It is hardly possible to blame Moscow alone for this
Georgia is skeptical about the prolongation of the Treaty on collective security of the CIS and thinks about separation from the CIS, announced Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in his interview to Japanese newspaper Sankey Simbun, published on February 25. According to Shevardnadze, the treaty on collective security of the CIS can not achieve its goals, and Georgia will have to join NATO in the future. Shevardnadze added that in 1999 Georgia would form its own border guards, and the Russian border guards, currently deployed in this country, would be removed. Georgian President added: “In the future the Russian military bases in our territory will be liquidated, and we will go out under the Moscow’s influence.” According to him, Georgia, like Ukraine, strengthens its relations with Europe and tries to point the process of the state build up into the normal direction, based on cooperation with the West. Thus, we observe the further aggravation of the Russian-Georgian relations. We add that the Russian party makes unilateral concessions to Tbilisi, trying it to maintain stability in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where inter-ethnic conflicts appeared after breakup of the Soviet Union, actually on its own account. Russia tries to make concessions to Tbilisi, but Shevardnadze and his retainers seem not to be noticing the helping hand, and do their best to hinder the presence of the Russian military contingent in Georgia.
In February Nikolai Mikhailov, State Secretary and Senior Deputy Defense Minister, visited Georgia. Results of his visit can hardly be called inspiring for Russia. The problems, associated with provision of food products and other material resources to the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasia (GRFT) are not solved yet, and the fate of the Russian military bases in the republic is not defined. Handing of some objects of the GRFT to Georgia including the armament and combat equipment was again offered for discussion.
According to Russian sources, after breakup of the Soviet Union Georgian received very much during division of the arsenal of the Transcaucasian military district. It received 147 tanks, 169 combat infantry vehicles, 92 armored personnel carriers, and 40 combat reconnaissance vehicles. 263 guns and mortars of different systems and caliber, 26 multiple rocket systems of Grad type, 40 anti-armor guns and 210 anti-armor missile systems, 436 pieces of air-defense artillery, more than 1,000 railway carriages of ammunition and much other property.
In addition, on the initiative of the Defense Ministry in early 1998 some ten military objects were already handed to Georgia. Parliament members already rebuked the Defense Ministry and former Premier Kirienko for the “arbitrary will” and haste in giving up of some objects of the GRFT in favor of Tbilisi, having issued a special resolution about this in April of 1998. Proceeding from this resolution Russian law enforcement agencies worked in the GRFT. They checked legality of the governmental resolutions about the handing of the GRFT objects to Georgia, but results of this inspection were not published.
Meanwhile, it seems that Russia is ready to make new concessions. During the visit of Mikhailov to Tbilisi the new list of the military objects, handed to Georgia, was approved. It will be represented to the federal government. The State Secretary of Russian Defense Ministry assured that Moscow “will completely prepare the positive resolution about this issue” by the next meeting of the Russian-Georgian commission.
Anyway, along with the concessions, Russian Defense Ministry demonstrates its readiness to continue its presence in Georgia in the future. For example, on February 28 Defense Minister Igor Sergeev announced that Russian Armed Forces would continue their participation in the peacekeeping operations in Abkhazia, Tajikistan and Adzharia, as well as in such conflict areas like Kosovo, Tajikistan and Abkhazia.
According to the Georgian leader, “judging by these statements of Igor Sergeev, he is either a politicized marshal, or there was some technical mistake.” According to Shevardnadze, by his statements the Russian Defense Minister “offended the whole Georgia, including the residents of Adzharia, where there is and there will not be any conflict situations.” We might agree with the opinion of Shevardnadze that Sergeev might be far from the policy, but we can not foresee the fact that, if the Russian forces are removed from Georgia, its breakup will be inevitable. Abkhazia tries to join Russia, because until 1923 it was a part of the Russian Empire, and then the Russian Federation. There are some forces in Russia, who support the separatist attitude in Abkhazia. Some Russian parliament members kindle this attitude. The Duma commission for the peaceful resolving of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict sent the final protocol of its meeting to the UN and OSCE. The commission questioned the statement of the Georgian party “Abkhazia is a part of Georgia”. The protocol says: “relations of Georgia with Abkhazia were stopped by Georgia in the unilateral manner in early 1990’s by cancellation of all legal acts of the Soviet period, including the Constitution of the Georgian Soviet Republic, on the basis of which the state-legal relations of Georgia and Abkhazia were built, through the return of the Georgian Constitution of 1921, in which Abkhazia was not mentioned as a subject of the legal-state relations.”
Accidentally, the parliamentary majority in the Duma is formed by communists and national patriots. If their adherent is elected as the Russian President, adoption of initiatives of the “third force”, regarding separation of Abkhazia from Georgia, is a matter of technique. NATO forces will hardly assist Georgia at this point, because they will have no reason to spoil their relations with Russia.
Pro-Russian attitude is even stronger in the South Ossetia. If Russian and Ossetian peacekeepers are removed from this territory, “initiatives” of some forces might be possible, which can be targeted at unification of this Georgian province with the North Ossetia. It will be very difficult for Tbilisi to resist to these tendencies.
80% of residents of Akhalkalaki are Armenians, and removal of the Russian forces from this region will also result in development of separatist attitude and possible separation of this area in favor of Armenia.
Leader of Adzharia Abashidze will not allow withdrawal of Russian forces from the autonomous republic. He often announced that the Russian forces remain the guarantee of peace and stability in the whole Transcaucasia. In addition, the structures of the GRFT employed many local residents. On account of the local budget perfect headquarters and hospital were built for Russia, and practically the whole infrastructure was created. Thus, it is difficult to understand the presents attempts of Tbilisi, targeted ate aggravation of its relations with Russia. We might agree with the opinion that this is done to take more money from Russia for deployment of Russian military bases in Georgia. Orientation of Georgia towards NATO is a factor of intentions and dreams, but not an element of the real policy. Russia will have enough methods to prevent it. It is difficult to compare, but, for example, in Abkhazia, which will always remain the pro-Russian one, the “Byelorussian variant” can always be used. Deployment of nuclear weapons in Byelorussia, as a Russian ally, in response to the NATO eastward expansion is already considered. It will not necessarily be strategic. It is enough to equip tactical and operational-tactical missiles with the range of 1,000-1,200 km with nuclear warheads.