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Georgian authorities have denied plans outlined on Chechen state TV to construct a second border crossing between Georgia and Russia linking Khevsureti with Chechnya.
Chechen state-run TV channel Grozny TV claimed on 2 December that local authorities had begun renovating a road to connect the southern Russian republic’s Itum-Kali District with Georgia.
The road, which runs along the River Argun, would potentially cross the border near the Georgian village of Shatili, connecting Chechnya with Georgia’s historical Khevsureti region in the northeast of the country.
Zurab Abashidze, the Special Representative of the Prime Minister of Georgia for relations with Russia, said he had not heard anything about a new border crossing with Russia.
‘Nowhere, in any format, has this topic been discussed’, Abashidze told OC Media.
Georgia’s Foreign Ministry referred OC Media to Abashidze’s comments.
Construction of the 66-kilometre Grozny–Shatoy–Itum-Kali–Shatili motorway was included in Chechnya’s 2012 social and economic development strategy, to be completed by 2025.
In April, Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov said that Chechen tourism would benefit from the opening of the motorway, as it would attract tourists from the Arab world to their resorts. He expressed a hope that Russia would support the idea at an international level.
According to the Grozny TV report, the road still has several kilometres to be constructed before reaching the Georgian border, but that this is underway.
Citing close cultural ties between Chechens and Georgians, the programme noted that building ‘the big road uniting Russia and Georgia in these mountains is predetermined by history itself’.
It also portrayed the potential cross-border road as an alternative to what is traditionally called the Georgian Military Highway, which passes through Stepantsminda and Verkhny Lars.
The Lars border crossing on the Tbilisi–Vladikavkaz highway is the only official crossing between Georgia and Russia.
‘As I understand it, the interest that is now being expressed by the Chechen authorities, Georgian authorities, and the authorities of the Russian Federation, has a big, positive future’, Chechen history professor Yavus Akhmadov told Grozny TV.
The Chechen authorities and Russian Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
An unfinished road
During a visit to Georgia in 1998, Russian Interior Minister Sergey Stepashin stated that Russia was ‘not preoccupied with the Grozny–Tbilisi motorway’ but that ‘it could preoccupy Tbilisi soon’.
Ultimately, the Georgian authorities refused to build their own several-kilometre section leading from Shatili to the Russian border.
In 1999, then–Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili stated that Georgia would open the motorway ‘after political relations between Russia and its subject, Chechnya, are finally settled’.
During the mid to late 1990s, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria was a de facto independent state.
Later in 1999, Russian air forces heavily bombed Itum-Kali and the road to Georgia, after the Kremlin insisted it was an arms supply channel from Georgia and Azerbaijan to Chechnya.
The Georgian government accused Russia of shelling areas near Shatili and violating their airspace.
In a 2012 interview with Rossiya 24 following parliamentary elections lost by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement party, Kadyrov blamed ‘strained relations’ with the Georgian president as an obstacle to completing the road.
Two years later, during an annual press conference in December, the Chechen leader again spoke publicly in favour of building the southern road. Kadyrov said he also wanted a railway to connect Chechnya and Georgia.