09TBILISI1101, GEORGIA: FIRST STEPS TOWARDS RE-OPENING THE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI1101 2009-06-16 13:08 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO0591
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1101/01 1671308
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 161308Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1740
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFISS/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/US CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001101 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/01/2019 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PBTS RS GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: FIRST STEPS TOWARDS RE-OPENING THE 
KAZBEGI BORDER CROSSING 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (b) AND (d). 
 
1. (C) Summary and Comment.  The Government of Georgia 
announced May 26 that negotiations with Russia were underway 
to open the border at Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi, the only land 
border point of entry with Russia in the undisputed territory 
of Georgia.  Russia closed the border in June 2006 in order 
to renovate their facilities, ut recently announced that 
this construction was complete.  Reportedly, the Government 
of Armenia sent a formal letter to Russia requesting that 
Russia open the border, and Russia, in turn, notified the 
Georgians through the Swiss Embassy that they were ready to 
negotiate on the issue.  The opening of the border would not 
only facilitate movement between Georgia and Russia, but 
would also benefit the Armenian economy, which was negatively 
affected by the August 2008 conflict.  While the opening of 
the border would not by itself be a catalyst for the 
establishment of normal relations between Georgia and Russia, 
it would at least represent a modest confidence-building 
measure, something currently in short supply.  End summary 
and comment. 
 
ARMENIANS SEEK BORDER OPENING 
 
2. (C) Armenia reportedly initiated discussions on the 
border, sending a formal letter of request to the Russians 
asking that the Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi border be reopened. 
According to Kakha Chitaia, Deputy Chief of European Affairs 
at the Georgian Foreign Ministry, Russia then verbally 
conveyed to Georgia on May 20 through the Swiss Embassy, 
following up in writing on May 25, that it had completed 
construction of the facility at the Zemo Larsi checkpoint on 
the Russian border across from the Georgian town of Kazbegi 
and was ready to start negotiations on reopening the border. 
The Georgians responded, also via the Swiss Embassy, with a 
verbal agreement to meet with the Russians to discuss this. 
 
3.  (C)  Chitaia said the Russians were quite surprised by 
the response, prompting them to ask several seemingly minor 
questions about the process.  These questions suggested to 
the Georgian Government that the Russians did not expect the 
initial positive reply, and that they are not in fact sincere 
about opening the border.  One of the issues raised by the 
Russians was whether there would be a Swiss flag present at 
the negotiations site.  According to Chitaia, Russia wants to 
convey the impression that relations are as normal as 
possible, and therefore does not want the Swiss flag present. 
 Chitaia dryly noted to poloffs that there are already two 
Russian flagged embassies on Georgian territory, and they do 
not need another one.  Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol 
Vashadze said publicly that reopening the checkpoint is in 
the national interests of Georgia, as it would allow the 
local population to travel unhindered to and from Russia and 
Georgia.  Although the Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesperson 
noted at a press conference at the end of May that 
negotiations were already underway, according to other MFA 
officials, they are still awaiting an official response from 
Russia on starting negotiations. 
 
4. (C) The Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi border point, which has been 
closed since June 2006, is the only land traffic point of 
entry between Russia and Georgia that is not in the disputed 
territories of Abkhazia or South Ossetia.  The opening of the 
border would benefit not only the local populations, who 
often have relatives on the other side, but the economy of 
Qoften have relatives on the other side, but the economy of 
Armenia as well.  Since the closing of the border in 2006, 
Armenia has been forced to send its exports on a long, 
circuitous and expensive route through Georgia across the 
Black Sea to eventually reach Russia. 
 
GEORGIAN CONSTRUCTION EFFORTS 
 
5. (C) EmbOffs met with representatives from the United 
States Army Corps of Engineers, the Georgian Revenue Service 
and the Georgian Patrol Police regarding the construction of 
the facility at Kazbegi on the Georgian side of the border. 
The Kazbegi facility is funded by the United States through 
the Georgian Border Security and Law Enforcement Program and 
was built under the supervision of the Corps of Engineers. 
The facility was due to be completed in May 2009, but damage 
to the main road to Kazbegi caused by a rockslide in the 
spring of 2009 has affected the delivery of some key 
materials and equipment for the construction project.  The 
completion date has now been pushed to late July 2009. 
Efforts are currently underway within the Georgian government 
to repair the damaged road as quickly as possible.  It is not 
yet clear, however, whether the political negotiations will 
be complete by July 2009.  At a follow-up meeting in Kazbegi, 
EmbOffs encountered an MFA official, who said that he was 
looking at the border facilities in anticipation of 
 
TBILISI 00001101  002 OF 002 
 
 
negotiatio
ns with the Russians, which were being planned for 
both sides of the border in the near future. 
TEFFT

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