by Sergey Shakaryantz
In the beginning of August, 2005, the Georgian rail-road experts had to arrive in Abkhazia to start actual checking the state of the rail-road Sochi-Sukhumi-Tbilisi. All works should have been completed no later than October 1st, 2005. In particular, it was planned to start examining the section Psou-Inguri (Zugdidi region, Georgia).
During the last meeting of the Working group dealing with opening the through rail-road communication via Abkhazia, the parties agreed that the project aimed at restoration of communication between Sochi and Tbilisi should be realized. According to the Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin, one of the most important aspects of the problem is that “at present some transport systems are created with the aim of using the Asian-European transit, passing round the Russian and South Caucasian transport infrastructure,” which in case of their successful realization may lead to a loss of huge transport flows.
However, the Georgian experts did not arrive. Tbilisi and Sukhumi accused each other, which followed by a series of events:
– on the 10th August it was decided to start examining the lines without Georgian experts;
– on the 10th of August Abkhazian President Sergey Bagapsh received a delegation of the Ambassadors of the countries, members of the Group of Friends of the UN Secretary General on Georgia at their request. They not only congratulated him on the occasion of his election as the head of the Abkhazian state, but also openly hinted that the U.S. and EU will more actively interfere into the settlement of the Abkhazian-Georgian conflict;
– on the 11th of August Sukhumi announced that its large-scale military exercises would be held on 15-19 of August. According to the Abkhazian Defense Minister Sultan Sosnaliev, the exercises were aimed at training to solve some tactical and field tasks, liquidation of the conditional enemy that would land its marines, as well as to use mobile and operative reserve units for preventing attacks both from the sea and the mountains;
– almost at the same time there appeared appeals by the Northern and Southern Ossetian NGOs to the Russian President Vladimir Putin on unification of both Ossetias, and the statement of more than 15 NGOs, members of the Coordination Committee of the Russian citizens in Abkhazia – the Russian, Armenian, Greek, Jewish, Polish and other communities addressed to Vladimir Putin with request to recognize Abkhazia as an independent state and solve the issue of its joining the Russian Federation on the basis of associative relations, as far as “Abkhazia has been with Russia since 1810.” The statement noted that “more than 80% of the population of the Republic of Abkhazia is citizens of Russia and the number of Russian citizens living in Abkhazia is growing every day.” The Coordination Committee of the NGOs of the Russian citizens in Abkhazia stressed that “Abkhazia is not within Georgia and is free in deciding its fate independently;”
– on the 12th of August a consultation office of the Pension Fund of Russian Federation started working in the Abkhazian town of Tkuarchel;
– the same day a truck of the Russian peace-keepers was detained near the bridge over the Inguri River by the servicemen of the Constitution Security Department of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic (this structure is functioning in exile in Tbilisi), and at the position of the Georgian law-enforcement bodies near the village of Tkviavi (the area of the Ossetian-Georgian conflict) the servicemen of the Russian battalion of the CIS Peacekeeping Force were also detained. In both cases they were accused in smuggling.
Although these events did not lead to a new aggravation of relations between Georgia and Russia and Georgia and Abkhazia, the Abkhazian Security Secretary Sergey Lakoba said no-one can rule out any use of force against Abkhazia. He also did not exclude that Georgian President can start some actions in the area of the Abkhazian conflict by his own initiative, which is «extremely dangerous, first of all for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipe-line.”
No surprise that the BTC was mentioned: first, the activity of the Kurdish movement has increased in Turkey, and the Turkish army is holding military and punitive actions just in the area of the BTC; second, Russia and Turkey have common interests in oil and gas transportation, and the Ukrainian and Georgian attempts to organize oil supplies from Supsa sea-port to Odessa are not in Moscow’s and Ankara’s interests. It is necessary to note that some US experts began to express their fears publicly that Russia and Turkey can unite their efforts in limiting the US influence in the Black Sea region. Chief Expert of the Center of Perspective Security Strategies, Hudson Institute, Richard Weitz argues that Russia and Turkey jointly can resist the US policy in such directions as deployment of the US anti-missile Navy in the Black Sea and initiation of “colored revolutions” in the neighboring countries.
In the context of the relations of Moscow, Washington and Ankara, according to Lakoba, Abkhazia is something like a “litmus paper, by means of which it is possible to predict the future of the Caucasus.” Although Abkhazia does not pose any interest from the view of energy projects due to its geographic location, however, as a link of the Russian-Iranian “North-South” initiative it plays a substantial role, and restoration of the rail-road line via Abkhazia to some extent decreases effectiveness of the East-West transport corridor.
Most probably, non-participation of the Georgian experts in checking the state of the rail-road in Abkhazia can be also viewed in the light of the negative attitude of the United States to the North-South strategic communication project. It also means that the process of restoration of the transit rail-road communication via Abkhazia will be torpedoed.
The rail-road Sochi-Sukhumi-Tbilisi is vital not only for Abkhazia and Georgia, but also for Armenia. In case if all agreements, reached in July, 2005, within the trilateral negotiations (Russia-Abkhazia-Georgia) started to work completely, our country would have got a direct access to the world markets via Georgia and Russia. Taking into account the complicated situation both within and around Turkey, it is possible to predict that the land “half-blockade” of Armenia can last for a long and indefinite perspective.
P.S. By the way, the above-quoted Security Council Secretary Sergey Lakoba noted that “the trends in Abkhazia, and therefore in the Black Sea region, will also have their importance for such states as Armenia as well. In 1919 there was a period when under the British Armenia had got an access to the sea – to Batumi. Now it is carefully veiled, probably, there is some re-assessment of landmarks.”
September 5, 2005