Russia, Georgia re-open border in Armenia-mediated deal

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Tuesday March 09, 2010

View of the Russian checkpoint at Russian-Georgian border. Itar Tass-Photolure

Washington - On ground traffic between Russia and Georgia resumed via Lars check-point on March 1 after a three-year closure, also restoring Armenia's ground communications with Russia and Europe, regional news agencies have reported.

The move came after more than six months of low-key negotiations between Russian and Georgian officials, held mostly in the Armenian capital, since both countries have refused to resume direct official contacts.

Further underscoring Armenia's interest, President Serge Sargsyan visited Georgia on eve of the opening.

Russia first closed the border in early 2007, ostensibly for repairs, but also as retaliation against Georgia after it detained Russian diplomats on charges of espionage.  

While repairs have long been completed the border remained closed as Russian-Georgian relations worsened on the eve and especially in the aftermath of August 2008 war, when all diplomatic and economic ties were severed.

Russian leaders have since refused to deal with the Georgian government as long as incumbent President Mikhail Saakashvili remains in power, while Mr. Saakashvili has made relations with Russia contingent on Russian military's withdrawal from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway states that Moscow has recognized as independent.

In spite of these fundamental disagreements, in May 2009 Russia proposed to discuss border opening and protracted talks have been underway since then.

Earlier this year, Russia allowed several direct charter flights from Tbilisi to Moscow and there are expectations that direct scheduled flights might resume soon.

Since 2008 war air travel between Russia and Georgia has been conducted primarily via Yerevan.

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