Border with Russia to reopen, Georgian foreign ministry says
Georgia and Russia have agreed to re-open the only land border crossing between the two countries which does not go through Georgia's Russian-backed rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia's foreign ministry has announced.
AFP - Georgia and Russia have agreed to re-open their land border to traffic, Georgia's foreign ministry said Thursday, in the first sign of a thaw in relations after their bitter war last year.
The two countries reached a deal under Swiss mediation to re-open the Upper Lars checkpoint, which was closed in 2006, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze said.
It is the only land border crossing that does not go through Georgia's Russian-backed rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were the focus of the 2008 conflict.
"The decision to re-open (the border) has been made," she told journalists, adding that Georgia expects the crossing to re-open by the beginning of March.
Kalandadze said the agreement would allow Georgian citizens and cargo to cross the border and that a formal protocol on re-opening the crossing would be finalised within two weeks.
Russia closed the Upper Lars checkpoint in 2006 in a move Georgian officials said was politically motivated amid tensions over Tbilisi's efforts to build closer ties with the West, particularly NATO.
Tensions erupted in August 2008, when Russian forces poured into Georgia to repel a Georgian military attempt to retake South Ossetia, which had received extensive backing from Moscow for years.
Russia later mostly withdrew to within South Ossetia and another rebel Georgian region, Abkhazia, which Moscow recognised as independent states, a move that has so far been followed by only Nicaragua, Venezuela and the Pacific island state of Nauru.
The other two roads linking Georgia and Russia run through South Ossetia and Abkhazia, effectively barring them to international traffic.
The closing of the Upper Lars crossing also dealt a heavy blow to neighbouring Armenia, which relied on the crossing as its only overland route to Russia, the country's key economic partner.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hinted at a thaw in relations with Georgia earlier this month, saying he saw "no obstacles" to opening the Upper Lars crossing and resuming direct flights between Russia and Georgia.
Russia cut air links with Georgia during the war, only four months after they had resumed following an 18-month embargo.
Georgia's flagship airline this week asked Russia to lift the embargo but has yet to receive a reply.
Privately owned Georgian Airways said in a statement that the company had requested the resumption of charter flights between Moscow and Tbilisi for the holiday period of December 26 to January 15 and the resumption of regular flights starting from January 5.