TBILISI (Combined Sources)-Speaking Wednesday at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Georgian section of the Baku-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway in the village of Marabda, the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey said the regional railway project is of "historic importance" and will be a link between Asia and Europe through the Caucasus.
"This is a huge project," Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said. "Many doubted about the implementation of this project. But from the very first day of my presidency–together with my colleagues from Turkey and Azerbaijan–I worked to make this project a reality."
This project, Saakashvili said, is a geopolitical revolution. Chinese cargo, currently being transported to Europe via the Trans- Siberian railway in Russia, will now move via this route.
"I think construction of the railway will be over much earlier before my second [five-year] term of presidency expires and I will be able to open this railway and become the first passenger of this route," Saakashvili said.
In his speech Turkish President Abdullah G?l, thanked President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, for, as he put it, his "important role" in making the project real.
"Kazakhstan has pledged to transit 10 million in cargo per year through this route," Abdullah G?l said.
Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, noted that the project was not directed against any third country. "On the contrary the project will boost regional cooperation… and security in the region,"
Armenia, however, has been completely neglected in the construction of the Baku-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway. Yerevan had been pushing for the reopening of Kars-Gumri-Tbilisi railway, a cheaper and more effective route of transit. The new railway is seen as another attempt to completely isolate Armenia in the region.
The Baku-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway is expected to fully replace the now inactive Kars-Gumri-Tbilisi line, which was the only rail route the USSR used to reach Turkey. The soviet era route was closed after Ankara unilaterally imposed a blockade on Armenia due to the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In January Azerbaijan agreed to loan $200 million to Georgia to finance construction of its portion of a railway. Georgia will have to repay the loan with 1% annual interest within 25 years.
An Azerbaijani company, Azerinshat Service, will be constructing the Georgian section of the railway, which will link Azerbaijan with Turkey via Georgia.
A 29 kilometer-long railway will be constructed on Georgian territory from Akhalkalaki to the Turkish border, and a 192-kilometer portion of already existing railway infrastructure will be rehabilitated in the frames of the project.
The Georgian and Turkish Presidents also signed two agreemen’s–one on free trade and the to avoid double taxation.