mikheil saakashvili

President Mikheil Saakashvili claims the idea to reopen the old railway line through Abkhazia is a Russian game. (Interpressnews.)

TBILISI, DFWatch — President Mikheil Saakashvili says he will agree to open the railway line through Georgia’s breakaway region Abkhazia on one condition only: that the Russian occupation of Abkhazia is brought to an end.

Otherwise, opening the railway will mean making the occupation of Abkhazia legal, the Georgian president said Monday as he met with refugees from Abkhazia — youth, teachers and professors.

“Where will the Georgian border police stand?” he asked. “As long as there is no answer to this question, this railway will be a springboard for conquering the Caucasus, gaining influence over Armenia and Azerbaijan, and giving Russia access to Iran.”

Early in November, Georgia’s minister for reintegration said the government should support restoring overland transportation with Russia through breakaway Abkhazia.

The railway connection between Russia and Georgia was closed in the 1990s during years of war and turmoil. It is one of two rail links Russia had to the South Caucasus and countries further south, like Iran. The only alternative line, through Azerbaijan, runs through North Caucasus republics where the security situation makes it dangerous to use.

The reintegration minister said it is necessary to solve the problem by economic means.

“If we agreed to restore railway traffic, for years many refugees will return to Abkhazia and no one will prevent them, even without official agreement,” Paata Zakareishvili said.

But opponents criticized him for saying this, and Saakashvili called the idea of reopening the Abkhazian railway a ‘Russian game’. He said the government should think this issue through.

During the election campaign in the summer and fall of 2012, Bidzina Ivanishvili promised as leader of an opposition coalition that one of the first things he would do if he won was to reopen the Abkhazian railway to make Russian markets accessible to Abkhazians and Georgians, as a necessary step towards creating economic growth.

In an interview with Radio Liberty during a recent visit to Armenia, Bidzina Ivanishvili said he thinks the Abkhazian railway will be opened.

“There is full readiness from our side nowadays,” he said adding that there are positive signals from Abkhazians as well.

“It is necessary that the other participants, Armenia, Russia and Abkhazia, all on whom all these are dependent, should express readiness and in this case this issue will be solved soon,” Ivanishvili said.

But President Saakashvili is strongly against it, and told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on January 21 that it would mean changing Georgia’s strategic orientation away from Europe.