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The leader of the Democratic Movement for a United Georgia, Nino Burjanadze, on air on Rustavi 2 TV, stated: “Georgia has to use its geo-economic and geo-strategic position in a way to make sure that economic corridors go through Georgia’s territory… Putin, the President of Azerbaijan and the President of Iran have met each other and elaborated a plan for a very important transport corridor which envisages the transportation of a trillion USD worth of trade goods from India to Europe, via Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia. This project passed Georgia by several kilometres.” Responding to a journalist’s question about whether or not was it possible to have this corridor going through Georgia’s territory, Nino Burjanadze stated: “Yes, of course.”

FactCheck

took interest in the accuracy of the statement.

Nino Burjanadze’s statement refers to the trilateral meeting between Vladimir Putin, Hasan Rouhani and Ilham Aliyev on 8 August 2016 where the presidents discussed the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) among other issues.

The north-south multi modal transport corridor was established in 2000 by Iran, Russia and India and includes naval, railway and automobile routes from the Indian Ocean to Europe. The total length of the corridor is 7,200 kilometres and the agreement was ratified in 2002. The project envisages several routes with the India-Iran-Azerbaijan-Russia route being the most significant. Part of this route should be an Iran-Azerbaijan-Russia railway link with Azerbaijan’s section being planned to be completed by the end of 2016.

At the initial stage, it is planned to transport 5 million tonnes of cargo through this corridor and in the future it can be increased to up to 10 million tonnes.

Nino Burjanadze’s statement was interesting for FactCheck

in three aspects.

First: Normative regulations of the membership. The official website

of the projects says that membership in the project is implemented in several steps. At the beginning, an application is submitted and later the founding countries ratify the application and grant the membership package. The majority of the regional countries, including Armenia and Azerbaijan, submitted their membership applications in 2001 whilst Ukraine and Turkey, the most recent applicants, submitted their bids for membership in 2003 and 2004, respectively.  Therefore, Georgia was supposed to declare its political will for membership at the time when Nino Burjanadze was the Speaker of the Parliament and later the Acting President of Georgia as well. However, Georgia did not submit a membership application to the INSTC at that time.

Second: Whether or not it was possible to have the Iran-Russia route going through Georgia.

A land connection between Russia and Iran through the South Caucasus is possible through transit routes. First, this is through the Caspian Sea to Iran’s ports (Anzal and Amirabad). Second, it is across the Caspian Sea through Dagestan and Azerbaijan and third, the route can be from North Ossetia to Georgia through Georgia’s military road, via the Jvari Pass, and then through Armenia and Iran. However, it is also possible to reach Iran through Georgia and Azerbaijan but this option is 200 kilometres longer as compared to the second option and is less cost-efficient.

Of note is that Azerbaijan was not involved in the initial project although the test model after Azerbaijan’s membership demonstrated that it was possible to save

up to USD 2,500 for each 15 tonnes of cargo transported to Baku.

According to the assessment of the Head of the European and Euroatlantic Cooperation Programme of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development,

Tamar Pataraia: “Georgia cannot possibly be competitive in this direction unless Ukraine and other Eastern European countries become part of this corridor which will bring the use of Georgia’s Black Sea ports high on the agenda.”

As compared to Azerbaijan’s railways, trade turnover possibilities between Russia and Georgia are limited and trade is carried out by vehicle via the Larsi border checkpoint only. Because of the difficult geographic terrain, especially in winter and during natural disasters, the Larsi border checkpoint is often closed. The last closure was in June 2016 due to a natural disaster in the Devdoraki Valley. In regard to railway cargo shipment between Armenia and Russia, Tamar Pataraia believes that Georgia cannot become part of that for at least three reasons:  first of all, the only railway line goes through Russian occupied Abkhazian territory and it is early to speak about the restoration of railway connections; second, Georgia has to take Azerbaijan’s position into account which opposes the restoration of a direct railway connection between Armenia and Russia and third is that Georgia’s legal environment is getting closer to European standards and customs declarations and documentation are required mostly according to European standards whilst standards applied in the Eurasian Economic Union are very different. And the last one is a political factor – Russia’s trade ban, its occupation of Georgia’s territories and its non-compliance regarding the agreement about international monitoring of the borders of the occupied territories render investments in trade routes between Russia and Georgia through the occupied territories practically impossible.

Third: Even though Georgia does not hold membership in the project, the International North-South Transport Corridor includes Georgia’s section anyway.

The INSTC encompasses several routes, including the section of the Persian Gulf and Black Sea ports which will connect Central Asia, Iran and Georgia. According to Tamar Pataraia’s assessment:  “Georgia’s sea ports, together with highway connections between Turkey and Georgia, make Georgia a part of this corridor anyway because cargo shipments in the directions of Armenia-Georgia, Azerbaijan-Georgia and the Central Asian states-Georgia are already underway.” In order to build the Armenian part of the project’s highway section, Meghri-Yerevan-Bavra, the Government of Armenia signed an agreement with the World Bank in 2010 concerning the allocation of USD 500 million. Within the framework of the project, a high-capacity road from the border of Iran to the border of Georgia will be built. The implementation of the highway construction project was launched in 2012 and is supposed to be completed in stages in 2017 and 2019.

Conclusion

The context of Nino Burjanadze’s statement in regard to the possibilities of Georgia’s participation in the International North-South Transport Corridor, despite the factual accuracy of the statement, is false. During Ms Burjanadze’s time in power, when every other country of the region became a project member, Georgia did not apply for INSTC membership. Moreover, Georgia’s involvement in this corridor is technically limited, less economically attractive for the project and the political decision from Russia is blocked. However, even though Georgia does not hold project membership, cargo shipments are carried out through the country’s territory within the framework of the INSTC and the country gets certain revenues from this engagement.

Therefore, FactCheck concludes that Nino Burjanadze’s statement is FALSE.