The Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi submitted to the Georgian Foreign Ministry on May 24 a proposal by the Russian Foreign Ministry to reopen the Verkhny/Zemo Lars border crossing between Georgia and the Russian Federation. Switzerland has represented Russia's diplomatic interests in Georgia since August 2008, when Georgia unilaterally severed diplomatic ties to protest Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
Russia closed Verkhny Lars, allegedly for extensive reconstruction, in July 2006 as relations with Georgia deteriorated
. The reconstruction work was completed earlier this month. The only other two border crossings between Russia and Georgia are in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and therefore outside Georgian control.
Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Shota Gvineria was quoted
on May 26 as saying Georgia has responded affirmatively to the Russian proposal, and talks could begin soon "at the expert level." Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said Georgia will insist on Swiss participation in those talks. Vashadze expressed concern that if Russia indeed opens the Verkhny Lars border crossing, it might close it again almost immediately.
Akaki Minashvili, who heads the Georgian parliamentary committee for foreign relations, attributed Russia's offer to reopen the border crossing to pressure brought to bear by Western countries that support Georgia.
Armenia has been pressuring Tbilisi for months to agree to open the border; doing so would restore the most direct overland communication between Russia and Armenia. Armenian Transport and Communications Minister Gurgen Sarkisian said opening the Verkhny Lars crossing was a purely political decision and contingent on a thaw in Russian-Georgian relations.
Restoring overland communication with Armenia via Georgia will be increasingly attractive and beneficial to Russia if, as many hope, the ongoing process of tentative rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey culminates in the opening of the border between those two countries, which has been closed since 1993.