Karasin-Abashidze Audio Recording Sparks Opposition Criticism

In an audio recording leaked to the Georgian media outlets on February 1, Grigory Karasin, chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and Zurab Abashidze, the Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Russia, discuss the construction of a new road linking Russia and Georgia. Abashidze has confirmed the authenticity of the recording.

In the audio recording, Karasin tells Abashidze that the representatives of the Russian Transport Ministry are satisfied with the recent communication, which according to him, was “productive” and in which the sides expressed interest in solving the Zemo Larsi and other problems. He also noted that the Russian side wants to make this communication regular, hinting at the plan to construct a new corridor from the Krasnodar District to the left of “South Ossetia.”

In response to Karasin, Abashidze says that he does not know what new corridor in question was but that the construction of a highway that will run parallel to Larsi, with new roads and tunnels is currently underway, with one of the tunnels being 9km long, the longest in the Caucasus. Abashidze emphasized that the Armenian side has also shown interest in the matter and that Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan sent his minister to Larsi to talk with Russian counterparts. Abashidze expressed hope that the new highway will reduce traffic at the Georgian-Russian border.

Reacting to the opposition’s criticism over the audio recording, Abashidze said that the opponents will try “to portray it as a big scandal.” “If you listen carefully to what I am talking about, you will understand that we have such conservations when we face a force majeure at the border in terms of traffic; in such cases, we always contact each other,” he added.

The Abashidze-Karasin format was launched in December 2012 to address issues related to trade, economic, humanitarian and cultural aspects of bilateral relations – issues on which both Tbilisi and Moscow say it is possible to make progress. The launch of a direct dialogue with Russia, while it is still occupying Georgian territories, has often been criticized by the opposition. Moreover, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Georgian government has repeatedly been accused of evading sanctions against Russia.

Response by the Ministry of Infrastructure contacted the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure to clarify which specific road was implied in the audio recording. The Ministry said that it appears to be the construction of a 23km Kvesheti-Kobi road and tunnels. The Ministry asked to contact Abashidze for more details.

According to the information sent by the Ministry, within the framework of the Kvesheti-Kobi project, a 23-km two-lane asphalt-concrete road, five bridges and five tunnels are being built, and one bridge is being rehabilitated. “Among the tunnels, it is worth to mention the 9 km long and 15 m diameter tunnel, as it will be the largest in Georgia and one of the unique tunnels in the world.”

According to the Ministry of Infrastructure, the Kvesheti-Kobi road project is being implemented with the support of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and its total cost is GEL 1.2 billion. The project is expected to be completed by 2024.

“The new road will allow inhabitants of up to 10 villages in the Khadi valley to stay connected to the outside world in winter. The road will no longer be closed and locals will have access to all necessary services,” the Ministry added.

Political assessments

The ruling party said it saw no problem in the Abashidze-Karasin conversation and accused opponents of artificially creating a hype. “Is it new that Karasin and Abashidze are communicating? For me, there is nothing new in it, because statements in this regard are made openly,” Kakha Kaladze, Tbilisi Mayor and Secretary General of the Georgian Dream party, said.

“Nothing will happen secretly from the Georgian people. This format exists, as well as other relations’ formats that exist between countries at war,” Parliament’s Vice Speaker Gia Volski told reporters.

MP Salome Samadashvili of Lelo for Georgia party said that Abashidze should be summoned to the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Relations and provide full information about what projects the Russian government is asking him to implement. In the situation, when the Georgian government “thoroughly” executes Russia’s all the tasks“ we should assume that other tasks, including the expansion of the transport corridor will begin in the near future.”

Giorgi Vashadze of “Strategy Agmashenebeli said that “we have officially cut diplomatic relations with Russia, but Georgian Dream is secretly talking to them against Georgia’s national interests. If you hide something, if you do something secretly, it is a confirmation of a crime, in this particular case,” he noted.

Elene Khoshtaria of the Droa party said that Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party, was “secretly pursuing Russian policy.” “The most important thing is what we do, whether we tolerate the betrayal and seizure of our national interests by this pro-Russian government,” she said, calling on the public to join the rally planned for February 24.

Zurab Japaridze, the founder of the Girchi – More Freedom party, said that “the audio recording shows what we already knew, that Bidzina Ivanishvili is talking to Russia. The problem is that we do not know what these negotiations are about… the bigger problem is that we got used to it, as if it is a normal development, when Ivanishvili agrees with the number one enemy of this country about who knows what.”

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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