Georgia’s wish to join NATO meets active resistance of Russia

On November 5 the Russian Foreign Ministry officially offered Georgia and Azerbaijan to start negotiations about implementation of the visa regime for crossing of their borders with Russia. It is known that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin issued a resolution about beginning of negotiations aimed at implementation of the visa regime for travelling to and from Georgia and Azerbaijan on November 4. It is also planned to establish strict control over the movement of funds to these two countries.

One of participants of the government meeting on November 4 reported to journalists that Putin instructed the Central Bank, Finance Ministry and State Communications Committee to prepare a system of measures for inspection of funds transfer from Russia to Georgia and Azerbaijan. The source quoted Putin as saying that “control should be established not only over the movement of criminals, but also over the movement of criminal money.” Putin stressed that these measures should be “weighed and temporary” and should be implemented for the period of special operation in the North Caucasus. Simultaneously these measures should not harm the bilateral relations between Russia and Georgia, and Russia and Azerbaijan, stressed Putin. According to available information, reported participant of the government meeting, up to $1.5 million is monthly transferred from Russia to Azerbaijan alone.

It is clear that tightening of financial control and implementation of the visa regime is not a matter of one moment, that is why on November 4 the government took a range of measures for organization of the new procedure of people passing through the state border in the North Caucasus aimed at reduction of a possibility of foreign terrorists penetration to the North Caucasus. Prime Minister Putin signed government resolution No. 1223 dedicated to this problem.

Thus to support the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya Moscow organized a relative isolation of Azerbaijan and Georgia from the south of Russia. Naturally, these are objective steps which are not conditioned by the unfriendly and prejudiced attitude of Moscow to these countries. Meanwhile when the measures of counter-action to penetration of militants and weapons from Azerbaijan and Georgia to Russia were tightened, these countries activated their anti-Russian rhetoric and actions.

Speaking at a press conference on November 8 in Tbilisi, and answering the question about the Russia’s intention to implement the visa regime for traveling to and from Georgia and Azerbaijan Shevardnadze said that this idea “is not very well considered.” However he added that despite that the initiative “contradicts to the agreement of the CIS countries on the visa-free movement of people” Georgia is ready to start negotiations with Russia about this issue.

Meanwhile Georgia refused deployment of Russian border guards on the Chechen-Georgian border to Moscow. Tbilisi also refused to permit Moscow to use the Group of Russian Forces in Transcaucasia for destruction of militants from the area of the Main Caucasus Ridge (from the south along the Argun Ravine).

This important strategic direction is currently controlled by Russia only with assistance of aviation. Recently representatives of the Russian special services reported that Chechen militants consider the Itum-Kale-Shatili road through the Chechen part of the Russian-Georgian state border to be “strategically important.” According to them, Russian military airplanes regularly bomb this road to create obstacles. However the militants daily clear up the new obstacles. “It is here that huge number of militants, including Arabs and Kosovar Albanians, and huge quantities of weapons and ordnance pass to Chechnya,” say representatives of the security agencies.

They add that “there is also information available that from Georgia weapons and militants are still delivered on helicopters and light airplanes.” With reference to the operational information the security agencies reported that in Georgia Chechen militants plant to organize several camps for training of terrorists and a few bases in case the federal forces “oust” them from Chechnya. According to representatives of security agencies, the Georgian party is currently unable to independently guard the Chechen part of its border with Russia. “Due to this, refusal of Georgia to guard the border in cooperation is obviously beneficial for the bandits,” add the sources.

The Russian Defense Ministry also announced that Tbilisi had allegedly agreed with the Chechen leaders about the stay of the Chechen government in exile in Georgia. The Georgian Foreign Ministry reacted to this statement instantaneously, calling it “a calumny devoid of any grounds.”

In his interview to journalists on November 10, Georgian Defense Minister Tevzadze said that such charges against Georgia could be taken as “blackmail.”

It is easy to understand the Georgian politicians. So far there is no evidence that official Tbilisi assists the Chechen terrorists. However bearing in mind that the Georgian border guards service is just starting its activities, we can see that it does not fully control the situation, and there is a real possibility of militants and terrorists passing through the border.

Meanwhile against the background of refusal to control the Chechen-Georgian border in cooperation Tbilisi openly announces its intentions to join NATO, and expresses its discontent with the Russian military presence in the country.

On November 3 Shalva Pichkhadze, advisor to the Georgian President for military issues, announced that exceeding of armament quotas in the southern flank (stipulated by the Treaty on Conventional Arms in Europe) by Russia for a long time would make Tbilisi move more actively towards joining to NATO.

Pichkhadze added that, according to mass media, NATO countries “cannot be convinced that Russia would not use the Chechen problem for strengthening of its military presence in the North Caucasus.” Adding that the Chechen problem is undoubtedly an internal problem of Russia, Pichkhadze announced the opinion of Tbilisi that a possible escalation of the conflict might infringe on the interests of national security of the South Caucasus countries.

On November 10, Grigol Katamadze, Deputy Defense Minister of Georgia, also announced that by 2005 Georgia would be ready to appeal about joining to NATO. He added that “this step cannot be taken as hostile towards Russia,” and Georgia is still ready for strategic partnership with Russia, including the partnership in the military sphere. Katamadze reminded that the mutual wish to develop strategic partnership was declared by the treaty on friendship and cooperation between Russia and Georgia signed by the presidents of the countries in 1994.

Katamadze admitted that a range of contradictions had appeared in retaliations between Russia and Georgia in the military sphere. These contradictions came to light during negotiations between Russian and Georgian military experts in Moscow conducted last week. This, is first of all, refusal of Georgia to permit Moscow to use military bases in Georgia due to events in Chechnya. “Despite the presence of contradictions, we are ready for constructive dialog with the Russian colleagues,” said Katamadze. He called unjustified the charges of some Russian militaries and politicians against Georgia saying that by its active military cooperation with the US and NATO Georgia infringes on Russia’s interests in the Caucasus. Due to this Katamadze said that “in the inter-state relations Georgia proceeds exclusively from its own national interests and secures them from the pragmatic standpoint.” “We frequently requested Russia about assistance in build up of our armed forces, but did not receive any help. We received it from the US and NATO countries,” added Katamadze.

Recently President of Georgia Shevardnadze announced that Georgia “will knock on the doors of NATO” by 2005 if he is re-elected as the President. According to him, Georgia consider joining to NATO as “a strategic course for a relatively distant future,”

There is no doubt that strengthening of NATO influence in the Caucasus infringes on Russia’s interests. The present Georgian authorities do not always make concessions to Moscow in provision of security in the North Caucasus. Thus all these circumstances might form the basis for development of new contradictions between Moscow and Tbilisi, and hence will not contribute to development of trust and friendship between the countries.