ADZHARIAN CONFRONTATION HAS BEEN INTENSIFIED

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The situation in Adzharia is heating up. Adzharian leader Aslan Abashidze said of late that invasion of the republican troops in Adzharia “could take place tomorrow, the days after tomorrow, any minute now.” He noted that “over a month which has passed since the start of the talks aimed at relieving the strain between the center and the autonomy, we have fulfilled 8 of 12 agreements. However, as soon as Adzharia resolves one issue, the center raises two more. As soon as the two issues are settled, four new problems arise. The issue will be emerging, no matter how many issues we resolve,” Adzharian leader stressed.

It goes without saying that Adzharia is willing to preserve its independence and official Tbilisi intends to subdue the autonomy. Real situation shows that it would be very hard for the new Georgian leader to achieve this. Adzharia has its own armed formations, which doesn’t yield to the republican troops by their efficiency. The issue of disarming these formations is the major point for Tbilisi. Clearly enough, Abashidze is unwilling to surrender arms.

“The weapons available in the autonomy are the legacy of the civil war which took place in Georgia in early 1990s. This is a very good legacy; it helped avoiding involvement of Adzharia in that war. Let’s take a look at Georgia apart from Adzharia. How many automatic rifles, grenade launchers and explosives do they have? Why is this hushed up?” Abashidze says justifying for his unwillingness to liquidate the armed formations in the autonomy. Similarly, he doesn’t want any supervising central structures to be placed in the republic.

“We are accused from position of elder fellow, as well as Ossetins, Abkhazs, Mingrels were accused earlier. The results proved to be deplorable. There are issues which we are resolving. However, we also have the points which are unacceptable for us, for instance creation of a representative office of the central government in Adzharia. How could a family have two heads?” the Adzharian leader notes. Undoubtedly, the craving for certain independence must be balanced by actions of the center. In this case, Adzharia has both political and historic motifs for which it could have its sovereign status and privileges in Georgia. The Kars Treaty of 1921 and the roles of Russia and Turkey, which are supposed to guarantee Adzharia’s independence, avouch these privileges.

Abashidze is aware of that and says that “our neighbors Russia and Turkey, which are guarantors of the treaty, mustn’t admit anything which cold hardly be corrected then.” Meanwhile, the Adzharian leader seems to rely on his own resources more, backed by his security ministers and command of the 25th Mechanized Infantry Brigade of Georgia, which has refused to obey the central command. As is widely known, Major General Roman Dumbadze, dismissed from his post (the criminal proceedings on high treason have been instituted against him) said at the press conference lately his “to become entirely subordinate to Adzharian leader Aslan Abashidze.” In his words, he is still commander of the 25th brigade stationed in the vicinity of Batumi. Dumbadze said that he doesn’t obey to the order of the defense minister, since under the Adzharian Constitution he is subordinate to the Adzharian leader. Dumbadze warned that in case of an armed invasion in Adzharia he’d be defending the autonomy. “I urge everybody not to take up arms against the people of Georgia. I ask the parents of soldiers to warn their sons not to come to Adzharia with weapons,” he said.

The 25th Mechanized Infantry Brigade has 557 servicemen. The brigade has several tanks, nine BTR vehicles, artillery mounts. At the same time, only 17 officers of the brigade refused to obey Dumbadze and left for Tbilisi. They have already been declared heroes of Georgia; President Mikhail Saakashvili has conferred his personal thanks to the officers, who remained “faithful to their oaths and didn’t follow General Dumbadze, who committed high treason.” The president noted that the deed of officers who arrived in Tbilisi is “heroic.” He promised to “punish the traitors severely.” The president stressed that Roman Dumbadze, former commander of the Batumi brigade will be added on the wanted list and “his photos will be hanged out in all Georgian regions and on trees. We have gifted Adzharia to nobody and no criminal would ever break the firm will of the state so that Georgia be united and subject to unified laws,” Saakashvili said.

So, the statements of the Georgian leader confirm conclusions that an armed confrontation between Batumi and Tbilisi is imminent. It is not known when this will happen. However, observers tend to link the start of probable military operations against Adzharia with the naval maneuvers which are to take place in the Poti waters in late April. Georgian warplanes have been flying round the autonomy, whereas Vice Admiral Gigla Iremadze, commander of the Georgian navy set on a visit to Greece on April 21, where he participated in the ceremony of passing a new missile launch to Georgia as a grant. As reported by the Georgian navy headquarters, the commander will come back to Georgia by April 28. Two Georgian ships repaired in Greece will enter the Poti port together with the new launch by late April. It is not ruled out that all these warships will participate in the war games scheduled.

So, the situation in southern Georgia is coming to a head. Both Batumi and Tbilisi are showing firmness of their stances and have no intentions to compromise in relation to disarmament and political dialogue. So far, official Tbilisi is not controlling the situation in Adzharia, but the separatist trends are growing in the country. Batumi is ready to uphold its interests, right to disintegration from Georgia. The Adzharian leader has unambiguously mentioned that. It is not yet clear how efficient the response of the Adzharian armed formations to a probable invasion of the Georgian troops in the autonomy could be. The role of Russian troops stationed in the republic is significant here. The 12th Military Base of Russia deployed in Batumi can provide an adequate response to any strike. However, will the Russian troops interfere with the conflict? Undoubtedly they won’t from the juridical point of view, but are likely to do that factually. Too many Adzharian residents now pass service at the Russian base. They are unlikely to stay indifferent in case the Georgian forces attempt seizing their fatherland.

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