Speech by the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili at the ceremony of signature of an agreement on the construction of the Baku-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has said that cooperation with Azerbaijan and Turkey on energy and new transport links heralds a "geopolitical transformation" of the region.
Today we are signing the Tbilisi declaration. We are also signing the agreement on the new Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway construction project.

We have had several projects in our region. The oil pipeline was a big project, but this is the first huge project that affects ordinary citizens, ordinary people in our three countries. This is a project that signals a geopolitical transformation in our region because a completely new strategic link is opening not only between our three countries but also Central Asia, China and Europe. Effectively a modern version of the Silk Road is emerging. This is a project that provides for several hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of investment, although in the future it will bring in revenue worth billions, tens or hundreds of billions of dollars for our countries and business entities involved in this project. This is a project that will certainly be a major guarantee of successful long-term development for each of us. 

Every country will benefit from this project. Goods will be delivered to ports via the railway. Whereas now Georgia is cut off because the Russian railway has been closed, by 2010 Georgian railways will turn from a dead-end into a component of the European rail network. Georgian goods as well as goods from your countries, Central Asia and Europe will be carried via this railway, which will also be used by passengers.

Look how the geography of the region as a whole has changed. In the past, the Georgian-Turkish border was the least transparent border in the world. I always remember how my Turkish friend [name indistinct] once told me that for him Georgia was a floodlight. It was a floodlight which Soviet border guards on the Batumi coastline trained on people living on the other side of the border. There is nothing else they knew about Georgia. They knew that Georgia had a big floodlight blinding them and making it impossible for them to see anything. 

Today the Georgian-Turkish border is one of the most transparent borders in the world. It is a border of friendship. I must say that this year [as heard; presumably 2006] more than 1.5m people crossed this border. At a time when other countries introduced tougher visa rules for Georgians, Turkey introduced visa-free travel with Georgia, making it easier for our citizens to travel. In the next few months Batumi's international airport will open for joint Georgian-Turkish use. We are moving to a completely new reality.

This year we expect that the new highway being built by Turkey linking Istanbul and Batumi will probably reach the Georgian border. We are also building a highway to the West, towards Sukhumi and Batumi and that will join the Istanbul highway. That means that the average traveller will be able to set off from Tbilisi in the morning by car and that same night they will already be in Istanbul.

That is a geopolitical and geographical transformation. In the same way people will be able to get on a train in Tbilisi, Borjomi or Telavi and travel by that train through Istanbul, through the tunnel under the Bosporus, to Paris and Berlin. That is the geopolitical and geographical transformation that is taking place.

As a result of cooperation with Azerbaijan and Turkey, as a result of a very courageous decision by the Azerbaijani government, Georgia will this year have an alternative gas supply which is providing an increasing share of our gas needs. That means that unlike many Eastern European countries we will have a more reliable and cheaper alternative gas supply.

I would like to remind you that in January last year when Georgia, for reasons completely incomprehensible to me, had its gas and electricity supplies cut off, Azerbaijan decided, in the worst days of a record-breaking cold winter, to turn off supplies to many of its own citizens and supply it to Georgia so that Georgia did not freeze. We should never forget that. These are the things which test friendships between countries.

I would like to say that this year when they [Gazprom] increased the price of gas for Azerbaijan simply because Azerbaijan decided to sell its own gas to Georgia - [changes tack] Speaking frankly, why did they increase the price of gas for Azerbaijan? Azerbaijan did not have any problems but there are three countries in the region. They increased the price for Georgia first, to 235 dollars, and then for Azerbaijan because it said it would supply gas to Georgia. That is why Azerbaijan, in the view of those responsible, was punished.

In a situation where Azerbaijan had its gas price increased, Azerbaijan decided to switch to fuel oil, which is more expensive, but they withstood this pressure to the end so that Georgia was not cut off and so that we could be supplied with this important fuel. Georgian society should never forget this, because that is what friends do, that is confirmation of centuries of friendship between countries.

I believe this is a new start of a very great partnership, friendship and brotherhood.

I would also like to say that Turkey is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Georgia. In a moment we will be going to open one of these major investments [Tbilisi's new airport terminal]. We are truly witnessing huge changes. I also want to underline that we do not want to exclude any country from these processes. It is in our interests for every neighbour to have equal rights and equally friendly, transparent relations. For us it is very important that not a single country in the region is isolated, that not single country remains out of the game. We, of course, want equal, close, friendly, good-neighbourly relations with our neighbour Armenia.

We want development because the countries of the Transcaucasus have no alternative other than to develop hand-in-hand and every participant in today's meeting clearly understands that.

We have had a difficult past, because we were all parts of a great empire, but we also have a very great and bright future. I am absolutely certain of that. We three countries are signing an agreement about that great future today. I would like to congratulate all three countries and their people on this day. We will sign this document and do everything possible to ensure that construction of this great project begins this year and is completed very soon. If you think about it, construction of the new airport terminal began in earnest six months ago. That grandiose building was built in six months and that is how we will build the railway. 

[Question] Rustavi-2, can I ask a question? This is a question of interest to everyone in Georgia. Will Georgia be receiving gas from Turkey's quota [of Sah Daniz supplies], Mr President and Mr Prime Minister?

[Erdogan, in Turkish with Georgian translation superimposed] We will do everything possible to set aside 800m cu.m. of gas for Georgia from July. That is the promise we have made.

[Saakashvili] I want to say that, first, as soon as Sah Daniz is on stream, we will be getting part of the Turkish quota which Turkey is unable to use. Then, Azerbaijan will be constantly increasing the amount of gas it supplies to Georgia. It means that this relatively cheap and more reliable share in Georgia's total gas supply will be increasing all the time. Of course, there are other factors here as well. We hope that the technical resources of the consortium which operates Azerbaijan's gas pipelines will help. But the main thing is that we have created this route. This route is operational. At Ilham Aliyev's decision, this route has been operational since the beginning of January, when Azerbaijan gave us some of their share of gas despite the fact that they had to transfer to using fuel oil, which is more expensive. We also have the agreement that Prime Minister Erdogan spoke about. In the end Georgia will have several sources of gas and from that point of view we are better off than the majority of European countries. 

This is not just economic progress, this is important, strategic progress for our countries. Everyone should take this into account. This is an alternative for Europe, this is a road for oil and gas for Europe as well as a railway and a normal highway, because we are building lots of roads. This is a completely new dimension for our European partners. These are the achievements that are happening now and this is why we are calling this a historic day. We were a region that had almost turned into a dead-end but now we are a region that is needed not just by us but also by others, and that is our special, historic, political, geographic and economic mission.

Translated by BBC Monitoring

press Office
of the President of Georgia

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