Does Armenia no longer need a ferry to 'hostile' Russia?

10.01.24 17:10

The situation with the "alliance" between Armenia and Russia is changing much faster than anyone could have imagined. Armenia is turning from an "ally" of Russia into at least a detractor. There is not much time left before it becomes an outright enemy, and it could happen very soon.


Moreover, the signs of hostility in the relations between Armenia and Russia are manifested not only in the political and defence spheres (through the CSTO), but also in the economic sphere. The authorities of the Republic of Armenia make no secret of their intention to reduce dependence on trade with Russia, which may reduce the need for transit of goods to Russia. 


It should be remembered that not so long ago Armenia was dreaming of a railway transit to Russia. Of course, the most desirable thing for Armenia would be the opening of a direct railway transit through Abkhazia, but Georgia categorically refuses to do so without the de-occupation of this part of its territory.


As a result, Armenia and the Hay lobby in the Russian Federation decided to do something tricky - organise a ferry service between the ports of Georgia and the Russian Federation. And with the help of such a ferry, followed by a rail link, goods can be transported from Armenia to the Russian Federation and vice versa.


Caucasus Plus wrote about this project in May 2023 in the article "Does Georgia need the Novorossiysk-Batumi ferry for Armenia?"( There were serious fears that, in addition to Armenia's interests, this ferry service would become a channel for Russia to circumvent sanctions in order to continue its aggression against Ukraine.


The Batumi-Novorossiysk ferry service was 'quietly' launched in the summer of 2023 and operated on average once a week. Since then, however, events have occurred that have apparently made its operation "unprofitable". In any case, recently the Armenian Minister of Economy, Vahan Kerobyan, officially announced at a press conference that the ferry service from Armenia via Georgia to the Russian Federation had been suspended. The official reason, according to Vahan Kerobyan, is the lack of interest on the part of exporters and importers in the operation of the route.


"We have been operating the ferry route for some time, but developments have shown that we should focus our main efforts on activating exports to other countries.


In our opinion, (the project) has not generated enough interest among exporters and importers. And we have not seen exporters and importers using the ferry in a way that would convince us and our partners to continue this programme," Kerobyan said.


Once again, there is no alternative to the Upper Lars checkpoint as the only route for the delivery of cargo from Armenia to Russia.


In recent months, however, Armenian cargoes have also been experiencing major problems passing through the Upper Lars checkpoint. "By a strange coincidence, Armenia's problems with exports to Russia through Upper Lars began after the anti-terrorist operation conducted by Azerbaijan in Karabakh in September 20-23. During this operation, all illegal separatist gangs were liquidated and the separatist "Artsakh" was "self-dissolved", although the separatists and revanchists hoped to the last that "Russia would protect the Hayans of "Artsakh".


 The Hayan nationalists began to speak of Russia's "betrayal" of separatist Artsakh. After all, they hoped that Russia would fight for the interests of Armenia in Karabakh, as it did during the First Karabakh War. But dragged into the war in Ukraine by the same Hay lobby, the Russian Federation simply could not physically afford a second front in the South Caucasus, especially in the interests of a country that had effectively sided with its geopolitical adversaries.


Following an anti-terrorist operation on 19-20 September, Azerbaijani law enforcement officials arrested the separatist leaders, including the Russian billionaire of Hay origin, Ruben Vardanyan. Vardanyan, who once served as the so-called "Artsakh Minister of State", also helped the Russian Federation evade sanctions through his structures in the Republic of Armenia.


After the liquidation of "Artsakh" and the flight of most of the separatists from the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, as well as the arrest of some of the separatist leaders, relations between Armenia and the Russian Federation deteriorated sharply in all spheres. Armenia began to defiantly ignore events in the CSTO and, just as defiantly, to buy arms from France and India.


The arrest of Vardanyan in Azerbaijan and the worsening attitude towards pro-Russian business in Armenia could only lead to real problems with one of the most important channels for Russia to circumvent sanctions - the "Armenian" channel. After all, the Batumi-Novorossiysk ferry was launched for this purpose.


Either way, but against the backdrop of anti-Russian rallies in Yerevan, after the collapse of the "Artsakh" project and the intensification of the already anti-Russian rhetoric of the authorities of the Republic of Armenia, Hay importers and exporters to the Russian Federation began to have problems. It is just that these problems were more visible on the Upper Lars. For example, the entry of trucks with agricultural products from Armenia into Russia was made much more difficult due to stricter phytosanitary controls, and as a result, on some days, up to 1,700 trucks from Armenia, which had been queuing for days and weeks at the Upper Lars checkpoint, would gather at the Upper Lars checkpoint at the end of November 2023.


There was no specific information in the media about what happened on the ferry from Batumi to Novorossiysk, which transported Armenian goods as an "alternative" route to Upper Lars. However, it is clear that there were also stricter requirements for Armenian cargo. This made this route problematic as well. Moreover, we should not forget that the port of Novorossiysk was already "affected" by the war between Russia and Ukraine.  Under the pretext of "increased security measures", the ferry with goods from Armenia, a country that had become very "unfriendly", was clearly no longer a priority in the port of Novorossiysk.


At the same time, the Russian Federation clearly began to "crack down" on the mainly criminal and semi-criminal Hay business. It went so far that Ruben Tatulyan was put on the wanted list and had to go "on the run". We should remember that this is an unofficial "master" of the separatist Abkhazia, who once brought to power the separatist puppet Aslan Bzhania, as well as the head of the criminal business in Sochi. And this became clear only "visible tip of the iceberg".


Previously 'untouchable' Hay businessmen began to be 'touched a little'. Officials of Hay origin, especially the most corrupt, began to be removed from their posts, and criminal investigations were launched against some of them. As a result, the well-established Hay business systems for which the Novorossiysk ferry was launched began to collapse.


And there is no doubt that in response to the tightening of measures against its exporters and importers, Armenia became less willing to help Russia evade sanctions.


As a result, the ferry was simply not needed, even though Russia still needs Armenia. According to Armenian Economy Minister Vahan Kerobyan, Russia remained Armenia's largest trading partner in 2023, but its share of total trade turnover decreased slightly.


"It is followed by the United Arab Emirates, China, Georgia and the United States. The latter (country) appears on this list for the first time," the minister added. This is a clear indication of where Armenia is looking for economic support.


Grigol Giorgadze

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