In an interview with Tert.am, a Deputy Minister of Transport admitted that closed negotiations are now under way over the relaunch of the Abkhazian railway, with Armenia being directly involved and actively interested in the process.
Arthur Arakelyan said he finds that the question pursues more political rather than economic interests, adding that the recent developments inspire positive hopes for progress.
Mr Arakelyan, rumors on the re-operation of the Abkhazian railways have been quite active recently. At what stage is the process now?
Yes, both the Armenian side and the Russians and Georgians strongly emphasize the importance of implementing this project, the re-establishment of the railway connection with the Abkhazian section. There have recently been greater chances for reassuring statements, particularly positive signals by CEO of Russian Railways [Vladimir] Yakunin. Because the negotiations are closed, i.e. – the issue is more political than economic, the problem here has to do with agreements between the Georgian and Abkhazzian authorities. So you probably understand that it is an intricate tangle. Armenia’s Ministry of Transport and Communication too, is involved in those processes, and we are hopeful that we will be able to issue a statement for our society soon.
Opinions are heard that the Abkhazian side is more opposed to the railway’s re-opening, with the Georgian side being more inclined to a rapid solution.
You know, there are two very contradictory positions here in terms of the border crossing – where that border’s crossing point is and where the stamp is put. But I repeat that the topic is sensitive for either side, both the Georgians and the Abkhazians, and there are numerous other problems as well.
Are there any estimates as to the sum required for the re-operation?
Sums will be required, of course, as it [the railway]has stood idle for over 20 years now and has many damaged sections, but I am confident that there will be no problems in case they offer a solution. There are available estimates, but they strictly differ. No specific planning activities have been carried out; hence we do not have final calculations. But I repeat again, we still refrain from statements not to harm the positive processes. We are hopeful, however, that it will be possible as the presidents of all our countries – Russia, Armenia and Georgia – attach a major importance to the project.
Have the economic benefits for Armenia been estimated?
Considerable benefits are expected of course. As we know today that the railway communication with Russia is very complicated. A ferry boat is used for shipping the cargo to the Russian territory which raises the prices in a very unprecedented manner. So there will be a very interesting project should the Russian railway operate in such circumstances.
And what accounts for the other side’s interest?
Of course, all the sides have their own interests. Georgia will become a transit country, benefiting from considerable advantages. But I mention again that exclusively political factors are an obstacle here.
And when do you think are the estimated timeframes?
I am not used to making predictions of the kind; once everything is clear, we’ll make a statement about it. In technical terms – in case an assessment is needed – that’s a matter of a very short period.