LOOSING AIR BASES IN VAZIANI AND GUDAUTA RUSSIA LOOSES ITS STRATEGIC POSITION IN TRANSCAUCASIA

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Moscow has started withdrawal of its armament from Georgia. On two large landing ships 49 armament systems were been transported from Batumi to Novorossiysk. The armament was loaded on the ships in the presence of Georgian and international observers. According to the command of the group of Russian forces in the Transcaucasia, the next portion of armament will be shipped to Batumi in early September.

According to the Georgian Foreign Ministry, 35 Russian tanks, 313 armored vehicles, and 27 artillery systems will be withdrawn from the country in accordance with the agreements achieved at the OSCE summit in Istanbul.

Removal of excessive Russian armament from Georgia is financed by the US, which has assigned $10 million for this purpose. In financing of the armament withdrawal also take part the UK ($100,000). The payments will be done according to the submitted bills. Most likely the payments will be done by a specially organized financial body of the US Embassy in Georgia. Meanwhile, the problem of Russian military bases presence in Georgia is still vital. Tbilisi insists on withdrawal of all Russian military bases. However, according to the agreements achieved in Istanbul, only the bases in Vaziani and Gudauta are to be withdrawn. Their liquidation does not mean that some Russian military installations cannot remain there. For example, Moscow insists that it can use the airfields in Vaziani and Gudauta after withdrawal of its forces. At any rate, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the third round of the Russian-Georgian negotiations held in late July has shown that the Georgian party is not going to allow not only temporary, but also a joint use of the military airfield. The only thing, with which Tbilisi is ready to agree, is permission to Russia to use the airfield for the period of its armament withdrawal from Georgia. Russian Defense Ministry officers say, “This does not correspond to the interests of Russia.”

The situation with the military installations in Gudauta is even more complicated. The Russian party offers transformation of the military base into a peacekeeping one. However, transformation of the military base in Gudauta into a peacekeeping one does not change anything fundamentally, and even aggravates the situation. If the weapons of the peacekeepers stationed in Abkhazia are added to the overall Russia’s armament deployed in the Transcaucasia, it will be clear that Russia has to reduce the quantity of weapons at the bases in Akhalkilaki and Batumi. The fate of these bases is not clear, but it is understandable that the current negotiations are moving towards their liquidation.

If the military base in Gudauta does not receive the status of a peacekeeping one, Tbilisi will demand liquidation of the armament deployed there, and giving up of the use of the local airfield for military purpose. These conditions are not beneficial for Russia. They are also not beneficial for Abkhazia, because reduction of the Russian military presence in this breakaway republic increases a probability of launching of new hostilities on the part of Georgia. Abkhazia has already stated that it will not allow withdrawal or liquidation of Russian armament. Thus, Abkhazia is becoming a kind of Russia’s ally in the negotiations.

Ruslan Abashidze. The leader of Adzharia, is also not happy with removal of Russian military bases from Georgia. At a press conference held in Batumi on August 7, he criticized the central Georgian authorities who did not inform the Adzharian authorities about the further fate of the Russian military base in Batumi. “Whereas the first stage of Russian armament withdrawal from Georgia has passed unhindered, at the next stage the authorities of Adzharia will request all materials regarding withdrawal of Russian armament from Batumi,” says Abashidze. We cannot rule out that Abashidze may hinder withdrawal of Russian troops and armament from the country. Thus, an entanglement of contradictions associated with reduction of Russian military presence in Georgia, is increasingly growing. What Tbilisi wants, its autonomous republics and Russia do not want. The Georgian President has frequently stated that he would like to see international forces, similar to those stationed in Kosovo, instead of the Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia. That is, Georgia prefers the forceful method of solving of the separatism problem in the country.

On August 7, Eduard Shevardnadze agreed with the standpoint of UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, according to which peacekeeping operations should be backed up by a real force, and otherwise conduction of such operations is senseless, because they would not have a desired result. Answering the question whether changing of the form and content of the peacekeeping operation in Abkhazia is possible in the near future, Shevardnadze has said that Georgia does not consider the force a priority in resolving of the Abkhaz conflict, but “the statement of the General Secretary of the UN about this problem should become a serious warning to everyone who does not desire peace, and is keen on separatist plans.”

Shevardnadze is convinced, “Fruitless and vain peacekeeping operations create very undesirable precedents for the world, and hinder organization of the global security system.”

Shevardnadze also wants Georgia to join NATO. For Russia this is unacceptable, and Russian leaders have frequently spoken about this. It is evident that, as long as there are Russian military bases in Georgia, there will be no NATO bases in the Transcaucasia. At any rate, will Russian forces remain there for a long time? We will learn this by the end of the year. So far President Shevardnadze of Georgia says that when the Russian forces are fully withdrawn from Georgia relations between Georgia and Russia will not worsen.

Shevardnadze has turned to example of other CIS countries, where there are no Russian military bases, but relations between these countries and Russia are normal, and Russian authorities do not demand them to establish Russian military bases in their territory. According to Shevardnadze, the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia, which will necessarily take place, will even strengthen relations between Georgia and Russia.

According to the attitude of the Georgian President we can judge about results of negotiations about the fate of the bases in Batumi and Akhalkilaki. It seems that Russia does not wish to “pressurize” Georgia to force it retain the military bases. Negotiations about introduction of visa regime in relations between the countries are slowly dragging on. So far Moscow has not implemented any economic sanctions as an argument in its favor. All this is happening on the background of activities of the US and other NATO countries in Georgia. For example, the exercises of the Russian Black Sea Fleet near the Georgian coasts, during which the armament withdrawn from Georgia was delivered to Russia, coincided with the Georgian-American naval exercises near Poti. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the exercises had not only a military strategic, but also an economic character, because the port of Poti was the major transshipment terminal for petroleum products exported from the Caspian area bypassing Russia.

The Georgian Defense Ministry reports that seven Georgian ships, three boats of the border guards department, and the “Huzzy” missile frigate of the US Navy took part in the exercises. “Huzzy” entered the Georgian territorial waters on August 1. On August 5, “Huzzy” left the Georgian territorial waters and sailed to its base in Norfolk (Virginia).

Thus, the process of the Russian-Georgian negotiations is associated with a range of difficulties and problems. Authority of Russia as a great power will depend on the solution of these problems.

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