“Winter exam” for drivers - why is the only road connecting Armenia and Russia closed? -SPECIAL REPORTAGE

“Winter exam” for drivers - why is the only road connecting Armenia and Russia closed? -SPECIAL REPORTAGE
# 27 December 2023 17:48 (UTC +04:00)

The Mtskheta-Stepantsminda-Lars road from Georgia to Russia is currently the only operating land route between the two countries. This road, also known as the Georgian Military Road, is one of the main routes of the North-South transport corridor. Another point that increases its importance in the regional plan is that it has the status of the only land route connecting Armenia with Russia. According to statistics, about 70-80% of Armenia's trade with Russia is carried out through the Lars road. In addition, important products such as grain and fuel are transported from Russia to Armenia along this road. From this point of view, the Mtskheta-Stepantsminda-Lars road can be called, without exaggeration, the main artery of the Armenian economy. In addition, drivers from other countries, including Azerbaijan, also use this road. However, although the importance of this road from the point of view of international freight and passenger transport is quite high, it is not yet possible to prevent its repeated closures due to adverse weather conditions, such as avalanches and icing, especially in winter.

The Larsa road has been closed again for more than 4 days due to heavy snowfall. Long queues of trucks and cars were reported to have formed. We went there from Tbilisi to get acquainted with the situation on the road. We have seen with our own eyes that difficulties arise from the very beginning of the Mtskheta-Stepantsminda-Lars road, immediately after Tbilisi. It's dawn, but it's still dark, it's still snowing, and the road is covered in ice. Therefore, traffic police officers stand on the side of the road next to various vehicles traveling to Russia so that they at least wait for the weather to improve.

The number of vehicles moving along this road towards Russia is decreasing.

On the road, which gradually climbs further into the mountains, you can see snow plows, sand and salt sprinklers, or police cars moving carefully to determine if any accident has occurred.

Some sections of the Georgia-Russia road, important for international transport, now look like an ordinary country road due to heavy snowfall.

The most difficult situation on the “military road” is on the Gudauri-Kobi section, passing through the highlands. As you approach this area, you can see long lines of trucks standing idle for several days.

Judging by the panorama that opens after the village of Pasanauri, we can say that the snow paralyzed, in particular, the movement of trucks. Long queues of trucks have formed in a number of areas, and when they will be able to travel towards Russia depends on the weather.

Among the trucks idle on the road there are cars with Russian, Kazakh and Turkish license plates, but we see that the absolute majority of them belong to Armenia. For many days now, drivers have been sleeping in their cars. This place, far from residential areas with necessary sanitation infrastructure and shops, is surrounded only by snow and mountains.

A convoy of cars leaving Armenia for liquefied gas to Russia got stuck in the snow. Drivers do not know how much longer they will have to wait, because the problem is not only related to the Georgian section of the road, serious difficulties have also arisen on the Russian side - in Vladikavkaz, on the other side there are also quite a lot of trucks idling on the road. So the Lars road is now intended only for patient drivers.

We drive further and finally reach Gudauri, the main ski resort of Georgia. This is the place where the Russia-Georgia road is completely closed. The border with Russia is about 50 kilometers. The road is blocked by several meters of snow. Here, the movement of all types of transport is completely limited, and the police either turn around cars that manage to drive this far or ask them to park safely on the side of the road.

In Gudauri, located in the highlands, we see people who suddenly find themselves in the snow and cannot walk forward or backward. These are mainly those who went to Russia in passenger buses and private cars. Our interlocutors complained about the relevant structures that should clear the road. They claimed that after Gudauri, which is a winter tourism area, the road was deliberately not cleared, forcing them to stay in hotels.

Armenian citizen Ruzanna Harutyunyan says that she has been here with her family for three days and due to the high altitude she often has problems with blood pressure:

“For the third day now, old people and people with children have been waiting here to pass through. There is no medical assistance provided. Many of them feel unwell, their blood pressure rises, and their heart rate increases. In Gudauri the road is not cleared, and it is also impossible to go further on foot.”

Another Armenian citizen named Arthur says that it is more difficult to get to Gudauri than from here to Upper Lars, but the road is closed:

“We have been here for 3 days already. It is reported that the roads are closed for the safety of people. In my opinion, there should be a transport company on duty here to clear and remove snow. This question will always be relevant here. It will always snow here, and if the problem is not solved, then people will always complain about these traffic jams.”

According to Russian citizen Denis, who went to Batumi for vacation, the food he took with him had already run out:

“We’ve been sleeping here for two days now. My car is parked there. It's good that there is food in the car. I ate almost all the food I had in the car. The prices are of course astronomical. It's a pity that I didn't take skis. I would have a good rest. I was going on vacation to Batumi, but it turned out that I got caught in the snow.”

Among the vehicles stuck in the snow in Gudauri is a passenger bus heading from Georgia to Russia. During the conversation, we noticed that there were Azerbaijani families among the passengers. Lilpar Abdullayeva from the village of Sabirkand, Marneuli district, said that she had to spend the night on the bus for three days, and the food she took for the trip ran out.

Another bus passenger, Tural Abdullayev, says that at the time of departure there were 56 passengers on the bus, but after seeing this situation, some of them returned back, and those who could afford it stayed in nearby hotels, and most spent the night on the bus.

In short, the situation on the only land route from Georgia to Russia remains difficult. The fact is that this situation arises many times during the winter months of the year. It is difficult to say how many more days those who are now in Gudauri or any other point on this road will have to wait. Forecasters predict that unfavorable weather conditions will persist in Georgia until December 29.