War Fears Rise Over Russia-Georgia Tension - August, 2008

War Fears Rise Over Russia-Georgia Tension


August, 2008

Tensions remain high between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In this report from Washington, VOA Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera says some analysts fear the crisis could escalate to a war. The Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared their independence from Tbilisi in the early 1990s. And since then, every Georgian leader, including current President Mikhail Saakashvili, has vowed to bring them back under Georgia's control. No country has recognized Abkhazia or South Ossetia as independent states. But Princeton University's Jason Lyall says Russia's relations with the two regions are very tight.

"They are very close and becoming increasingly so over time. In fact there is concern in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that Russia is annexing them very slowly, almost by stealth, that they are bringing them inside the fold. The leaderships, obviously, have close ties but now Abkhazia and South Ossetia are almost entirely dependent on Russia for their economies. And so both economies are actually now run on the ruble and they have transportation links to Russia only," said Lyall.

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi increased in April when Moscow decided to step up its political and commercial ties with the two separatist regions - moves that infuriated Georgian officials. During that month, an unmanned Georgian reconnaissance plane was shot down over Abkhazia. Georgian officials said it was brought down by a Russian fighter plane, but Moscow denied the charge. An international panel investigating the incident subsequently said the drone was shot down by the Russians. On July 8, Russia raised tensions further by flying four jets for 40 minutes over South Ossetian territory. Russian officials said the action was taken to deter Georgians from resorting to military action either in South Ossetia or Abkhazia. And unlike previous occasions, this time, the Russians took responsibility for the over-flights.

Moscow's acknowledgment of sending warplanes over the volatile region coincided with a visit to Tbilisi by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She repeated Washington's support of Georgia's bid to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Analyst James Sherr, with the London-based Royal United Services Institute, says for Moscow resolving the Abkhaz-South Ossetia issue is directly linked to Georgia's NATO aspirations. "On more than one occasion, Russian representatives have said very firmly that they would assist Tbilisi in resolving these conflicts if Georgia abandoned its pro-NATO course. And when one hears that, it is clear, therefore, that the Russians are deliberately being unhelpful at the moment: the linkage between those conflicts, Russian policy and Georgia's NATO aspirations is therefore very explicit," said Sherr. Many experts, including Robert Legvold from Columbia University, say tensions are so high they could lead to a full-scale war.

"I do not think the Russians, despite their extreme military reaction at this point, in fact want it to get to a conflict. I cannot imagine that the Georgians do in this circumstance either. But as we know, military conflicts often occur even when nobody wants them to occur because of the way things intervene and because there are third parties," he said. "The Abkhaz too and the South Ossetians have a role to play in this and one of roles players like this have in conflicts of this sort is to act as a trigger." Legvold and others say the only way forward is through diplomacy. They say the first order of business is to find ways to defuse the tension there and then tackle the substantive differences between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway regions. But analysts say that would mean both sides would need to compromise. And at this stage, it appears that neither Moscow nor Tbilisi is willing to do so.

Source: http://www.voanews.com/english/2008-07-29-voa69.cfm

Georgia Gearing up for “Immediate Response”, Russia Flexing Muscles with “Caucasus Frontier 2008”

http://www.armyrecognition.com/Russe/Georgia/Uniforms/Soldier_Army_Georgia_news_28062007_001.jpg

1,625 Georgian military servicemen are taking part in a large-scale international military training, alongside US forces, known as Immediate Response at the site of the fourth infantry brigade of Vaziani base. This training is the first of its kind to be held in Georgia and is part of the joint Georgian-American project. Within the program, command-headquarter training is being carried out with land force brigades. One of the tasks Georgian and American soldiers had to fulfill together was patrolling near the selected settled area where an unexpected attack recently took place. Georgian and American military personnel evacuated local population and withdrew wounded people from the site. The Georgian-American trainings coincided with the Russian military exercises near the Georgia-Russia border. The Georgian Foreign Ministry said that these trainings, Dubbed Caucasus Frontier 2008, launched by Russia’s North Caucasian Military District (SKVO) on July 15 in close proximity of the border, are a continuation of Russia’s aggressive policy.

The exercises involve units of the North Caucasus Military District, mainly the 58th Army, the 4th Air Force Army, Interior Ministry troops, and border guards. They include some 8,000 Russian military personnel, about 700 armor units and over 30 aircraft. Russia has said, “In connection with an escalation in tension in the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflict zones, issues related to involvement in special peace enforcement operations in the zones of armed conflict will also be worked out during the exercises.” On July 10 Colonel General Sergey Makarov, the commander of SKVO, said that Russia’s North Caucasian Military District was ready to provide assistance to Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia if needed. Tbilisi claims that Russia’s “aggressive policy” poses a threat to peace and stability in the entire Caucasus region. Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry representatives say the plans for Immediate Response training began last December.

“Immediate Response” is an annual bilateral security cooperation program carried out by the US coalition army together with partner countries. The goal of the program is to facilitate cooperation and compliance between the US military forces and its allies as well as deepening partnership between Georgia and the USA.told Georgian Times that 1 625 military servicemen are taking part in the training program, among them 425 are Georgian and 1200 American soldiers. Under the Immediate Response program, Azeri, Ukrainian and Armenian soldiers are also undergoing training. Aleksandre Osepashvili, deputy head of Georgian armed forces’ united headquarter, vice-colonel says that the training presents military personnel with new technology, computer systems, and a simulation center. Alongside with theory and practice, soldiers are also being taught how to conduct humanitarian operations in emergencies. The trainings are also based on joint operations between Georgian and American militaries in Iraq. Two US helicopters are part of the program for carrying out evacuation and medical activities.

William Bigaret, head of the US south European forces, said that the main goal of the training program would be to provide compliance between Georgian and American soldiers and develop cooperation between Georgia-US armed forces. Murad Khomauri, representative of Defense Ministry, head of the training process says that Immediate Response is being implemented in two stages. The first stage envisages field activities and commander-headquarter teaching. “The soldiers are trained in shooting, tactical preparation and humanitarian operations during natural disasters,” said Khomauri. At the beginning of training program William Bigaret, head of the US south European forces declared that the joint training at Vaziani military base would facilitate understanding and cooperation between professional militaries of ally countries. On July 21, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili attended the command-headquarter training of Immediate Response program and reported that he was quite pleased.

“This is a unique opportunity to undergo a month-long training together with the representatives of the best army in the world. New military school is established in Georgia. The new skills we master will remain here for centuries,” Saakashvili said in his address to officers. Zaza Gogava, head of the Georgian armed forces’ united headquarter states that even though before now many trainings were held in Georgia, currently the goal of the training concerns synchronization of military sub-divisions representing various countries. According to the American servicemen who are taking part in the training, the goal of the program is to develop interrelation methods for coalition contingent and this aim is achieved. The program will officially finish on July 31.

Source: http://www.geotimes.ge/index.php?m=home&newsid=11713

In related news:


No Ossetian Negotiation without Russia


President of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia Eduard Kokoity has stated that the republic will not negotiate with Georgia without the participation of Russia. “Georgia is beginning to apply armed pressure to us so that we would agree to wreck the format, without the participation of North Ossetia and Russia. But we are not the kind of people who could do that,” Kokoity told a delegation. “Without the participation of North Ossetia and Russia, we won’t agree to anything with anybody.” Kokoity was quoted by the South Ossetian State Information Committee.Kokoity said that this was the latest trap set by Georgia. Earlier today, Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Teimuraz Yakobashvili stated that Tbilisi is prepared to negotiate directly with Tskhinvali without preliminary conditions. “Today the Georgian side is trying to discredit our position before the whole world by stating that they are prepared for direct negotiations with South Ossetia. That is nothing more than their latest PR action. On the one hand, while talking about negotiations, we observe that serious weapons have been drawn up along the border of the Republic of South Ossetia, including artillery rocket launchers,” Kokoity said. Kokoity also thanked the leadership of North Ossetia for its aide in receive children evacuated from the south of Ossetia, noting that it was a necessary measure and the children should be in a calm state. Tensions rose sharply in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone on the night of August 1, when there were several hours of battle using firearms, grenades and mortars. Tskhinvali and other settlements were subject to heavy fire. According to the South Ossetians, 6 people died and 13 were injured. Evacuation of women, children and the elderly from the most dangerous settlements began yesterday.

Source: http://www.kommersant.com/p-12962/r_...zed_republics/

Georgia, S. Ossetia talk war after 6 die in clash


Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia said on Saturday it was evacuating children to Russia and accused Georgia of targeting civilians after six people died overnight in a shootout with Georgian forces. Stoking fears of war in the volatile Caucasus, separatist president Eduard Kokoity said he was ready to mobilise his region's men and take volunteers from the Russian republic of North Ossetia and other Caucasus republics to fight Georgia. South Ossetia broke away from Georgia after a bloody war in the early 1990s. Russia has sent in a peacekeeping force, which Moscow says is needed to avert a new war. South Ossetia said on its website, cominf.org, that the death toll had risen overnight from three to six people and armed clashes continued through the night on the outskirts of the separatist capital, Tskhinvali. It said shooting came from three ethnic Georgian villages, but Georgia blamed the separatists for provoking the clashes. The commander of Georgia's peacekeeping force in the region, Mamuka Kurashvili, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying South Ossetian peacekeepers shot at a Georgian village and suspected Russian peacekeepers of taking part. Georgian peacekeepers and police officers returned fire and repelled the attack, he said. Georgia's Interior Ministry said nine civilians in the Georgian villages in South Ossetia were injured, while Tskhinvali said up to 15 were injured on its side, up from seven reported on Friday. Kokoity put the number of injured at 13. "This is another attempt by the separatist side to involve Georgia in a military conflict," Georgia's state minister in charge of re-integration, Temur Iakobashvili, told reporters in Tbilisi before leaving to visit the shootout area. "The Georgian side was forced to return fire," he added. Later, Iakobashvili said South Ossetian leaders refused to meet him for talks, and he called for more peacekeepers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

CHILDREN'S CAMPS

On the separatist website, Kokoity accused Georgia of deliberately targeting young South Ossetian men with sniper fire and aiming artillery fire at Tskhinvali residential areas. Children were being evacuated in buses from the Tskhinvali area to children's camps in the Russian border region of North Ossetia, the site said. A spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry, Shota Utiashvili, denied use of snipers and weapons capable of hitting Tshinvali's "peaceful quarters" in televised remarks. Russia's foreign ministry, in a separate statement, urged both sides to show restraint and said it was taking "energetic measures" to prevent an escalation of the armed conflict. Russian news agencies quoted the a spokesman for the Russian defence ministry as saying Russian peacekeepers were not involved in the exchange of fire. The commander of Russia's paratroop force, celebrating Russia's annual Paratroop Day, turned up the rhetoric, saying his men were ready for deployment to South Ossetia to back up the peacekeepers, Interfax reported. "A decision to deploy extra forces is the purview of the Security Council and president, but in any case Russia will not allow harm to come to its citizens residing in South Ossetia," the news agency quoted Valery Yevtukhovich as saying. Georgia, which has irritated Russia by aspiring to join NATO, has accuses Moscow of seeking to annex South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia. Russia has rejected the blame and accused Tbilisi, which views restoring control over the breakaway provinces as a top national priority, of artificially stoking the crisis to find a pretext for seizing the regions by force. (Additional reporting by Melissa Akin in Moscow; Editing by Richard Meares)

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/homep...9875._CH_.2400

Russian Airborne Troops Ready to Intervene if Needed – Commander


The Russian Airborne Troops (VDV) are ready to help Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia if needed, Valery Evtukhovich, the commander of VDV, told Interfax news agency on August 2. “It is up to the [Russian] National Security Council, or the President, to decide whether to send additional troops or not; but anyway Russia will not let anyone offend its citizens, residing on the South Ossetian territory,” the Russian military commander said. “As far as Russian Airborne Troops are concerned, we are ready to go and help peacekeeping forces in the conflict zone if it is needed.”

Source: http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=18878

Armen Ashotyan: Georgia may find itself between Azerbaijan’s Scylla and Turkey’s Charybdis

Georgia is engaged in a number of projects pointed at Armenia while the latter would never venture such projects, an Armenian parliamentarian said. “Armenia maintains neutrality in the Russian-Georgian relations. Now, it’s important to know whether Georgia’s policy against Armenia is imposed from outside or it’s the republic’s own goal. I am hopeful that it’s an imposed policy. Georgia risks to find itself between Azerbaijan’s Scylla and Turkey’s Charybdis,” Armen Ashotyan, member of the RA parliament and the Republican Party of Armenia, said during a Yerevan-Tbilisi TV space bridge. “It’s also important to clarify where the Kars-Baku railroad will lead. Will it stretch toward Russia and Iran or will it become a train ferry with Central Asia.” He also said that it’s at least naïve to position Kars-Baku as a regional and secure o project. “Armenia is concerned about it own interests while Georgia doesn’t understand that it isolates Armenia on orders from Azerbaijan and Turkey,” Ashotyan said.

Source: http://www.panarmenian.net/news/eng/?nid=26742

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