RUSSIA WITHDRAWS ITS BORDER GUARDS FROM ABKHAZIA

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Thus it can lose the initiative in resolving of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict

Withdrawal of Russian border guards from Abkhazia is coming to an end. In May-June the mobile property and real estate of six frontier stations of the Russian Federal Border Guards Service was handed over to Abkhazia, reported to Interfax Tamaz Gogiya, chairperson of the Abkhaz governmental commission for acceptance of Russian military property.

Property of the Russian naval base in Ochamchira was the last to be handed over. Gogiya stressed that there were no incidents during the handing over of the property.

According to him, under the mutual agreement the authorities of Abkhazia provided comprehensive assistance to the families of the Russian officers. Customs offices inspected the property which the border guards and their families took with them. Abkhaz authorities provided the guards for them which accompanied them to the Russian border.

If we recall that the leadership of Abkhazia objected to withdrawal of the Russian border guards from this self-proclaimed republic. Meanwhile financial problems made the Federal Border Guards Service remove its frontier stations to the line where the border between Russia and Georgia is de-jure (before breakup of the Soviet Union Abkhazia was a part of Georgia) located.

From the point of view of Russia’s interests this is a step backwards, as some patriotically minded politicians say. It is more difficult to arrange the border on a new line. Actually Russian troops simply leave the frontier stations. It is difficult to say who guards the Abkhaz part of the CIS border on the Black Sea now. It seems that it is guarded by the Georgian Navy which was actively being formed recently. On July 10 Interfax reported that the Poti division of Georgian maritime border guards started guarding the Abkhaz part of the state border which was previously guarded by the Russian Federal Border Guards Service.

All Russian border guards have already been withdrawn from Georgia. Commander of Georgian border guards Lieutenant General Valery Chkheidze reported that the Poti division would guard the maritime border of the country in the so-called economic zone being 35 kilometers from the coast of Abkhazia. On July 5 Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze conducted inspection of the ships and personnel of the division. Speaking to the Georgian border guards in the port of Poti, Shevardnadze highly appreciated assistance which Russia, Germany, Turkey, and “especially US” provided to Georgia in formation of its border guards service. The President reminded that in 1998 the US assigned $27 million for this purpose to the Georgian government.

Meanwhile two days later Chairperson of the State Security Service of Abkhazia Astamur Tarba denied the statement of Georgian border guards commander Chkheidze that the Poti division started guarding the Abkhaz part of the border. According to Tarba, the maritime part of the state border is still guarded by the Abkhaz Navy which “will not allow appearance of Georgian ships near the borders of the republic.” “Any attempt to trespass the maritime border of Abkhazia will be immediately stopped, and the trespassing ships will be detained,” stressed Tarba.

Abkhaz party announced that its ships started guarding the maritime borders of the republic last September when the last Russian maritime border guards ship left Abkhazia. It is difficult to say how true this statement is. However it is evident that the border is not guarded like it should be (Russian maritime border guards left Georgia last year, and Georgia allegedly “started guarding the Abkhaz part of the border” only from July 1). Moreover neither Abkhazia nor Georgia have experience of maritime and ground borders guarding.

According to Vice Premier, Defense Minister of Abkhazia Vladimir Mikamba, the republic currently experiences economic blockade on the part of Russia. We can make a conclusion that Abkhazia is unable to organize its maritime border guards fleet. Meanwhile Mikamba announced that the maritime border guards fleet was formed, and the maritime borders of Abkhazia are guarded. The fleet was organized on the basis of fishing ships armed with machine guns and other light weapons. Recently Abkhaz border guards detained Georgian fishing ship Alioni which carried out illegal fishing.

Georgia has much bigger possibilities for build up of its Navy. Although at present the Georgian Navy is week, in the future it will be more combat-ready than the Abkhaz Navy, because Georgia enjoys bigger support in build up of its Navy on the part of NATO, and some CIS countries.

For example, On July 17 the first 36 students graduated from the naval academy of the Defense Ministry in Batumi. Their education was organized with support of the US, Ukraine, and Turkey. In the official decoration of graduates with the officer’s ranks participated Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze, and Chairperson of Supreme Council of Adjaria (autonomous republic within Georgia,- translator’s note). It is interesting that by that day the shipbuilders of Batumi handed new border guards boat of Grif class over to the maritime border guards. In his speech to the graduates Adjarian leader Abashidze said that the shipyard of Batumi is to manufacture “modern highest-speed military boats of the world” by autumn and “modern landing ships by the end of the year” for the Georgian Armed Forces. Georgian Defense Minister Tevzadze said that the graduates of the naval academy are to be commissioned to the crews of the ships at the naval base in Poti.

In late June Ukrainian Navy handed Konotop missile boat to the Georgian Navy. Public relations center of the Defense Ministry reported to Interfax-Ukraina that in official handing over of the boat conducted at Persei repair plant in Sevastopol on June 30 participated Georgian Defense Minister, Deputy Commander of Ukrainian Navy Rear Admiral Vyacheslav Sychev, Deputy General Director of Ukrspetsexport state-run company Victor Zabara. In his speech Sychev stressed that handing over of the boat was “an act of joined good will.” Georgian Defense Minister called this even historical for the Georgian Defense Ministry, in particular for its Navy.

In his interview to the journalists Tevzadze pointed out that relations between Ukraine and Georgia might serve as a good example of “good neighborly equal relations.” Further the crew of Konotop boat on underwater wings (20 people) was replaced, and the flag of the Georgian Navy was raised above the boat.

It is interesting that on the eve of this even during his official visit to Georgia Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasuk announced that his country recognizes the claim of Georgia for a portion of the Black Sea Fleet of the former Soviet Union. During his briefing in Tbilisi on June 29 he also announced that Ukraine “made a range of proposals” to Georgia regarding “improvement of effectiveness of GUAM activities” (GUAM is the association of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova,- translator’s note).

Kiev also offered to organize the next round of Georgian-Abkhaz negotiations within the framework of Geneva process at the end of the year in Yalta, and expressed the readiness of Ukraine to sent Ukrainian peacekeepers to the conflict zone under the UN and OSCE aegis.

Against this background Vice Premier Vladimir Mikamba announced that “a moment might come when the Abkhaz people say: “We have all got tired of the Russian blockade” and we will re-orient ourselves to assistance of “third forces”.’ So far it is not clear if Ukraine is a “third force.” However it is evident that it is activating its position in resolving of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, while Russia is gradually surrendering one position after another (withdraws its border guards, hands the objects of its bases in Transcaucasia over to Georgia, supports the economic and social blockade of Abkhazia generating discontent of the Abkhaz party).

Meanwhile the Russian peacekeepers are carrying the main burden of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. Within five years 2,190 officers, 742 warrant-officers, 16,000 technicians, sergeants, and soldiers of the Russian Army performed the peacekeeping mission in the conflict zone. During this period 68 servicemen were killed, and 255 wounded. Combat engineers of the peacekeeping forces detected and destroyed 23,666 explosive devices.

At present the peacekeeping forces in the zone of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict are commanded by Major General Sergei Korobko, and Major General Vladimir Yurdanov is the chief of their staff. According to what Korobko said in his interview to Nezavisimaya Gazeta on July 1, so far he does not see any possibilities for improvement of the situation in the region, because the “process of political resolving is skidding.” He added that the matter does not come further than conversations between representatives of the warring parties. For example, during their recent meeting in Istanbul the parties did not sign the document on work of joint investigating groups in the conflict zone which were to investigate terrorist actions, which also influenced the peacekeepers, because the “lack of punishment will generate future crimes.”

Korobko associates delay of the prolongation of the peacekeeping forces mandate by the Georgian party with the position of the Abkhaz government in exile. “These people and their allies most often accuse the peacekeepers. For them the most important thing is to remove the peacekeepers, then to achieve intervention of international forces, and enter Abkhazia with them returning the republic under jurisdiction of Tbilisi,” pointed out Korobko. “Unfortunately,” he stressed, “the influence of these people who insist on the military alternative of the conflict resolving is very strong.”

Korobko concluded that for insertion of international forces in the zone of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict Russian troops are to be withdrawn first. The commander added that “due to the crisis in Kosovo not a single foreign contingent will have either a possibility or wish to come to Abkhazia for at least a couple of years lying ahead.”

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