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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Georgia Urges Russia to Stop Maneuvers in the Black Sea

Kommersant: Russia’s Embassy in Tbilisi has started drawing lists of Russians willing to leave the country. Meanwhile, Russia is holding naval maneuvers in the Black Sea. The West is anxious that the Russian-Georgian confrontation may end up in a war.

The list of Russian sanctions against Georgia becomes longer every day. Georgian children who go to the schools of the Grouping of Russian Troops in Transcaucasia have been asked to choose other places to study. “We have received an order which says that children of Georgian citizens will be no longer eligible to study at our schools in Batumi, Tbilisi and Akhalkalaki,” the staff of the Grouping said but declined to name reasons for this decision. 220 Georgian children have attended schools at Russian military bases and at the headquarters of the Russian Grouping.

Breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have sided with Russia in the row with Georgia. On Wednesday, Sukhumi toughened border regime with Georgia at the Inguri River. Cargoes will no longer be allowed to cross the border here, Abkhazia’s leader Sergey Bagapsh said. Pedestrians will still be able to cross the frontier but only through the across Inguri’s bridge and under the strict control of border guard. In the meantime, authorities in South Ossetia have ordered military and police to be more vigilant to crack down on “activities of Georgian intelligence services on its territory.” South Ossetia’s Interior Minister Mikhail Mindzaev said he had secret information that Georgian intelligence had spent $5 million on sabotage activities during the presidential elections and referendum on independence as well as during the run-up.

Meanwhile, Moscow is still evacuating Russian citizens from Georgia. Russia’s Embassy in Tbilisi has started drawing a list of Russians who are temporarily in Georgia but would like to leave for Russia now. “It is by no means an evacuation of ethnic Russians from Georgia. These are normally the people who have come to Georgia for a while on business or to see their relatives,” the Russian diplomatic mission told Kommersant.

Russia has also decided to speed up the withdrawal of its military bases from Georgia, following the order of Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov. However, the minister said Russia would not stop its military exercises in the Black Sea, which started on September 30. “We are not going to react to every sneezing of the Saakashvili regime. The exercises were scheduled six months ago and the Turkish Defense Ministry has given its consent,” Ivanov said. He also dismissed reports that Moscow would not boost its military presence on the Georgian border. “We have hundreds of military exercises going on every month. Troops are always in movement – from the North Pole to Kamchatka, and from the Baltic Sea to the southern frontier. I don’t think we need to report to everyone what kind of troops and where we use on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

On Wednesday, Nikolay Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service, asked Tbilisi not to cause new tensions. He said Georgia is aggravating the situation in the Georgian-Abkhazian and the Georgian-Ossetin conflicts all the time.

Shielding Georgia

Moscow’s increasing pressure on Georgia has caused uproar in the West. The United States said it is “disappointed with Russian sanctions” and called on Russia and Georgia “to solve problems in a friendly way.” U.S. Department of State Spokeman Tom Casey has urged the parties to work in a positive vein to overcome the difficulties. He said that sanctions would not help settle the conflict.

The OSCE has also expressed concern over the situation. OSCE Chairman and Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht said that the OSCE had “persuaded the Georgian party to extradite the Russians [Russian offices arrested on espionage charges.] without any obligations from either parties. But the situation has aggravated again, and the OSCE will have to handle a more serious conflict within the next few weeks.” Karel De Gucht admitted that the confrontation may grow into military actions. “It is still possible, therefore the OSCE will keep on widely promoting the peaceful settlement.”

Moscow’s onset, however, left Georgian authorities unfazed. Georgia’s Ambassador to the UN Irakliy Alasaniya demanded yesterday that Russian naval military exercises at the Black Sea be halted. “Russia has started the naval military exercise without informing Georgia. We demand their suspension as they threaten peace in the region and violate rights of Georgia.”

At the same time, Tbilisi is still indignant at Russia’s reaction to the arrest of the Russian officers accused of espionage. “Georgia did what any other country would have done,” Georgian Interior Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said. Georgia’s police is still investigating spying activities of the Russian military. All Georgian suspects in the case have pleaded guilty and testified, a source of Kommersant at the Interior Minister said. They have also reportedly showed secret places of meeting with Russian military intelligence officers and given information on the time and place of their recruitment as well as on the materials they had handed to Russia.

Georgia tries to show that it is ready for any developments, including a military confrontation. “Not as single Russian unit comes close to our troops in terms of armaments and procurement,” Givi Targamadze, head of the Security and Defense Committee at the Georgian parliament, told Kommersant. “I don’t think that Russia can afford a war. But still we cannot rule out this possibility.”

Vladimir Solovyev and Vladimir Novikov (Tbilisi)
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