Russian Diplomat: Military Action in Abkhazia Possible - April, 2008

After last week's Mig-29 incident and the recent official comments regarding going to war over Abkhazia, it certainly looks like Moscow is drawing an official line in the sand. Unlike in the Baltic and in the Balkans, Moscow knows that the Caucasus is where Russia maintains a clear political and military supremacy. Moscow also has the peace of mind knowing that the Armenian Republic will remain an ally. Consequently, Moscow feels more confident in the Caucasus. As a result, policy makers in Moscow are gradually beginning to take advantage of the inviting geopolitical situation that is present on the ground today. Azerbaijan is essentially a hostage to Moscow; Armenia is a willing partner; and Georgia is clearly on Moscow's black list. Nonetheless, the situation is brewing. There may be a clash sometime soon.



Russian Military Action in Abkhazia Possible - Russian Diplomat

April, 2008

If Georgia will start the military conflict in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia will have to react through military means, Russian Foreign Ministry's special envoy for relations with CIS countries Valery Kenyakin said on April 25. Officials in Tbilisi have already condemned remarks as “a direct military intimidation.” “Russia is doing everything so that the military scenario is not enacted in a zone of Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, but if it would be unleashed, we will have to react including through military means,” Kenyakin was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying at a press conference in the news agency’s office in Moscow.

“If helpless people will be suffering, we will have to protect them,” he added. “Russia is for changing the territorial integrity of Georgia from a theoretical possibility into practical reality, this requires negotiations,” the diplomat noted, “currently, Georgia’s territorial integrity is a theoretical hypothesis.” “We are pushing the sides to negotiating process in the frames of existing [negotiating] formats, if somebody wants to rely on NATO’s force, we have something to respond with.” Kenyakin also said, he “had no confidence that US is working positively in terms of settlement of conflict situations” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

He did not rule out that “Georgia might start a military operation against Abkhazia in the nearest future.” Kenyakin also claimed “there has been no Russian fighter jet in Abkhazian skies on 20 April” and slammed the possible discussion of the matter at OSCE security forum. “Who would be discussing anything there [at OSCE]? We will again see the video clip which was distributed [by Georgia] to the UN Security Council members and will hear the political positions? Conclusions in this incident have to rely on expert’s opinions, not on dilettantes who can only air the political orders,” Kenyakin stated. The Russian diplomat’s remarks triggered a prompt reaction from Tbilisi.

“This is a direct military intimidation against Georgia,” MP Givi Targamadze, the chairman of the parliamentary committee for defense and security, said. “This is yet another sign indicating on Russia’s aggressiveness. Georgia is ready to protect itself from any type of aggression, including the one coming from Russia.” He also stressed that diplomatic efforts, including mobilization of international support was Tbilisi’s major tool to resist “Russia’s intimidations” and then he again repeated: “Georgia is capable to protect itself from Russia’s aggression.”

Davit Bakradze, who resigned from the foreign minister’s position on April 23 to run for the parliament, was in Berlin on Friday, where he held talks with the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Speaking at a joint news conference with Bakradze, Steinmeier condemned Russia’s decision to establish official links with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Later on Friday the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Minister Sergey Lavrov held phone conversation with the German counterpart and discussed bilateral ties, as well as some of the international matters. No reference on Georgia was made in the Russian Foreign Ministry’s press statement.

Earlier on April 25 Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that there was no crisis in Russo-Georgian relations. "I don't see a crisis in Russia-Georgia relations. We are witnessing a crisis in relations between the leadership of Georgia and Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The fact that Georgia's leadership is not able to establish a respectful dialogue with Abkhazia and South Ossetia but instead declared that it will join NATO to solve all its problems is seriously aggravating the situation," Lavrov said at a joint news conference with Finland's Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb in Moscow.

"I hope that those people who are trying to artificially push Georgia into NATO understand it very well. I hope that these people know about Tbilisi’s categorical refusal to sign treaty on non-use of force [in Abkhazia and South Ossetia] proposed by the UN and OSCE. I would like to hear reaction of these people on the statements of the Georgian leadership that Georgian unmanned aircraft have been flying; are flying and will fly over the conflict zone in Abkhazia [reference to President Saakashvili’s statement], although this is banned by the UN Security Council.”


In related news:

Russia warns of harsh response to Georgian provocations

Georgia preparing military operation against Abkhazia:

Russia's Defense Ministry issued a stern warning to Georgia on Tuesday over its actions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and pledged to deploy more Russian peacekeepers in the area. The ministry said that any violence against Russians in the breakaway Georgian republics would be met with tough reprisals from Moscow. "Any attempts by Georgia to use force to resolve the conflicts, or to employ violent measures against Russian peacekeepers or Russian citizens living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia will encounter an appropriate and tough response," the ministry said in a statement.

The statement also said Georgian aggression had forced Russia to take steps to increase peacekeeping numbers in the conflict zones, saying that, "the strengthening by Georgia of its forces in the immediate proximity to the conflict zones, threats of military force and... provocations on the part of Georgian authorities prevent Russian servicemen from performing their peacekeeping tasks." Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that Georgia was preparing to launch a military operation against Abkhazia, saying that Tbilisi was massing troops, weaponry, ammunition, food and supplies in the upper Kodori region, on the border with Abkhazia. "The number of troops and police exceeds 1,500...

The composition of the contingent indicates that Georgia is preparing to launch a military operation against Abkhazia," the statement said. Meanwhile, Georgia denounced Russia's move as aggression and urged the international community to prevent an escalation of tension in the region, Prime Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze said. "We condemn Russia's decision to increase the number of peacekeepers in the conflict zones as an extremely irresponsible move, especially against the background of Russia's latest statements about Abkhazia and South Ossetia... We will consider every soldier and every technical unit arriving in the conflict zone as... a potential aggressor," Gurgenidze said.

"We call on our partners to denounce the Russian decision and take every possible measure to prevent an increase in the contingent, which will force an escalation of tension in the region," the Georgian PM said. Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Georgia is looking to regain control over the two republics. Russian President Vladimir Putin called earlier this month for closer ties with the breakaway republics. Putin's statement provoked an angry response from Tbilisi, which accused Russia of attempting to annex the two republics.

Georgia also claims that on April 20 a Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter from the Gudauta military base in Abkhazia, where Russian peacekeepers have been stationed since the end of a bloody conflict in the early 1990s, shot down a Georgian drone, a claim Russia has denied. Russia said video footage of the alleged attack broadcast by Georgia was faked. A NATO HQ source, who wished to remain anonymous, said on Tuesday that NATO was "very concerned" about statements made by Russia pledging to protect Russian passport holders in Abkhazia.

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Russia's measures to support the two breakaway regions' populations were not aimed at establishing control over the republics. "It is evident that Russia's steps are aimed at ensuring the fundamental rights of residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and not at establishing any control over the territories of the unrecognized republics," the ministry said on its website. Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said the Russia-NATO Council would discuss on Wednesday the situation around Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He also called Georgian footage of the drone incident "cartoons."


Abkhazia Ready for Military Alliance with Russia

Abkhazia is ready for military alliance with Russia, Abkhazia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said in the interview with Mze TV Co. of Georgia. The chance of forming a military alliance is more solid nowadays, the minister of unrecognized republic said, evidently referring to the recent lift of economic, financial, transport and other sanctions that had been imposed on Abkhazia. Meanwhile, Tbilisi has demanded anew to wind up Russia’s military base in Gudauta. Georgia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said they called on the OSCE to conduct an international expertise of the Gudauta base. The base is to be transferred to Georgia after it, Vashadze said. According to Georgia’s military, the jet of the RF Air Force that took off Gudauta airport shot down Georgia’s spying drone in Galsky region of Abkhazia two weeks ago. The incident has materially aggravated the relations of Moscow and Tbilisi.


Russia beefs up Abkhazia forces

Extra Russian troops are now being deployed in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region, Russia says. The defence ministry said the fresh units were joining peacekeeping troops in the Tkvarcheli district, in line with an existing peace accord. The statement, quoted by Itar-Tass news agency, did not say how many extra troops were being deployed. Nato has accused Russia of increasing tension in Abkhazia, where separatists broke away from Georgia in the 1990s. Russia has kept a peacekeeping force in Abkhazia and another breakaway region, South Ossetia, under an agreement made following the wars of the early 1990s. Russia is known to have about 2,000 troops already in Abkhazia, and about 1,000 in South Ossetia. Moscow has accused Georgia of preparing to invade Abkhazia. Earlier, Georgia condemned Russia's decision to forge closer ties with the separatist authorities there. "The steps that have been taken [by Russia] and the rhetoric have increased tensions and undermined Georgia's territorial integrity," Nato spokesman James Appathurai said on Wednesday. He urged both Moscow and Tbilisi to avoid harsh rhetoric. Russia said Georgia was massing 1,500 soldiers and police in the upper Kodori Gorge, the only part of Abkhazia which remains under government control. Georgia denies any build-up of its own forces in the area, and says that Russia is taking provocative action.


In related news:

WTO Russia Working Group Ends

Georgian representatives made a serious attempt for the first time yesterday to block the negotiation process at an informal session of the working group on Russia in the WTO. Georgia is insisting that Russia not only allow Georgian customs officers access to checkpoints on the border with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it turned out late in the day that Georgia also wants Russian President Vladimir Putin's instructions on establishing direct economic ties with those regions cancelled. A decision was about to be made yesterday on the fourth edition of the report on Russia's trade policy as the basis for the speedy resolution of the disputed issues remaining. Only Georgia disagreed.

Its delegation demanded that the remaining questions on agriculture, export duties and state corporations be resolved and that a decision on a new edition of the report be made at an official session of the working group. Georgia is blocking official meetings of the group; that is why the session was informal in nature. The chairman of the group, Icelandic Ambassador Stefan Johannesson, that they were examining a technical question that does not require general agreement. The Georgians countered that it was a procedural question that any member of the WTO has the right to veto. A source in the WTO secretariat called the Georgian move senseless and politically motivated. (WTO staff are not authorized to giver interviews, so they speak only on condition of anonymity.)

The Russian delegation thought the report was blocked until late in the day. In the evening, the Georgian delegation yielded and the report was adopted. The working group will meet again at the end of May to discuss the issues mentioned in the report substantively. Reuters reported that Georgian Deputy Economic Development Minister Vakhtang Lezhava stated that Georgia is demanding that Russia not enter into direct economic ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A source in the Russia delegation told Kommersant that they were satisfied with the outcome of the session. Ukraine will also join the working group in May.


Russia, Georgia: Nearing a Flashpoint?


In recent days, Russia and Georgia have engaged in more of their ongoing tit-for-tat rhetoric. However, there are movements on the ground that could indicate efforts to bring tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi to a head. If this happens, there is a chance that the Russian-Georgian conflict could become a broader and more vicious battle.


As Russia continues its struggle to define its ability to act outside of its own borders and reclaim its periphery, Stratfor has long watched Georgia and its two secessionist regions as the most likely conflict point Moscow would start with. As the noise between Russia and Georgia continues escalating over the Georgian secessionist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, some interesting shifts and opportunities have arisen that could lead both sides to push for the situation to finally come to a head. First there is the typical noise between both sides:

* Georgia said April 21 that the Russian air force shot down a Georgian unmanned aerial vehicle.
* Russia’s State Duma held talks April 25 on recognizing Georgia’s two secessionist regions’ independence from Tbilisi.
* One of Georgia’s breakaway regions, Abkhazia, said April 28 that it is expanding its military agreements with Russia, though no details were given.
* Georgia announced April 29 that it is ceasing its talks over Russia’s bid for World Trade Organization membership — something Tbilisi vetoed in 2006.

However, this sort of noise and diplomatic threats have been going on between Moscow and Tbilisi since 1993, with the breakpoint that could lead to an actual open conflict always seemingly near. Neither Georgia nor Russia has made the move yet to actually turn this ongoing tit-for-tat into something more; both sides have been aching to escalate the conflict, but either domestic problems, international constraints or bad timing has held them back.

Georgian Troop Movements, Russian Threats

But while the diplomatic moves and rhetoric rise, each side is taking a few actual steps that signal something more concrete is happening. During the past week, Georgia has moved 1,500 personnel — a mixture of soldiers and police — up against Abkhazia’s Kodori Gorge, one of the areas that has long been a conflict point among Georgia, Abkhazia and Russia. The Georgian forces are reportedly not accompanied by a heavy amount of artillery. The gorge is on the border between Georgia and the de facto independent Abkhazia, and is the only strip of Abkhaz territory not under Abkhaz control. The Kodori is populated by the Svans, a fiercely independent people who opposed Abkhaz rule — something Georgia has used to its advantage. Kodori has been under Georgian control off and on, with the rest of Abkhazia patrolled by Russian peacekeepers. Kodori is one of the few levers Georgia can use against Abkhazia.

The Russian Defense Ministry released a lengthy and detailed account April 29 of Georgia’s moves and what the Russian response will be. In the press release, the ministry says Russia will install more peacekeepers in this conflict zone, building 15 additional posts near the gorge — though there is no word on exactly how many more troops will be sent to Abkhazia. This is not the first amassing of troops by either side, however. Sources in Georgia told Stratfor that there has been some talk within Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s administration on whether this would be the time to attempt to push Russian forces from the country. Saakashvili sees these next few months as a time when Moscow will be completely preoccupied with other things, since Russian President Vladimir Putin will be handing over the reins to President-elect Dmitri Medvedev on May 7 and the internal Kremlin clan war is in full swing due to the power transition.

But the question is, even if Russia is too preoccupied, can the Georgians succeed in taking back Abkhazia with the current Russian and Abkhaz forces there? Georgia’s military has been embarrassingly defeated in the past in Abkhazia. And despite participating in operations in Iraq and some training evolutions with U.S. forces — both in Georgia and abroad — it is not clear that Tbilisi commands a military capable of imposing a military solution beyond its borders.

Chances for Broader Conflict in the Caucasus

Georgia could try to get international forces involved in its struggle. One of the few ways to do this would be to lure the Abkhaz into attacking Georgia on the latter’s turf. But there is no need for the Abkhaz to attack Georgia, especially within Georgia proper — unless Georgia provokes them by attacking the other Georgian secessionist region, South Ossetia. Though the Abkhaz and South Ossetians are separate ethnicities, the Abkhaz have always pledged to rush to South Ossetia’s rescue if they thought their fellow secessionists were under attack — and this pledge is not just rhetoric, since the Abkhaz have traveled across the Caucasus to aid other secessionist groups before.

Though the Abkhaz have handed the Georgian forces repeated defeats, Georgia can take on South Ossetia, whose people are not as organized, trained or militant as the Abkhaz. The only trick would be to seal off South Ossetia’s only solid connection to Russia — the Roki Tunnel — which supplies South Ossetia from Russia’s North Ossetia. If the Abkhaz actually crossed into Georgia proper to aid South Ossetia, it would be taken as a formal invasion. In a situation like this, Georgia could ask for international assistance, getting the United States or NATO involved, but it remains to be seen whether those international forces would actually get involved in a match that involves the heavyweight of Russia. This is the main reason why Tbilisi is wary to act.

But as the Georgian government considers the possible ways it could boot out the Russians once and for all and take back its secessionist regions, Moscow might not be as internally preoccupied as Tbilisi thinks. Yes, the Kremlin is embroiled in a power struggle, but it has made some contingency plans of its own to aid Abkhazia against the Georgians.

Sources in Moscow told Stratfor that in Russia’s autonomous region of Chechnya, the only two Chechen military battalions not under Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov or the Russian Defense Ministry have been preparing, arming and training in case they are needed to be deployed to Abkhazia. These forces, named the Vostok and Zapad battalions, are made up of former Chechen militants that trained in Georgia’s Pankisi Valley (a former safe haven for Chechen militants) and fought in the first Chechen war against Russia. However, they all turned pro-Russian during the radicalization of Chechen militants in 1999, and the Russian military has been training them in order to make them knowledgeable of both military and guerilla warfare tactics. Currently their numbers range between 2,000 and 4,000.

Any of the Chechen, Russian or Abkhaz forces alone would be enough to overwhelm the Georgian military, but put together they would comprise a force that could turn a potential minor conflict into a much broader, larger and more vicious war.


Russian military threat over NATO expansion

Russia has threatened to take military and other steps along its borders if the former Soviet states of Ukraine and Georgia join NATO. The armed forces Chief of Staff, General Yuri Baluyevsky, did not specify what those steps might be. He simply said measures would be put in place to "secure Russia's interests". At the recent NATO meeting in Bucharest, two new NATO members were agreed, but Ukraine and Georgia's candidacy was put on hold. However Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko received firm backing from the United States when George Bush said he wanted to see the two countries join NATO as soon as possible. Russia's response was swift and firm: President Putin made it very clear that he was opposed to the move. Earlier he had even threatened to target missiles at Ukraine.

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The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

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