Quiet Battle in the Caucasus:
EMERGING FROM THE SHADOWS OF OCCUPATION
Rising from the subtropical shores of the Black Sea to the majestic Caucasus mountains, Georgia is a rich and varied nation only now removing itself from the shadow of the Soviet Union. Indeed, for most of its long history Georgia has been the subject of attack and occupation by foreign countries -- the Romans, Turks, Persians and Russians; it was also once a protectorate of Byzantium. Like everywhere in the Caucasus, it is home to a myriad of different peoples and languages, but this very fact, which makes Georgia an ethnographer’s dream, also makes it a security nightmare. Two major revolts and a civil war in the early 1990’s have left Georgia a weak and demoralized nation, and one that is seeking ardently to find balance between east and west. In the following analysis I show how the major economic and geostrategic factors that make Georgia so important have also made it an object of a new tug of war between Russia and NATO -- one that has taken on greater urgency since the terrorist attacks in New York. Although it remains to be seen whether Georgia will be able to bargain the best deal for itself, one thing is certain -- Georgia’s place in the Caucasus, and its relations with both Russia and the West, are entering a crucial new phase. Simply put, it’s make it or break it time for Georgia.
A NOTE ON SOURCES
Since this article utilizes a number of obscure and lengthy sources, I am using an endnote format (though initial links are provided). Information has been culled from Georgia’s Prime News Agency, Russian and other world media, the comprehensive reviews of Georgian military in 2000 collected in Army and Society in Georgia (published by the Center for Civic-Military Relations and Security Studies), and analysts like Stratfor.
THE CRITICAL FACTORS
Several specific factors have shaped Georgia’s relationships with Russia and the West. They are: the continuing Russian influence and military presence; Georgian governmental confusion and lack of clarity about policy; state financial weakness; corruption in government and organized crime in society; a failure to control borders; and, finally, Georgia’s strategic location for both parties. As we will see, these factors are all interrelated, and one cannot be detached from the others. The total situation is just as complex; we must approach it accordingly.
RUSSIAN INFLUENCE: THE PROBLEM OF MILITARY BASES
In many ways, Georgia’s difficulties stem from Russia’s confusion as to what its own priorities should be in the post-Soviet Caucasus. Yeltsin-administration advocates of a strong Russian military presence outside of Russia have largely been sacked, as Vladimir Putin seeks a more lithe and intelligence-oriented military. Among the victims of the purge was the "notorious" defense minister Pavel Grachev who "almost single-handedly shaped Russia’s position" in Caucasian affairs.1
Nevertheless, several Georgian bases remain in Russian hands. This is a major point of contention. On 22-23 December 2000 talks were held in Tbilisi over the fate of four Russian-held bases. It was agreed that the two countries would use the Vaziani base jointly, and would "transform the Gudauta base into a rehabilitation centre of the Russian peacekeeping troops."2 An agreement on two other bases, in Batumi and Akhalkalaki, was put off until February 2001. In December 2000, Georgia did, however, take over seven military facilities from the Russians (in the regions of Tbilisi, Alekseevka, Marneuli, Manglisi, Kodjori and Kobuleti); the local press, however, dismissed their importance or usefulness.3
While some of the transitions went smoothly, the Russians stalled on exiting Gudauta in July, due to its strategic importance in the "breakaway republic" of Abkhazia (western Georgia). There are many reasons for Russian reticence. Georgian commentators aver:
"Some political and military-forces of Russia believe that the Georgian state-building project opposes Russian national interests. They have leverage to intervene in Georgia’s policy even in a forceful way. Particularly, there are poorly controlled Russian troops and some local political groups, which favor restoration of a Russian protectorate in various forms. Russian military-political circles may well find supporters in Georgian force agencies. Russia has enough influence on the Georgian power supply system to provoke social unrest in the country. Besides, Georgian terrorists may have found shelter in Russia."4
RUSSIAN INFLUENCE ON THE GEORGIAN ECONOMY
Georgians lament the fact that their country, once the richest and most prosperous of Soviet nations, is now one of the poorest. After the Soviet breakup in 1992, Georgia’s economy, dominated by seasonal agriculture like fruit and tea and bolstered by Russian subsidies, went into steep decline.
"When the Soviet Union fell apart, not only did the subsidies disappear, so did Georgia’s unrestricted access to 400 million Soviet consumers, leaving it with an internal market of less than 6 million."5
If this was a bad start, things would only get worse in the first few years of Georgian independence, when the country was torn apart by civil war and rebellions in the Abkhazian and Ossetian regions. This upset Georgia’s traditional trade routes and access to some of its major ports.
Economically, Russia’s great strength can be exerted in several ways. One of the least pleasant for Georgians has been the Russian tactic of cutting off the natural gas supply in the dead of winter, as it did on 1 January 2001. Georgian president Schevernadze did not appeal to Washington, or to the Russian gas company (Itera); rather, he appealed directly to Putin. And so "once it was clear to the world that Russia had made its point about who was truly in control, the gas once again flowed."6
Despite this indignity, Russia is the major gas provider and Schevernadze "noted the need to consider" ITERA for the privatization of Georgia’s gas distribution network.7
A MAJOR HEADACHE FOR GEORGIA: ABKHAZIAN SEPARATISTS
Russia’s reluctance to surrender the Gudauta base has to do primarily with its location in Abkhazia, the fractious "republic" in the western tip of Georgia. With the help of "covert Russian aid," Abkhaz separatists launched a rebellion in 1992 that destabilized the Georgian government’s control of the region and ensured a Russian presence.8 Abkhazia is both a major headache for the Georgians and a strategic concern for the Russians. Georgia would understandably like its territory back, particularly given that Abkhazia’s "capital" on the Black Sea coast, Sukhumi, is a valuable port and trade route. For Russia, the issue is security on its southern flank and the control of smuggling, which it fears will be lost by withdrawing:
"Abkhazia is the weakest link in Russia's counter-terrorist, counter-narcotics program and a precarious ally. Russia’s withdrawal of forces and demobilization of its bases would create a security vacuum in Abkhazia, even if CIS peacekeepers remained on hand with minor coordination from Russia."9
The Russians also fear a backlash from their Abkhazian suppliants if they withhold their "protection." Besides a fear of enraging the Muslim Abkhaz people themselves, Russia fears that the hostile Chechens will penetrate northward from the Georgian front.
There is no question that Abkhazia is a "dangerous and lawless" place. On 10 December 2000, two UN observers in the Kodori Valley region were abducted, marking the third occasion of kidnapping since 1998.10 The porous and wild border is hard to police, and drug and weapons smuggling is rampant. While the Georgians have historically, and with good reason, taken affront at Russia’s support for Abkhazian separatism, unfavorable new developments -- the presence of Chechens -- will encourage Russia to maintain its military presence in Abkhazia for as long as possible.
In fact, the alleged Georgian position regarding the Chechens in Abkhazia, if it is true, would seem to border on the suicidal. It is alleged that these fighters are imported from Chechnya, through Georgia, to help the Georgian government fight the Russian-backed Abkhazians. The action has been heating up lately; Tbilisi’s Prime News reported on 18 September 2001 that "a unit of armed Chechen gunmen of up to 700 persons" was holed up in the area, ready to fight. As if to illustrate the suicidal nature of inviting Chechens to antagonize the Russians, the Georgian sources said, with enigmatic brevity, "the events may develop the way that Georgia will lose the Kodori Valley."11
Three days later, the Abkhaz interior minister, Zurab Agumava, denied Russian reports that Chechens were being massed in west Georgia. The Georgian government officially denies such accusations, but the Russian reports were quite detailed:
"According to Interfax with reference to the Russian sources, (field commander Ruslan) Gelaev's detachment of 300-400 persons in number is concentrated in the west of Georgia in the village of Muzhava and Muzhava Cross, and 'Chechen gunmen are ready to give Georgian structures support in putting pressure upon Sukhumi.' According to (the) Russian side, Chechen gunmen 'expect to receive admission from Georgian government to settle in vacant regions of Abkhazia.'"12
A MAJOR HEADACHE FOR RUSSIA: CHECHEN SEPARATISTS
Tbilisi's policy here would seem to be quite reckless, if one considers Russian animosity towards the Chechens. Although Georgia and Russia signed an agreement in January 2000 to fight terrorism, the acrimonious nature of the Abkhazia-Chechnya issue has forced both governments into a tense détente, in which neither side will make initial concessions. According to Russia, Georgia safeguards its vulnerabilities by allowing Chechen terrorists to find safety and even set up military bases in Georgia’s northern Pankisi Gorge. As Russia is by far the stronger power, they can and do intimidate Georgia, both economically (by turning off the gas symbolically) and militarily (by maintaining a presence and supporting the Abkhazians). By tolerating the presence of Chechens on its territory, Georgia has made a feeble attempt to use its leverage in the only way that has been available to it, but doing so it just reveals its weakness and potential foolhardiness. The prospects of another revolt (were the government to move forcibly against the Chechens) keep it from obeying Russia, but by doing so Georgia remains trapped. Having neither the economic nor military ability to extricate itself, it comes as no surprise, as we will see, that Georgia is looking to the West for help.
GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PANKISI GORGE
Across the immense and rugged Caucasus mountains lies the Pankisi Gorge, a Georgian region settled in the late 19th century by the Muslim Kisti group. Later the Kisti were joined by settlers from neighboring South Ossetia. This fractious population sparked Georgia’s first war in the early 1990’s, and as a result many Ossetians were forced to flee to "North Ossetia" across the Russian border. Nowadays there are few Georgians in the area, but about 8,000 Kisti. Since 1999, almost 8,000 Chechen refugees (rebel fighters, according to Moscow) have swollen the ranks of the Pankisi Gorge. Georgian commentators agree: "since not all of the refugees and their luggage were properly checked, a lot of arms might have been quite possibly smuggled into Georgia."13
As with the Albanians in the Sar Planina mountains of Macedonia, Chechen rebels can easily navigate the inaccessible mountain passes and move freely between Russia and Georgia. The Pankisi Gorge is their prime staging-post. "Cross-border traffic increased substantially there in 1992, when the Georgian government was preoccupied with the problem of Abkhazia." Georgian authorities lost control of the Gorge, and soon "…faced increasing Russian accusations that Chechen militants were able to set up their training and rehabilitation bases in the Gorge." These charges have been confirmed by Tengiz Kitovani, former Georgian defense minister.14
In an attempt to improve the situation, the Georgian government sent 500 troops in November 2000 to patrol the Gorge. They set up checkpoints and bases across the Akhmeta district and Mtskheta-Mtianeti region. The government also exploded two roads to minimize evaders. But by and large it has avoided bearing down on the Pankisi Gorge with any real force: "the Georgian government fears that such an operation may turn the Gorge into a 'second Chechnya' and cause immense problems to Georgia."15
It is clear that the Georgians are, with reason, fearful of their "special guests" from the north. A Georgian citizen told me recently of atrocities committed by Chechens against Georgians (such as cutting off the ears of Georgian soldiers to wear as necklaces), and summarized Georgian feelings on the problem:
"The local population (in Pankisi) is not happy to have Chechen refugees in the Gorge. Christians do not want Muslims on their territory. Another issue is that Georgians are very poor now and it is especially difficult for the country, with 300,000 internally-displaced persons (from Abkhazia), to take care of foreign refugees. These refugees receive international assistance and humanitarian aid. The local population of the Gorge is not happy with this, as the economical situation is difficult for everybody and sometimes locals are poorer than the refugees are. But we cannot do anything. There are negotiations with Russia, Turkey and some other donor countries but unsuccessfully -- nobody wants them. Nobody wants an additional headache."16
MYSTERIOUS KIDNAPPINGS IN THE ‘WILD EAST’
Like Kodori Valley in Abkhazia, the Pankisi Gorge has been an epicenter for abductions. Two Red Cross workers and two Spanish businessmen were kidnapped in November 2000 and taken to the Pankisi Gorge, apparently by Chechens. Unlike more unfortunate victims in Chechnya itself, who were beheaded in 1997, the Pankisi prisoners were all later released. Further details behind the story, however, show that the whole affair may just have been part of the job description for businessmen in the Caucasus’ "Wild East":
"… It is noteworthy that one of the two (abductees), Francisco Rodriguez, was involved in exports of timber and marble from Georgia. According to the newspaper, it is one of the most lucrative export businesses in Georgia nowadays and many criminal clans seek to control the field. Another hostage, Antonio Trinolios, was reported as a millionaire and owner of a network of jewelry shops in Spain. His interest in Georgia remains unclear, though one may assume that he might have been involved in export-import of jewelry in Georgia, another highly criminized [sic] sphere of Georgian life."17
This report confirms the view that Georgian authorities are powerless to control the northern border, hampered by a lack of funds and the presence of rugged, inaccessible terrain. After an increase in violent crime, the exasperated locals were forced to take matters into their own hands:
"…Georgian residents of the Akhmeta district blocked all roads in the area in protest against (the) deteriorating crime situation in the region. They accused Chechen refugees of kidnapping and stealing cattle and demanded the authorities to take prompt measures to clamp down on crime. On the whole, after more than 7000 Chechen refugees were allowed shelter in Pankisi, the region actually turned into a hub of illegal drug and weapon trafficking."18
This upsurge of crime following the imposition of refugees on a weak country follows almost exactly the parallel of Macedonia in 1999, when hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians crippled the economy and strengthened criminal networks. As in Macedonia, one of the most devastating and most lucrative of such activities has been drug trafficking:
"Drugs (mainly heroin) are produced at special plants in Chechnya and then smuggled into Georgia through cross-border mountain routes. Drug dealers sometimes offer drugs for free, especially to youngsters in Georgian villages in order to make them addicts."19
Georgian authorities, underpaid and understaffed, have not only failed to control the heroin trade -- they also sometimes profit from it:
"Most of the drug dealers begin their usual route from Pankisi and move first to Akhmeta and then to Telavi. Their final destination is Tbilisi, the capital, and it seems that law enforcement authorities may have a share in this lucrative business."20
We should also mention, however, that corruption is not limited to the local criminals and governments; there are allegations that foreign aid agencies and "humanitarian" organizations are just as corrupt.
LOOMING RUSSIAN THREATS
This inherent instability of Georgia’s northern border, and the threat Russia perceives in it, has led to strong reactions. In response to the Georgian failure to apprehend Chechen militants in Pankisi, Russia slapped a new visa requirement on Georgian civilians. Yet, at the same time, "it waived the visa for Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia, Georgia’s two rebellious minority provinces, thus indicating Moscow’s willingness to raise the issue of dismembering Georgia and creating new rump states out of these provinces."21 In addition, Russia’s turning off of the gas in January 2001 was widely interpreted as a threat to Georgia regarding the Chechens.
In the aftermath of the September 11th terrorism in the US, Russian commentators have been able to make great political capital out of comparing Russian and American experiences of terrorism. Especially this comparison has been used to try and win support for Russian operations on Georgian territory, or at least to gain joint Russian-Georgian patrols (something which Tbilisi has rejected in the past) to flush out Chechen rebels from the Pankisi Gorge. Some pundits have been rather robust. As one Russian commentator bluntly stated, "if Russia now wipes out the Chechen militants in the Pankisi Gorge, not a single soul in the world will be able to reproach us."
Georgia is quite clearly feeling the heat. A note of 18 September from the Russian foreign ministry to the Georgian government made dark reference to the fact that "despite the frequent appeals of the Russian side it has not received the hundreds of terrorists" hiding in the Pankisi Gorge. To the Georgians, "the document really looks like an ultimatum." Russian newspaper Vremia Novostei implied that "considering the statements by American authorities who call for attack not just at terrorists, but also at those regimes which support them, the Russian note seems quite dangerous."22 According to a recent report, Georgia's commander of border troops, Valerii Chkhedze, invited Russian observers to join the OSCE and others to see for themselves whether there were Chechen fighters in the Pankisi area. The source worries that this might be encouraging new provocations from the Russians.23
AND SO, SINCE A TOTAL LACK OF CASH…
A major reason that Georgia is suffering from the "severely stressed" state it now finds itself in is the country’s major financial hardship. A decade of financial mismanagement, corruption, loss of Soviet markets and internecine strife have left Georgia in a very weak position. Even if it wanted to crack down on Chechens in Pankisi, the country would be unable to do so. The military review for 2000 revealed that "the state treasury owes the military their salary for several months." In November 2000 the Georgian Ministry of Defense revealed for the first time the extent of the military’s financial difficulties:
"According to the MOD, servicemen were paid salary only five months in 2000 as the government cut down the state budget. In the words of Colonel Akia Barbakadze, the head of the logistical service of the armed forces, such products as meat, fish and milk have been long out of servicemen’s ration, while potatoes and cabbage have been in short supply. The servicemen’s menu is in fact limited to only bread, vegetable oil and macaroni."24
After civil war, rebellions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and continuing unrest in the Kodori and Pankisi areas, the Georgian army may have become rich in military experience, but has also become exhausted and poor in material hardware. The Georgian defense budget was reduced by almost half (from $53.4 million to $21.3 million) between 1997 and 2000, and was again decreased by at the same rate (to about $10 million) by the end of 2000.25 This has affected the Georgian government’s ability to appease Moscow. After dismantling two checkpoints on the Chechen border, authorities announced that other cuts were likely, since the 2001 budget allocated only $4.5 million for frontier defense.26 Clearly, whatever failures can be assigned to Georgia in the Pankisi Gorge are, to a large extent, caused by the military’s sobering financial realities.
LEADS TO A DEMORALIZED ARMY
And so, the following unbelievable report attesting to Georgia’s beleaguered defense:
"The Autumn 2000 draft of the Georgian Army followed the usual scheme, with conscripts being captured in the streets and public places, and driven to drafting offices by force, the Kviris Palitra (No. 46) reported. Small wonder most of the Georgian recruits think only (of) how to avoid the service and get back home as soon as possible."27
In America, where the military is just another well-paying employer offering good benefits and little dangers, the thought of "conscripts being captured in the streets" seems utterly ludicrous. But with the all-too-real possibility of seeing actual fighting, and the meager pay scale (even the "elite" soldiers of the State Guard Service make only $40 a month), it is not hard to see why young Georgian men avoid conscription at all costs. Frequent closings and cutbacks hamper the military’s ability to do its job, and occasional disasters (such as last week’s crash of a fighter plane on a training mission) are seen as being just part of the trend.
NATO MUST COME TO THE RESCUE
Given the country’s continuing economic hardships, and its tortured relationship with Russia, it is not hard to understand why the West has become Georgia’s most promising suitor. But if NATO is going to become Georgia’s knight in shining armor, it will come about because of a failure to rectify the many local problems, and primarily the relationship with Russia. Elements of that country’s leadership are clear in their hostility to an independent or even Western-leaning Georgia. But if Russia continues to bully its southern neighbor, it will have no one else to blame if Georgia chooses to flee to the West.
Under Schevernadze, pro-western tendencies have been in the ascendant. This has resulted in some significant modifications to Georgia’s foreign policy, and particularly in its attempts to appeal to American political sensibilities. So far, these overtures have not been entirely successful, and arguably reflect the confusion and lack of clear objective critics cite as endemic in Georgia’s own domestic policy.
Where Georgia has so far been most successful, and most offensive to the Russians, is in its budding partnership with NATO. The recent culmination of this relationship was in June 2001: NATO’s Georgian operations conducted under the auspices of its "Partnership for Peace" program. This was hailed by Georgia’s defense minister, who announced it as "the first NATO/Partner’s full-scale field exercise in the South Caucasus."
These exercises were preceded by a planning meeting in Naples, Italy in November 2000. The costs here were levied out as with all programs conducted under the "Partnership for Peace" banner:
"…NATO pays 80% of their participation in PfP exercises, while partner countries have to pay only the rest, 20%. However, according to the newspaper, due to Georgia’s extremely hard economic and financial situation, a delegation of the Georgian MOD was unable to pay even 20% of the fee for participation in the Naples conference and the money was provided by the USA."28
American assistance to the Georgian military has not been limited to NATO activities. During the year 2000, there were several other such events. 70 American instructors led a $3 million, two-month operation in mine clearing. "After the exercise, the USA handed over all the equipment to the Georgian army." In addition, the US presented a gift to the Georgian Coast Guard, in the form of a patrol boat, on 12 December.29 During the year 2000 the US also provided the Georgian army with 3,000 uniforms and trained 80 Georgian cadets for free in American military academies. When we consider how the same training service was formerly provided by Russia- at a high cost, which has resulted in a $22 million debt currently owed it -- it is not hard to see why Georgia would prefer the free training provided it by the US (and other countries, like Germany, Turkey, Greece and the UK).30
SCHEVERNADZE’S OVERTURES, PART ONE: THE MOTIVATIONS ARE CLEAR, THE RESULTS, LESS SO
President Schevernadze’s strategy with the West has been to emphasize apparent similarities between Georgian and Western experience, and then to play upon Georgia’s image as a weak and suppliant nation in need of help. This involves a lot of rhetoric about issues such as "human rights," ethnic cleansing," and "democracy," followed by an attempt to link these abstract ideas to actual situations in Georgia where Western influence might help the country. Yet these "analogous" situations are frequently convoluted and not so analogous, which indicates a general confusion about what Georgia really wants or expects from the West. Two examples shall suffice.
First we have NATO’s Kosovo adventure of 1999. Georgia, under Schevernadze’s lead, was one of NATO’s most ardent cheerleaders here, despite the fact that both Georgia and Serbia are Orthodox countries. Georgia’s support seems, in the cynical view, as merely reactionary and opportunistic. On the one hand, it opposed the Russian position, and on the other, it sought to win some advantage through brazen worship of Clinton’s wags. Even then, columnists warned of the potential dangers Georgia was getting itself into by taking a strong pro-Kosovo position. But more remarkable was Schevernadze’s equation of the Kosovar Albanians with his own people in Abkhazia. This would at first seem to make no sense. After all, in Abkhazia the "oppressors" should have been the Orthodox Georgian republic, clamping down on the "breakaway republic" of Muslim Abkhazia -- just as with "oppressive" Orthodox Yugoslavia, and its own fractious Muslim minority.
Schevernadze, however, made the case that the Georgians were, like the Kosovars, a persecuted and helpless minority. In neither case was the description entirely true, though it was more so in the case of the Georgians. Their president pointed to the "ethnic cleansing" of the Georgian population in Abkhazia, until recently 45% of the region’s population, before the war forced them to flee into central Georgia. The greatest resemblance between Georgian and Albanians (in Schevernadze’s view) was that both were minorities oppressed by large and powerful states. In other words, Schevernadze was subtly portraying Russia as the underlying enemy of Georgian statehood, insofar as it was supporting the Abkhaz revolt. This strategy has not been entirely successful, and partly because Georgia is guilty of playing the same game, by tolerating Chechen separatists threatening Russia on their other border. This has not stopped Schevernadze, however, from making the truly audacious request that NATO come in and stop the Abkhazians/Russians by force, like in Kosovo.
Fortunately, it will probably be the entire region’s anonymity that saves it, at least on this occasion. After all, no one in the West has the foggiest idea about Georgians and Abkhazians, let alone Ossetians, Azeris and Chechens; and whatever "ethnic cleansing" was committed in Abkhazia happened years ago. Since we know from Kosovo that righteous intervention can only gain momentum from sensationalist photos and TV footage, it does not seem likely that Georgia will win calls for intervention -- especially now that the terrorism in New York has overshadowed it in the world media.
SCHEVERNADZE’S OVERTURES, PART TWO: CONFUSION ABOUNDS
This, the Georgian reaction to the events of 11 September, is the second example of Georgia’s troubled policy. Right away, the country offered its help to the US. Then, on 18 September, Schevernadze announced that Georgia was prepared to give up its territory and airspace to US troops attacking Afghanistan.31 On the same day, Schevernadze used the tragedy to indirectly advance his line on Abkhazia intervention, by proposing the creation of an international anti-terrorist coalition. While they were at it, the UN could also "convene a summit to debate the fight against terrorism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, nationalism, and separatism, xenophobia, fanaticism, and hatred." The report also noted that Georgia has still not succeeded in getting the Abkhaz leadership condemned for "genocide and ethnic cleansing against its Georgian population."32
TOO MANY EGGS FOR THE BASKET
But might he be waxing cynical? In aping what the Balkans wars have taught him to be "Western values," Schevernadze is climbing an increasingly slippery slope by proposing such an all-encompassing "summit." A man of his experience and stature must understand these rhetorical catchwords for what they are: that is, loaded phrases having to do with "humanitarian concerns" -- and always, always only acted upon if it is in the direct concerns of the United States.
In trying to equate the concerns of Georgia with those of the US, Schevernadze risks not only antagonizing Russia, but also setting his own spokesmen up for some embarrassing misstatements. While Russia has scrambled to use the "terrorism in America" card to impress on the US the validity of fighting Chechens, so too has Georgia sought to stress its own Abkhaz "terrorists." The Georgian foreign ministry also lambasted Russia’s efforts to publicize its own "terrorist" problem in Chechnya as "an attempt to fulfill Moscow's political goals in the region by means of force." This was in reference to the prospect of Russian troops in Pankisi, and it elicited the following memorable statement: "Georgia will not allow any foreign state to use its territory for military operations." Apparently this official had forgotten about Georgia’s open invitation to the US forces only a few days before. The statement drew immediate criticism from Russians on Georgia’s alleged "double standards" on terrorism.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN-NATO RELATIONSHIP
The mutual animosity that has been fostered by Russia and Georgia, regarding the "terrorists" they allegedly unleash on one another, has been increasing now that the real terrorism in the US has brought such issues to the world’s undivided attention. And both sides are making the most of it, Georgia with its "ethnic cleansing"claims, and Russia with its Chechen "terrorists." The latest reports seem to indicate a continuation of the same tensions; on 24 September the Georgian foreign ministry’s information officer, Kakha Sikharulidze, "criticized as "harsh violation of the mandate," the Saturday travel of five (Russian) vehicles of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict zone peacekeeping forces outside of the mandate territory (in Georgia’s Zugdidi region)."33
Schevernadze has announced that he will take up the Russian problem with President Bush when he visits Washington on 5 October.34 Most likely, the issues of NATO expansion in the Caucasus (Azerbaijan too has signed up to host exercises in November), and the potential oil and gas pipelines through Georgia will be on the table, as well as Georgia’s role in US retaliatory strikes. In contrast to Russia, which expects the US to finally see things their way on Chechnya, Schevernadze will probably try and placate Washington in whatever way he can, in order to get a reward and alleviate some of the pressure coming from everyone around -- Russians, Abkhazians and Chechens alike. Schevernadze undoubtedly knows that these issues will not matter to the US unless the uncertain Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is ever constructed -- and so, once again, the rhetoric of "human rights" will only become a useful weapon if and when a vested American economic interest materializes. Until then, Georgia will most likely continue to hide, intimidated by its neighbors, and wait for its Western prince to show up.
Christopher Deliso is a San Francisco-based travel writer and journalist with special interest in the Balkans. He received a BA in Philosophy and Greek (Hampshire College, 1997) and M.Phil with distinction in Byzantine Studies (Oxford University, 1999). From 1997-2000 Mr. Deliso lived and worked in Ireland, England, Turkey, Greece, and spent a month in Macedonia in January, 2000. He is currently investigating the media and governmental policies regarding the Macedonian crisis, and publishes regularly on European travel destinations.
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