YEREVAN — An Armenian who passed through the Upper Lars crossing point between Russia (North Ossetia) and Georgia recently described his experience as traumatic to this reporter. The Lars checkpoint is the only place where it is possible legally to cross from Russia to Georgia, and consequently is also the only route to travel by land from Russia to Armenia.
The Armenian and his family were vacationing on Georgia’s Black Sea coast when Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a “partial mobilization” at the end of September to conscript men with military experience into the Russian army to fight Ukraine. This announcement created panic among the potential conscripts and led many to flee Russia.
Lars soon became crowded with thousands of people trying to evade the call. Mixed in among these evaders were Armenian families vacationing in Georgia, Turkey or Russia and families emigrating from Russia back to Armenia.
Our eyewitness experienced long lines at the border crossing and had to wait three days in his car before being able to cross. Russians fed the crowd waiting on line and took care of their minimal needs. The cold temperatures at night required using gas to heat up cars. Gas was even supplied in a mobile fashion to the cars on request.
The border at Lars, a mountainous area, is not a clearly drawn line. There is actually a buffer zone of some 10 km. width, which patrol officers do not cross.
The identity of the Russians evading conscription were noted but they still were allowed to pass into Georgia. While on the surface this might appear odd, the assumption is that the Russian authorities consider these people as potential opposition forces who might cause trouble if allowed to remain in their country, while if they did return, their cowardice could be penalized.