EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE HAS RELEASED RUSSIAN TROOPS
Izvestia, October 2, 2002, p. 2
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze gave orders yesterday to permit a Russian military convoy to pass through into Adjaria. Seven cars and a bus have been blockaded by the 21st brigade of the Georgian Defense Ministry near the Simoneti village, a few kilometers from Kutaisi, for over a day; 39 Russian officers under the command of Colonel Vladimir Tikhonov, Deputy Commander of the Russian Group of Forces in the Trans-Caucasus, spent a night in a parking lot, but did not intend to surrender or return to Tbilisi. The Russian military said that if they did not break through the blockade they would not set a precedent of accepting this as normal. To all appearances, the Georgian president has decided not to aggravate relations with Russia on the eve of a meeting with Vladimir Putin at the CIS summit in Kishinev.
The Russian convoy was going to Batumi, to a Russian military base. The staff of the Russian Group of Forces in the Trans-Caucasus has sent a letter to Georgian Chief of the General Staff John Pirtskhalaishvili about the movement of the convoy on September 25. The Russian military acknowledges that it did not receive permission; the Georgian Defense Ministry has banned all movements of Russian troops around Georgia until the end of the police operation in the Pankisi Gorge. However, no one knows when the Georgian government will lose interest in the Pankisi Gorge. The Russian military says that Pankisi is a pretext, and Russian troops stationed in Georgia have become the casualties of the deterioration in relations between Moscow and Tbilisi.
Colonel Alexander Lutskevich, press secretary of the Russian Group of Forces in the Trans-Caucasus, said that the only legal document which regulates movements of Russian troops around Georgia is an unratified agreement signed by President Eduard Shevardnadze and former Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin a few years ago. Lutskevich said that according to this agreement, the Russian military must inform the Georgian authorities about the movement of 20 or more vehicles, but only eight vehicles were blockaded on Monday. Lutskevich said: “Unlike Russian servicemen, Chechen militants can travel around Georgia without any problems.”