Again, Active combat operations began in Abkhazia. A group of militants about 500 men strong was concentrated in the Kodor Gorge. Mass media reported that these are mainly the so-called guerillas of Svanetia from the White Legion of David Shengelia, detachments of Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev and some other armed groups including Arab mercenaries and probably Wahhabis from Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia.
They appeared in the Kodor Gorge last week and shot several civilians dead. On October 8, they downed a Mi-8 transport helicopter with a UN mission aboard. This happened near the foot of the Sugar Head mountain of the Kodor Gorge in Abkhazia, 22 kilometers to the east of Sukhumi. On October 9, unidentified airplanes attacked positions of Abkhaz armed forces. There were casualties. Georgian authorities accused Russia of this attack, but both Russian and Abkhaz authorities see the “hand of Tbilisi” in this incident.
Observers emphasize that active military provocations on the part of Georgia began in Abkhazia immediately after the return of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze from the US. In Washington, Shevardnadze spoke with American authorities about the need to strengthen the independence of Georgia and create conditions of better security for its population.
Shevardnadze is unhappy with the situation in Abkhazia. Russia did not completely evacuate its military base from Gudauta. Negotiations on the return of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia were unsuccessful, and the recent military provocations against civilians and Abkhaz armed forces moved this process backwards indefinitely. What for does Georgia hope? What is the reason of the militants’ operations n Abkhazia?
Krasnaya Zvezda, official newspaper of Russian Defense Ministry, reported that the interrogation of captured militants by the Abkhaz military showed that Georgian guerrillas and Chechen militants wanted to establish a bridgehead in the Kodor Gorge to organize terrorist acts in Abkhazia and neighboring Russian regions. They allegedly regularly communicated with officers of Georgian Defense Ministry and intelligence service. According to the Russian military, attacks of the militants on villages of the Kodor Gorge were not accidental. The gorge is very close to the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi. The forests in the gorge are reliable protection for the Georgian and Chechen militants. There are several highways from the gorge to Sukhumi through which it is possible to reach the city in an hour by car.
Until recently there were neither Abkhaz armed forces nor collective peacekeeping forces in the Kodor Gorge. The northern part of the gorge where Svans mainly live was under the control of Georgia. Abkhazia silently agreed with this because Svans did not organize any provocations. The situation has changed. The Kodor Gorge became the main arena of struggle for Georgian militants against Abkhaz armed forces.
With the unofficial support of Tbilisi, Georgian militants want to destabilize the situation and to demonstrate inability of Russian peacekeepers to resolve the crisis in Abkhazia. Shevardnadze frequently announced his intention to internationalize the solving of the Abkhaz problem. He wants not the Russian peacekeepers but UN or NATO units to combat the terrorists in Abkhazia according to the pattern of Kosovo and Macedonia. Now, when the US began decisive combat operations against terrorists and started a global re-division of spheres of influence in Central Asia and other regions Washington may hear the request of Shevardnadze.
Russia will hardly agree with such a scenario. Moscow has its interests in Abkhazia. First of all, these are geopolitical interests. Second, there is a large military airfield near Gudauta where a Russian military base functioned until recently. Third, Abkhazia has unfreezing ports of Sukhumi and Ochamchira and numerous resorts where many Russians including servicemen spend vacations despite the state of war.
Fourth. Abkhazia is important in Russia from the economic standpoint. Important railways and highways connecting Russia with Tbilisi and Yerevan through the Black Sea coast cross the territory of Abkhazia. Now these roads are idle, but their putting into operation would contribute to revival of economies in Russia, Abkhazia and Georgia.
Meanwhile, Abkhazia will hardly make concessions to Tbilisi and will hardly agree to return 240,000 Georgian refugees to the republic. Abkhaz people amount to less than 100,000 of the population in this breakaway republic. The number of Armenians and Russians is practically the same. All of them are united into one ethnic group, which is called the Abkhaz population and is usually hostile to Georgians, especially after the bloody war of 1992-1993. Chechen militants commanded by Shamil Basaev fought on the side of Abkhazia in the war of 1992-1993. Whereas formerly Chechens considered the struggle for independence of Abkhazia the main reason of their participation in the war, their current actions towards civilians are not understandable. Most likely they lost ideological principles and simply turned into bandits and mercenaries being subsidized by Islamic centers.
Thus, it is quite likely that the destabilization of the situation in Abkhazia is associated not only with the wish of Tbilisi to acquire control over Sukhumi, but also with the strikes of the US on the terrorist bases. Through his special services, Shevardnadze wants to attract international public opinion (of UN and NATO) to the problems of Abkhazia to make international forces destroy the terrorists there and to isolate Russia from this process.