Question: Victor Mikhailovich, Russia and Georgia’s dialogue in the economic sector is very difficult. However, military problems are topical too. In particular, the destiny of the Russian military group in the republic is uncertain. The agreement, which would regulate the withdrawal of Russian troops, has not been passed yet. In the meantime, Tbilisi demands that Russian soldiers be withdrawn from Georgia as soon as possible. Could you comment on this problem?
Victor Zavarzin: Russia disagrees with reproaches regarding the withdrawal of its bases from Georgia. Russia meets its commitments in compliance with the Istanbul agreements. We withdrew the bases from Vaziani and Gudaut on time. This is why there are no objective reasons to suspect Russia of waiving its commitments.
We understand Georgian politicians’ intention to make foreign military bases leave Georgian territory as soon as possible, however, we should not forget about servicemen and their families. The Duma defense committee supports the Russian Defense Ministry, which states that the withdrawal of troops from Georgia must not repeat mistakes made during the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Europe. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that “we will not withdraw troops to the field”. We need to prepare military settlements for the troops, create the necessary infrastructure and jobs for members of servicemen’s families. This takes time and money.
At the same time, Russia has decided to withdraw the bases from Batumi and Akhalkalaki. Part of buildings will be passed over to Georgia by January 1, 2006. Preparations for the withdrawal began on May 30, 2005. The bases will leave Georgia by 2008.
Question: Where will the unit be withdrawn?
Victor Zavarzin: The units will become part of two light mountaineering brigades, which will be stationed along the Russian-Georgian border. They will support Russian border guards and prevent illegal armed groups from infiltrating from Georgia. We will spend around 1 billion roubles on this. Part of weapons will be sent to the Russian base in Armenia.
Russia is concerned about the goals of the extension of the US military presence in Georgia. US officials state that the US does not plan to create military bases in Georgia. However, the White House supports Tbilisi’s demands concerning the withdrawal of the Russian bases, and this makes us think that the US seeks to strengthen its presence in the Trans-Caucasian region.
We are also concerned about some Georgian politicians’ demands that Russia withdraw peacekeepers from Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I think that our peacekeepers cope with their tasks.
Question: What’s your forecast for the development of Russian-Georgian relations?
Victor Zavarzin: Russia seeks to strengthen friendly relations with Georgia. Our countries have common history, and it cannot be changed instantly.
Russia considers the economy as the main sector of our relations. It would be an advantage for Russia to have a stable and prosperous neighbor. This is why we seek to develop economic relations between our countries.
Question: What can you say about the Nagorny Karabakh problem?
Victor Zavarzin: I will say a few words about the positions of the conflicting sides and Russia’s position.
Armenia is prepared to leave this territory in exchange for Nagorny Karabakh’s independence. Armenia demands that the conflicting sides determine the status of Nagorny Karabakh solve the issue of the Lachinsk corridor (the only road, which links Nagorny Karabakh and Armenia) and proceed to the withdrawal of Nagorny Karabakh’s armed forces from seven Azerbaijanian regions, the deployment of a peacekeeping contingent and return of refugees.
Azerbaijan’s line is somewhat different – Nagorny Karabakh is part of the republic. Azerbaijan proposes its own plan for settling the conflict:
– liberation of seven Azerbaijanian regions, the deployment of peacekeepers and refugees’ return;
– settlement of the status of the Lachinsk corridor;
– settlement of the status of Nagorny Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.
Baku ignores Nagorny Karabakh’s position. In my opinion, it plays a very important role in settling the conflict. Nagorny Karabakh’s position is as follows:
– to achieve sovereignty of Nagorny Karabakh and its citizens;
– to retain security of the territory ensured by its own army and the security service;
– to reach an agreement with Baku concerning territorial problems;
– to contribute to Armenian and Azerbaijanian refugees’ return;
– to restore economic cooperation with Azerbaijan;
– to join regional political and economic integration.
Russia’s principal position concerning Karabakh has not changed:
– we oppose exterior solutions thrust upon the conflicting sides; we proceed from the fact that the main responsibility lies on Azerbaijan and Armenia;
– Russia is prepared to support the solution, which all conflicting sides approve; Russia is prepared to play the role of the guarantor of stability if the parties reach a compromise;
– in our opinion, the solution must restore stability in the Trans-Caucasian region and the geopolitical balance of forces in the region; this solution must not turn the region into the arena of international political and military rivalry.