Georgia, Russia agree to reopen border crossing

20:26, December 24, 2009      

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Georgia and Russia have agreed to reopen the sole checkpoint on their border three years after its closure, Georgia's Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

The Kazbegi-Upper Lars crossing is likely to reopen next March, Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze said.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov confirmed that the checkpoint could "in theory" reopen as from March 1, 2010.

This checkpoint -- the only land border crossing that does not go through South Ossetia or Abkhazia -- was closed in 2006.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia after a military conflict between Georgia and Russia in August 2008.

The closure of the Kazbegi-Upper Lars crossing in 2006 was officially attributed to infrastructure repairs on the Russian side of the border.

But many viewed the closure as a sign of escalating tension between the two countries.

Several Russian officers were arrested in Georgia on charges of espionage in late September 2006. The Russian military and diplomats denied the charges. But Moscow stopped issuing visas to Georgians and started evacuating its citizens from Georgian territory in just a few days.

Russia also banned the import of some Georgian goods, including wine and mineral water.

In late 2008, Moscow reported that the construction work at the checkpoint was over. But the crossing remained closed.

The two countries severed diplomatic relations after the August2008 war.

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