Georgian-Russian Border Crossing Requires Closer Scrutiny
“Russia makes very bad cars, but very good weapons”
Joni Simonshvili/Jeffrey K. Silverman
“Abiyev told the Ambassador about his late-January trip to Moscow to discuss Azerbaijan’s allegations that Russia had made extensive weapons transfers to Armenia throughout 2008. In formal meetings, Abiyev said, his Russian counterpart stuck to the talking points and denied any involvement. However, “after the second bottle of vodka,” that evening, he said, the Russians opened up and admitted to having transferred weapons to Armenia. In an interesting side note, Abiyev quoted Serdyukov as saying: “Do you follow the orders of your President?...Well, I follow the orders of two Presidents.”
As posted earlier, [snip]
In late July I took time off to check out allegations of weapons from the Russian Federation crossing into Georgian territory for use in Armenia, and even perhaps for resale to Iran. Even though I live in Georgia, getting to see unforgettable scenery and gaining a bit of insight into the “bigger picture” of Russian-Georgian-political-economic relations is eye-opening.
The timing for this article may be important as it comes on the day when Azerbaijan told three Armenian and two Azerbaijani soldiers have been killed in fighting on the flashpoint border of Azerbaijan’s pro-Armenian breakaway enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, as provided by various media sources. As always, the other side is guilty and nobody even starts a war. It is said that the account providing by each of the conflicting sides has not been independently verified.
I saw only Armenian and Ukrainian trucks crossing the border during my short visit, as relations are still soured between Georgia and the Russian Federation, at least on an official level. One Armenian truck coming from Russia, after being custom cleared, was under escort of the Georgian police. How friendly? I now have greater degree of insight as to the possible reason why the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs refused a US contactor, NORC, University of Chicago, permission to conduct road and cross border transit research at this border crossing, as it might prove too revealing. However, the same permission was granted for all other international road border crossings. No official explanation was given, only a blank refusal. It is not difficult to understand why and this is linked to the highest authority in Georigan State Security, and this poses a threat to regiona and US National Security.
It would be curious to know what was inside this and other trucks, especially as this is an important crossing point for Armenia, and Armenian borders Iran. I could only speculate the worst and from an Armenian website I learned about Gagik Aghajanyan, Executive Director of National Cargo Services Company Apaven, dismissing any allegations of illicit goods passing the border during a press conference held earlier this year.
Quoting, “earlier Georgian experts said that the opening of the Upper Lars Kazbegi checkpoint on the Russian-Georgian border is beneficial neither for Georgia nor for Armenia but rather for Russia to supply weaponry to its military base in Armenia's second-largest town of Gyumri.”
The only official viewpoint has been represented by Georgia's ambassador to Armenia, as quoted in the Armenian press. Naturally there might be some real concerns as to the utility of the Upper Lars Kazbeki checkpoint, and is the transit more beneficial for Georgia or Armenia. The title of one article in Armenian was that “We-should-politicize-the-operation-of-the-Upper-Lars-Checkpoint.” It is highly possible that it could be closed down should it serve a third purpose. http://www.armenians.net/news/view/article/10216/We-Should-Better-Not-Politicize-the-Operation-of-Upper-Lars-Checkpoint/11
His comments are worrying, and because Georgia has long been recognized as a transit point for illegal trade and relations between its neighbors are tensed. I would think that it would be in the direct interest of Western law enforcement and intelligence services to understand such possible conduits. Aside from possible ‘other purposes’, the dire state of cross border trade with Georgia can be easily seen by an empty trade terminal in Kabegi that had once been overflowing with petty traders.
In short, it is going difficult to rectify open borders with the current level of recriminations between both Georgia and the Russian Federation, and especially considering that Georgia is playing a double game with its friendly/dirty relations with Iran. It’s also difficult to ignore the unbridled antagonism which the government of Georgia seems to persist in showing towards their northern neighbor, and how this border does not appear to benefit Georgia, at least officially. Moreover, unoffically it benefits many members of the Georigan govenment and those in the security agencies.
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