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The President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, talked about the details of Tbilisi Summit 2014 on TV Imedi on 20 May 2014. While talking about the common plans shared by Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, Margvelashvili focused upon the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway and stated the following: ”This (Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi) is the railway through which the ISAF Mission will depart from Afghanistan.”

FactCheck

got interested in the President’s statement and sought to verify its accuracy.

According to Georgian Railway,

the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi project comprises a transport corridor which will connect the railway lines of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. As a result of the implementation of this project, the rail corridor will open a route from the Caspian Sea to Europe, bypassing Turkey, which will eventually eliminate the need for transportation by the sea as soon as the construction of the railway tunnel passing the Bosporus Strait will be completed in Istanbul. The Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi project will also enable the opening of a corridor which will connect Russia to Turkey. This line includes both freight and passenger transfers and is considered an alternative way for freight transportation instead of the existing transit routes from Iran.

image001 Source: Georgian Railway, www.railway.ge

Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey started the implementation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway highway corridor in 2007. It includes the rehabilitation-reconstruction of the Marabda-Akhalkalaki railway line located on Georgian territory and the construction of a new railway line from the Akhalkalaki station to the Karsi station. There is a railway line to Akhalkalaki-Kartsakhi (at the Turkish border) from the Akhalkalaki-Karsi territory on the Georgian side. Additionally, the project considers the construction of a new railway station in Akhalkalaki.

It should be noted that in 2007, former Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, met with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey at the official opening ceremony of the railway project in the village of Marabda and stated that he assumed the construction of the railway would be finished earlier than planned; that is, before the end of his second term as President. Later, the construction completion date was postponed several times to 2013, then 2014 and finally 2015.

Liberali

magazine published an article on the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway in which it indicated that the project should have been finished by the end of 2010 but the completion date was changed several times owing to financial, political and geographical encountered. According to the article: ”The Head of the Azerbaijan Oil State Fund, Shakhmar Movsusov, names the strained political situation in Georgia as one of the reasons hindering the construction of the railway. There are other reasons for the delay as well: oil prices became less expensive after 2007 on several occasions and the revenues from the oil sales significantly decreased which often caused a stoppage of the funding for the project. Additionally, technical problems also occurred. During the construction of the tunnel connecting Georgia and Turkey, it turned out that the tunnel would have been located in a hazardous zone and so the project was changed.”

The pace of the construction of the railway line has become a subject of criticism by the opposition. Marabda-Kartsakhi Railway Ltd did not ignore the criticism expressed regarding the pace of construction. The company stated several reasons for the halting of the construction work such as severe climate and environmental conditions and the slow work pace of the old leadership as well as a misappropriation of funds and embezzlement by them. The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia confirmed with Factcheck

that as of 6 May, the Office’s Investigation Unit has been investigating the legalisation of illicit income at its Division of Criminal prosecution on the case of the misappropriation of funds owned by the company and their legalisation by the leadership and authorised individuals of Marabda-Kartsakhi Ltd; that is, concealing its illicit origin and the legalisation of illicit income for the purpose of camouflaging property rights. In addition, all of this was linked to the acquiring of a large amount of income.

According to the information provided to us by Marabda-Kartsakhi Railway Ltd about the construction dates of the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway, as of 21 March, 36.5% of the project work has been done. The construction is underway at all planned stages and the completion of the project is scheduled as follows:

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Marabda-Tetritskaro (1st stage) – 30 June 2014

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Tetritskaro-Tsalka (2nd stage) – 30 December 2014

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Tsalka-Akhalkalaki (3rd stage) – 30 June 2015

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Railway station – 30 December 2015

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Akhalkalaki station – 30 December 2015

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Akhalkalaki-Kartsakhi – 30 December 2015

As for the idea of transporting Afghan cargo through this railway line, this route was initially considered as an alternative which would serve NATO’s cargo. Based upon the strategy agreed at the NATO Chicago Summit in 2012 and the Lisbon Summit

in 2010, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization decided that the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) Mission would finish by the end of 2014 and the Organisation would continue supporting Afghanistan with a reduced scale representation within a different format. The idea of using Georgia’s transport potential for the transportation of NATO’s cargo has existed since this period. The former Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, referred to the importance of Afghan cargo for the Georgian economy as a response to the criticism voiced of the construction pace of the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway.

Maia Panjikidze, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, made a proposal once again on 23 April 2013 at the NATO Ministerial Meeting in Brussels about Georgia’s involvement in the reverse transit of NATO’s Afghanistan mission’s cargo. According to Radio Liberty, during her speech, Maia Panjikidze, emphasized Georgia’s absolute readiness to actively cooperate with NATO after the end of the military mission.”Georgia is offering NATO the shortest route to transit soldiers and cargo from Afghanistan. This route will be ready by the end of this year. This is the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway and I talked about this in my speech at the ISAF Meeting.”

FactCheck

talked to Konstantine Ninidze, Director of Marabda-Kartsakhi Railway Ltd about the construction process of the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway and its potential freight.

According to him, the test train passing down the railway line is set for the end of 2014. After this it will be possible to start the work to transit the cargo. Ninidze added that if the weather cooperates with favorable conditions, construction is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015. He said that some sections of the railway are constructed during some of the most difficult climatic conditions and gave the example that the territory of Ninotsminda is located at 2,100 meters above sea level and the territory of Akhalkalaki at 2,000 meters above sea level. He also highlighted that this is the highest elevation railway line in Europe. Marabda-Kartsakhi Ltd was unable to specify which cargos will be transported on this railway.

It was stated at the 18th

Coordination Council meeting held in Baku, Azerbaijan on 24 February 2014 with the purpose of addressing the rehabilitation, reconstruction and construction of the Marabda-Kartsakhi railway section that the test train passing down the railway line is set for the end of 2014 and its commissioning is scheduled for 2015.

Oleg Bichiashvili, General Director of Marabda-Kartsakhi Ltd, stated on 12 September 2013 that the shipping of Afghan cargo by means of the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway line will probably not be achieved on time due to the fact that the transit of the Afghan cargo is schedule for 2014 and the opening of the railway will not be achieved by 2015.

FactCheck

contacted the President’s Administration for further comments on this issue. Our questions concerned the potential shipments of the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway, the significance and role of this railway line for the NATO ISAF Mission in Afghanistan and the future ISAF missions as well as the activities implemented for attracting cargo. The Press Office of the President’s Administration indicated in its reply that this issue falls under the competence of the government.

The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia verifies the information that the Government of Georgia has offered NATO the use of the Aghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia route for the withdrawal of the Alliance’s ISAF Mission and cargo. According to the Ministry, this includes the transit of the abovementioned cargo from Turkey to Europe after the end of the construction of the new Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway line. However, we could not obtain information about any kind of specific agreement on the use of the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway by NATO.

Conclusion

The construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway is scheduled for completion at the end of 2015 and the test train passing down the railway line is set for the end of 2014. The NATO ISAF Mission finishes at the end of 2014. The withdrawal of the Alliance’s cargo from Afghanistan is planned for the end of 2014.

According to Marabda-Kartsakhi Railway Ltd, the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway is planned to start functioning by the end of 2015. In addition, Oleg Bichiashvili, Director of the company, stated back in September 2013 that the shipping of Afghan cargo by means of this railway line will probably not be achieved on time.

The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia verifies the information that Georgia has offered NATO the use of this railway for the withdrawal of the Alliance’s cargo. However, we could not obtain information about any kind of specific agreement on this issue.

The official offer by the Government of Georgia to use the Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi railway for the withdrawal of the ISAF Mission cargo exists which could have been the basis for President Margvelashvili’s statement. In addition, we cannot exclude the theoretical possibility that the Alliance might use this railway line to withdraw its cargo from Afghanistan. However, FactCheck

was unable to obtain information about any kind of specific agreement which would verify the accuracy of the statement.

Accordingly, we conclude that President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s statement, “This (Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi) is the railway through which the ISAF Mission will depart from Afghanistan,” is HALF TRUE.

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