After difficult and unproductive negotiations on the status of Russian military bases in Georgia held in Tbilisi in early September the media reported that the commander of the North-Caucasian military district gave an order to cut the number of officers of the staff of the Group of Russian troops in the Trans-Caucasian region from 120 to 30 officers. This statement was made by Colonel Alexander Lutskevich, head of the press service of the Group of Russian troops, on September 9. In other words, this is an indirect confirmation of reports regarding a speedy withdrawal of Russian servicemen from the Georgian capital, which have been stirring up the media for several months.
It should be noted that this was Georgia’s demand that Russia cut the quantity of officers of the staff. In addition, Tbilisi demands that Russia pass over part of buildings occupied by Russian military structures in the Georgian capital to the republican Defense Ministry. Before Anatoly Kvashnin, Russian Chief of the General Staff, tried to reduce the staff of the Russian group of troops in the Trans-Caucasian region, but his directive was rejected. Russia stated that the Russian military infrastructure in Tbilisi would be passed over to Georgia only after the withdrawal of troops. It seems that Moscow is now making concessions.
In addition, Moscow and Tbilisi have reached a compromise regarding the issue of Russian servicemen’s monetary allowances. Russian servicemen deployed in Georgia received monetary allowances in rubles after the break-up of the USSR until August 1, 2003. Factually, there were two hard currencies in circulation in Georgia – the lari and the ruble. Shevardnadze was displeased by this fact and repeatedly asked Putin to solve this problem. The problem has been solved.
However, relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have not improved. As is known, Russia and Georgia failed to reach an agreement on the timing of the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Akhalkalaki and Batumi during negotiations on September 3-4. At the same time, Georgia demonstrates its intention to cooperate with the US and NATO. NATO is now conducting the Medceur/Rescuer-2003 exercise at Russia’s former military base in Vaziani within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program. Around 700 servicemen from the US, Ukraine, Moldavia, Germany, Estonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Albania and Georgia are involved in the exercise. Lieutenant-General David Tevladze, Georgian Defense Minister, stated on Monday that the maneuvers are aimed at polishing troops’ activities in rescue operations after natural disasters. In the meantime, Abkhazian Defense Minister Vyacheslav Eshba has already expressed his concern about this exercise. This is the third exercise organized in Georgia over the past two weeks. A three-day scheduled exercise of the Georgian Navy finished near the Poti port on August 28. Georgian official sources said that units of the army and front aviation (Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters and one Su-25 warplane), a marine battalion, two battalions of the Navy, artillery units, a logistic battalion, and units of the Interior Troops (in all 1,200 servicemen) were involved in the maneuvers. It should be noted that in addition to these troops a unit of the Georgian Task Force trained by US instructors took part in the exercise.
Although the Georgian military leadership declared a defensive character of the maneuvers (the Navy polished cooperation with the military aviation and law enforcement agencies in critical situations on the border), Georgian aviation bombed targets on a firing range after which troops landed on the shore.
A bombardment and a landing operation are elements of an offensive operation. It is evident that such operations are topical for Georgia because the republic is split into several separatist regions. Abkhazia, which was part of Georgia before the break-up of the USSR, is preparing to repulse enemy attacks. As is known, Georgia and Abkhazia have not been fighting since 1993, after Russian peacekeepers entered the conflict zone. In the meantime, Georgia cherished plans to solve the conflict using international peacekeeping units. This is why it’s no coincidence that the final phase of the Blackseaforce-2003 international exercise began near the port of Poti right after the end of the Navy’s exercise (August 29). Georgia, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine were involved in the maneuvers. The Navies of the six nations organized hypothetical anti-terrorist and peacekeeping operations in the sea. It should be noted that practically all participants in the exercise expressed concerns about the situation in the zone of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. However, only Russia and Ukraine announced their readiness to send their peacekeepers to this region this spring. At the same time, no one shares the opinion of the Georgian leadership that the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict can be solved using force.
In the meantime, Tbilisi regularly reproaches Moscow for supporting Sukhumi. The Georgian president hopes that some day his republic will join NATO, and demands that Russia withdraw its troops from Georgian territory. Irakly Batiashvili, head of the Georgian parliamentary defense and security committee, recently seconded the Georgian leader. He stated that “Tbilisi insists on the withdrawal of Russian military bases in the shortest possible time”. All this happens against the background of Georgia’s active participation in NATO’s maneuvers. In other words, Russia is making certain concessions with Georgia. The factual abolishment of the staff of the Group of Russian troops in the Trans-Caucasian region testifies that Moscow is losing its influence in the region where Washington’s influence increases.