Like the expected majority of observers, the withdrawal of Russian forces from Gudauta, where until recently Russia had a military base, caused a mass protest among the Abkhaz population. Last week, the local population blocked the columns of the tenth airborne regiment at the exit of the military airfield in Bambory. Moreover, according to an order from the military command, the withdrawal of personnel and armaments from the Russian military base in Gudauta was officially suspended, and soldiers returned to the base. Lieutenant General Alexander Popov, Deputy Airborne Forces Commander for peacekeeping problems, announced that nobody would remove paratroopers from Abkhazia to Russia by force. The tenth regiment in Gudauta numbers 1,100 men. Only 300 of these will leave Abkhazia, while the others will remain according to the plans of the Russian command. The remaining servicemen will be included in the Russian peacekeeping forces group, which is currently separating the warring parties in the Kodorskoe Gorge on the administrative border of Georgia and Abkhazia. Moscow plans to organize a rehabilitation center for peacekeepers on the basis of the tenth airborne regiment. Tbilisi disagrees with this idea, wishing to demilitarize the military strategic airfield in Gudauta completely. At the same time, the Abkhaz party says that Russian troops should remain in Gudauta for as long as possible, which was actually the reason for the recent mass protest.
This event has already had strong repercussions among Russian and Georgian politicians and military. During the CIS leaders summit in Minsk, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov confirmed Moscow’s obligations, undertaken in Istanbul, regarding the final liquidation of two Russian military bases in Georgia, including that in Gudauta, by July 1. Meanwhile, the withdrawal of troops from Gudauta has been postponed.
However, this delay does not save Moscow from criticism by patriots and radical Georgian politicians.
Russian patriots claim that the mass rallies in Abkhazia, during which residents of the breakaway republic, including Russians, protested against the liquidation of the base, were caused by the absence of clearly outlined goals by the Kremlin in the Caucasus.
Konstantin Zatulin, Director of the CIS Countries Institute, who arrived in Sukhumi, explained, “Residents of Abkhazia probably understand Russia’s interests better than the leaders of the Russian delegation negotiating in Tbilisi, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, which continues Shevardnadze and Kozyrev’s line, aimed at the surrender of Russian geopolitical positions in the former Soviet republics,”
On the other hand, Georgy Baramidze, Chair of the defense and national security committee of the Georgian Parliament, considers the rallies by the Abkhaz population against the withdrawal of the Russian military base in Gudauta an attempt to sabotage the resolutions of the 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul. June 8 Baramidze told journalists that Abkhaz separatists had organized these rallies and coordinated them with Russia. He added that, should the process of the Russian military base withdrawal from Gudauta be suspended, international organizations would respond to this action correspondingly.
Thus, Russian-Georgian contradictions are aggravated once more. Against this background, Tbilisi’s contracts with NATO members states, primarily the US and Turkey, appear to be in contrast. Between May 20 and 25, the American-Georgian working group met in Georgia for the third time to discuss the main lines of bilateral defense cooperation. These contacts continued during the meeting of Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze and US Defense Secretary Donald Ramsfeld in Brussels between June 7 and 8. The negotiations were conducted in the framework of the summit of Defense Ministers of NATO member and partner states. The parties plan to work out the details of a collaboration plan and to finally approve it June 19 in Tbilisi during the visit of Geoffrey Star, Aide to the Undersecretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.
This American official will observe the final part of the naval exercises Cooperative Partner-2001 that began June 11 in the Georgian port of Poti within the framework of the NATO Partnership for Peace program. Russia has not participated in these biggest military exercises in the Black Sea during the entire post-Soviet era. Russia is also not a member of GUUAM, established by Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova under the aegis of the US and NATO. During the GUUAM summit last week in the Crimea, its members emphasized that the goal of the organization was to assist social and economic development, broaden trade relations, and strengthen regional security. However, many observers consider GUUAM to be an organizational alternative to the pro-Russian orientation of the member states of the Collective Security Treaty.
It is common knowledge that Russia does not provide significant military assistance to Georgia. Military and military technological cooperation programs have actually been frozen, as there are still conflict zones in Abkhazia and South Ossetia on Georgian territory. However, Turkey actively aids Georgia. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Turkey became the largest naval power in the Black Sea.
Thus, while visiting Georgia, the Turkish Defense Ministry delegation signed an agreement on the provision of military assistance worth $2.5 million.
According to available information, Georgia will spend approximately $2 million of this sum upgrading ground forces, restoring airfields, equipping the military academy in Tbilisi, while the remaining $500,000 is intended for Georgian border guards.
This will be the fourth Turkish grant in four years, bringing the overall total of Turkish aid to Georgia to $14.6 million.
In 1998, the Turkish grant amounted to $5.5 million, in 1999 $2.6 million, and in 2000 $4 million.
Western aid to Georgia is therefore increasing. Naturally, this is at odds with Moscow’s interests. Moscow is gradually losing its influence over Georgia, and after the liquidation of Russian military bases in Vaziani and Gudauta, Russia will lose the possibility to exert military and political influence in the region.