U.S. General Paul Selva gets a tour of Tbilisi's historic sites during a visit to discuss broadening Georgia's role in U.S. military logistics. (photo: USTRANSCOM)
The United States's top military logistics official has visited Georgia to discuss the country becoming a bigger part of U.S. military transportation network.
General Paul Selva, the head of U.S. Transportation Command, took a three-day trip to Georgia last week and met with President Giorgi Margvelashvili, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and military and defense ministry officials. Garibashvili discussed with Selva the "modernization plan of Georgian railway, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars and Anaklia port projects. As the head of the United States Transportation Command, General Paul Selva said during the meeting, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway gives the new opportunities for shipment by railway," according to a release from Garibashvili's office.
In May, Georgian officials said that the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, currently under construction by Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, would be finished by the end of 2015, several years behind schedule and seemingly too late to get much business from the U.S./NATO "retrograde" transit out of Afghanistan. Azerbaijani and Turkish officials have blamed Georgia for the delay. In late May, Turkey's Minister of Transport, Maritime and Communications, Lutfi Elvan said that "although the work on the railway's Turkish section has been completed by over 80 percent, work in the Georgian territory is delayed," Trend.az reported. "In particular, delays are observed in the construction of 2,700-2,800 meters long tunnels in Georgia," Elvan said. "He went on to add that Azerbaijan and Turkey have called on Georgia to complete the work in its territory."
None of the public comments from Selva's visit to Georgia referred to the delay, and TRANSCOM did not respond to a request seeking comment. So does this mean he was imploring the Georgians to hurry up? Is the end of 2015 still not too late? Is the Anaklia port project meant to substitute in some fashion for the railroad?
Separately, Garibashvili announced that the Anaklia port project would aim at getting Georgia a share of the growing "New Silk Road" intercontinental business: "The port of Anaklia will be the shortest way between Europe and Asia, and the growth of Europe-Asia trade turnover will bring benefits to all," a release from his office said. ."The port will be able to process over 100 million tons of mixed cargo. These are really a great scales and undoubtedly gives a base for Anaklia to become central area of international importance, natural logistical center of Caucasus and Central Asia," Garibashvili said.
Transit issues were also at the top of the agenda in Selva's meeting with Defense Minister Irakli Alasania: "We have discussed in detail Georgia’s transport infrastructure by which NATO’s Forces are deployed to Afghanistan and to other regions too," Alasania said after the meeting. "We have not talked only about Afghanistan but about the future of our relationship in this context. It should be noted that Georgia has a very definite geostrategic position in the region."
Selva added: "Our strategic relationship and our long and trusted relationship not only in respect to our operation in Afghanistan but security in overall region and stability of the United States, NATO partners and European partners to have access to transit through Georgia and to Georgia in the event that security and stability in the region are threatened."
Selva also reportedly met with the head of Georgian Railways. All this is to suggest that Georgia is going to be playing a more substantial role in the U.S.'s military logistics plans.