Cars and heavy trucks are lined up near the Upper Lars border crossing with Georgia, November 21, 2023

By Narine Ghalechian and Shoghik Galstian

UPPER LARS, Georgia/Russia — Hundreds of Armenian trucks were stuck at the main Russian-Georgian border crossing on Monday, November 28 after Russia reportedly tightened import and export controls on them amid its unprecedented tensions with Armenia.

Truck drivers said that the Russian customs service is subjecting them to stricter sanitary and other checks, causing long lines of the heavy vehicles on both sides of the Upper Lars crossing vital for the Armenian economy.

“I’m stuck at Lars for a second day,” one driver told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “There is a problem with paperwork. It’s not just me but also other Armenian trucks.”

“According to our information, several trucks have already returned [to Armenia] and about 200 others are waiting in line,” Garnik Danielian, an opposition parliamentarian, wrote on Facebook.

An Armenian truck passes through the newly expanded Upper Lars border crossing in Russia between Georgia and Russia, June 21, 2023

Deputy Economy Minister Arman Khojoyan confirmed that Russian customs officers have turned away some of the Armenian trucks carrying goods for the Russian market. But he did not give any numbers.

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“As the head of the State Revenue Committee told me yesterday, it’s not that they are turning away all goods or entire categories of goods,” he told reporters. “We also have cargo crossing the border.”

Khojoyan would not say whether he believes there is a political reason for the stricter border checks introduced by the Russians.

Artur Khachatryan, another Armenian opposition lawmaker, suggested that Moscow is retaliating against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s decision to boycott last week’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit in Minsk which highlighted a significant deterioration of Russian-Armenian relations.

“I think that Russia is sending certain messages [to Yerevan],” said Khachatryan. “Let’s acknowledge that this is not accidental.”

The truck driver, who did not want to be identified, also felt that he and his Armenian colleagues remain stuck at Upper Lars because of the tensions between Moscow and Yerevan.

“The [Armenian] government picked a fight with the Russians and the Russians are now retaliating in this way,” he said.

Russia is Armenia’s leading trading partner, accounting for more than one-third of the South Caucasus nation’s foreign trade. It has long been the main export market for Armenian agricultural products, prepared foodstuffs and alcoholic drinks.

The total volume of Russian-Armenian trade, mainly carried out through Upper Lars, has skyrocketed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting barrage of Western sanctions against Moscow.

Armenian entrepreneurs have taken advantage of those sanctions, re-exporting various goods manufactured in Western countries to Russia. This explains why Armenian exports to Russia nearly doubled to $2.6 billion in January-September this year.

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