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. Additionally, what is no less important is that use of Abashidze would make it easier for Russia to direct the conflict resolution process considering its own interests. The issue of restoration of the railway in Abkhazia was also raised especially and Russia did not even intend to open transit movement. At that time information received by Security Ministry of Abkhazian legitimate government clearly showed that it was planned to restore only the Leselidze-Ochamchire section of the railway in Abkhazia in order to allow Russia to transport military goods and equipments deep into Abkhazia through the railway. And it was in no way connected with resumption of railway transit for Armenia. It was not connected for a simple reason that preparation works were not being carried out on those mechanisms that should have provided security of passenger and cargo transportations on the Georgian-Abkhazian section of the railway. As it is well- known Tamaz Nadareishvili not only blocked this issue but he also managed to debar Aslan Abashidze from the process.
After the Rose Revolution as a result of active efforts of Armenia in both Moscow and the west negotiations regarding the issue of restoration of the railway in Abkhazia were put under control of the UN observer mission in Georgia. Bilateral working groups were established and they were working in various directions and were filled with railway, power and security specialists. Restoration works were defined and financing of the restoration works was undertaken by the Russian railway which was officially registered in a protocol. Russian railway troops entered Abkhazia to conduct restoration works and actively started to restore the railway. By this time Russia, as usual, drove negotiations into the dead-end and isolate the Georgian side from the process of the railway restoration and finished restoration of the Leselidze-Ochamchire section of the railway. And nobody was bothering the Georgian side about restoration of the remaining part of the railway – the Ochamchire-Ingiri section – that was in the worst condition and without restoration of which transit with Armenia would not have been possible. As following events showed that the restoration of the Leselidze-Ochamchire section of the railway was an important part of Russia’s plan of ultimate occupation of Abkhazia.
As to Sheftek Shaidulin’s recent statement about resumption of the railway service between Russia and Armenia through Georgian territory the latter of course means restoration of the Ochamchire-Gali section of the railway what Russia can do perfectly well without us. But as to the Enguri railway bridge that connects Gali and Zugdidi its restoration can only be possible with our consent. We do not rule out that Sheftek Shaidulin’s recent statement could be a trick as Russia is convinced that in case of actualization of this issue in existing circumstances Georgia will refuse and thus Russia will try to stir up discord between us and Armenia as it has done many times before.
FYI: The Armenian railway was handed over for 30 years to the South Caucasian Railway which is a sister company to the Russian railway. The agreement provides that if the service on the Abkhazian section of the railway is restored investment must amount to 2.1 billion US dollars.