Roki tunnel before the repair work. (Interpressnews.)

TBILISI, DFWatch–Russia has reopened a strategically important tunnel through the Caucasus mountain range after a full-scale overhaul that has taken two and a half years and cost USD 400 million.

According to Russian officials, equipment had been moved from the Olympic construction sites in Sochi in order to carry out the reconstruction of Roki tunnel, which connects Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia with its Russian sister North Ossetia-Alania, an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation.

Roki tunnel was badly damaged during the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, and reconstructing it has cost about USD 400 million so far, while an additional USD 30 million will be required to finalize the work in the parallel maintenance tunnel, which served as the main passage road during the last two and a half years.

All costs have been borne by Russia.

A solemn opening ceremony took place at the main passage of Roki tunnel last Wednesday and was attended by leaders of “both Ossetias”, as well as the Russian minister for transportation.

The construction of Roki tunnel was finished in 1985. It is 3,660 meters long and lies at 2,000 meters altitude.

The tunnel has great significance for Tskhinvali and their northern counterparts in Vladikavkaz as a symbol of the unity of ‘the two Ossetias’.

It is one of only a handful of passages through the main range of the Caucasus mountains, and could thus have connected Russia’s North Caucasus with the South Caucasus republics and further with Turkey and the rest of the Middle East, although it does not play that role today due to the political situation.

Now Roki serves solely as a connection between South Ossetia and Russia, as it is not possible to travel through South Ossetia to or from Georgia proper.

The only road that currently serves as a passage through the Caucasus range goes through the Jvari pass, from North Ossetia to Georgia’s tiny town of Stephantsminda, via Larsi border crossing; the road Russians call the Georgian Military Road.