Russia’s Back Road to Georgia: To Trade or Invade?

Russia wants to revive a tsarist-era project for building a new road to Georgia, but Georgians remain uncertain about whether the intention has to do with transit for trade or tanks or both.

The topic was slotted for further discussion at a routine, October-16 meeting in Prague between Georgian and Russian officials, but details have not emerged.

The road, which would run from the restive Russian republic of Daghestan to Georgia’s Kakheti region, is meant as an alternative to the only fully functional road link between Georgia and Russia, known by its unfortunate historical name, the Georgian Military Highway.

The highway, at times barely two lanes, winds north through canyons and towering mountains in eastern Georgia, and is highly susceptible to the elements. Heavy snowfalls and landslides often block the road, leaving trucks queuing for weeks before they can go through.

To the west, there are two crossings into breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both of these passages are outside Tbilisi’s control and remain closed to international traffic.

Increased transit would bring more income for Georgia’s lackluster economy, and especially for Russian ally Armenia, which heavily relies on exports to Russia. But many  Georgians have qualms about giving their  enemy number-one more options to roll in the tanks should the 2008 war repeat itself. Particularly in the wake of the uproar over the proposed Abkhazia-Russia treaty.

The fact that several months before the 2008 invasion, then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrived in Daghestan and called for construction of this same road as another corridor to Georgia has offered little reassurance on this front.

After all, as Crimea and eastern Ukraine have gone to prove, Moscow is in an expansive mood these days.

So far, though, no official Georgian government discussion of the road-proposal has been held, Rustavi2 reported, but some indications suggest that all are not of one mind.

While the economy ministry mentions the need for an “alternative” road, the defense ministry intends to hold off on pinpointing its position until the matter is raised for discussion.  

Meanwhile, Moscow has been hyping the idea, with the Kremlin’s point man for talks with Georgia, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, speaking about the plans to Georgian journalists during their recent show-and-tell tour to Russia.

Georgia’s National Security Council Deputy Secretary Ivliane Khaindrava, however, has dismissed any qualms about the road, saying it’s a “soft-power” project for the Kremlin.

“Russian military bases are both in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali [South Ossetia], they have tanks and rockets there, and there in another base in the South [Armenia], and this is more than they need for a military aggression,” Khaindrava said, Netgazeti.ge reported.

Why Georgia would want to assist such a “soft-power” project is not clear. Khaindrava added, however, that careful consideration of the project is due.


Russia’s Back Road to Georgia: To Trade or Invade?

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