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U.S. Backs Georgia in Hard Talks Concerning Russian Military Bases







Around 3,000 Russian servicemen are 
stationed at military bases in Georgia.

In the military sphere, as in many other ones, relations between Georgia and Russia remain stalled.


In the wake of the U.S. calls for the closing down of two Russian military bases in Georgia, Russian Defense Minister ruled out, on January 14, a hasty pull-out of troops from Georgia and added that a formal treaty between Moscow and Tbilisi is required for the withdrawal. The Georgian Foreign Minister said talks with Russia would be “very hard.”


The 1999 OSCE Istanbul Treaty clearly prescribed the Russian and Georgia sides to reach agreement on the issue before 2001. However, Russian and Georgian officials have failed to reach the required deadlines for closure of the bases. Tbilisi says that Moscow proposes that at least 10 years will be necessary for its pulling out of troops and it is unreal to insist on the disbanding of these military bases within 3 years.


“No way will we again throw out our soldiers, officers and weapons into an empty field and call that a departure, like it happened in [East] Germany [in the early 90s],” Russian Defense Minster Sergei Ivanov told a press conference on January 14.


He said that Russia will withdraw its military bases from Georgia only after a treaty between Moscow and Tbilisi is formally agreed upon. “A decision to withdraw the Russian bases from the Georgian territory can only be taken in a diplomatic framework,” Ivanov said.


The Russian Defense Minister said that the departure of Russian troops from Georgia will require funding for construction of new garrisons in Russia, and the relevant funds can be allocated by the Russian Finance Ministry “only after an agreement is signed between the two countries.”


Georgian Foreign Minister, Tedo Japaridze, in an interview to the Imedi television station, said “the Russians are demanding USD 500 million to speed up their [troops’] withdrawal from Georgia.”


“This is a matter for negotiation. We believe that sums required for pulling out of the base are much lower,” he added.


Japaridze recently visited Moscow and held talks with Russian Defense Ministry officials. The Georgian Foreign Minister also told reporters on January 14, that the issue of military bases should be solved through negotiations and “We need a compromise. It will be hard talks,” he added.


Recently, Washington has intensified efforts to solve the problem and urged Moscow several times to honor its international commitment and close down its bases in Georgia.


“We look to Russia to fulfill its Istanbul commitments, or follow them closely,” deputy spokesman of the U.S. Department of State, Adam Ereli told the press a conference in Washington on January 13.


Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lynn Pascoe, during her January 13 visit to Tbilisi, said in reference to U.S. funding for the removal of the Russian troops from Vaziani base, which is near Tbilisi, in 2000, “we have done this in the past and we would be happy to provide some assistance.”


Pascoe said Washington wants Russia, as a member of the OSCE, to honor its commitments, undertaken at the 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit, to withdraw military forces from areas where “they are not wanted.”


President of the U.S. Committee on NATO Bruce Jackson said during a visit to Georgia on January 14, that Russian military bases are matters not only for Russia and Georgia, but also for the entire Euro-Atlantic area.


The disagreement persists regarding the proposed dates for the liquidation of the two Russian military bases – one in Batumi, capital of the Adjarian Autonomous Republic and Akhalkalaki, in the southern Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, which is predominately populated by ethnic Armenians.


The problems remain in regards to the Gudauta military base in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia. Russia claims that it has already pulled out its troops and weaponry from Gudauta, while the Georgian side casts doubts on this claim and demands international monitoring of the base, as the region is out of Georgia’s control. However, the issue of the Gudauta base does not top the agenda of the recent disagreements over the military bases between Russia and Georgia.


Besides the Gudauta, Akhalkalaki and Batumi military bases, Russia also has five other military facilities within the borders of Georgia which should also be handed over to the Georgian Defense Ministry. But there is no progress in regards to this issue either.


The five facilities are: Warehouse and Bath in Tbilisi, military sanatorium in Kobuleti, Adjarian Autonomous Republic, two military camps, belonging to the Akhalkalaki base and Heavy Armor Factory in Tbilisi. 


Disbanding of the Russian bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki are also interlinked with Georgia’s internal problems. Many commentators say that the Russian military base in Batumi is a powerbase for Adjarian strongman Aslan Abashidze, a troublemaker for the country’s new leadership.  


The Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, where another Russian base is deployed, lies at the Turkish border and is populated mostly by ethnic Armenians. Around 15% of Akhalkalaki residents are employed at the Russian base. Many local residents fear that such a decision would trigger unemployment in the region.


Georgian officials say that the presence of the Russian military bases in Georgia poses a threat to the country’s security and stability.


Georgia’s ambassador to the United Nations Revaz Adamia said last July, while addressing the meeting of the UN programme of action to prevent the illicit trade of arms, that Georgia’s main problem with the Russian bases “is connected specifically to the illicit, uncontrolled spread of small arms and light weapons in the region.”


“These bases have turned into the major sources of arms and weapons for different secessionist, criminal or terrorist groups,” Revaz Adamia said.


“Unfortunately, these bases do not come under effective control of their central command and, as I have already indicated, are located in the areas with lucrative black markets for illicit arms trade. We may declare confidently that these three bases pose major threats to the security of Georgia in terms of dissemination of arms to destabilizing forces in the country as well as in the region,” Georgia’s UN envoy added.


In an interview with Time, Georgian President-elect Mikheil Saakashvili said that Russia’s intentions to keep its military bases in Georgia for 10 years “serves more to bolster imperial self-confidence than Russian security.”


“We can find other things that serve Russian security better than these 2,000 troops. The Russians have interests in safeguarding their southern borders and making them terrorist-proof. We have the same interests,” Saakashvili said.said.

“Unfortunately, these bases do not come under effective control of their central command and, as I have already indicated, are located in the areas with lucrative black market for illicit arms trade. We may declare confidently that these three bases pose major threat to the security of Georgia in terms of dissemination of arms to destabilizing forces in the country as well as in the region,” Georgia’s UN envoy added.

In an interview to Time Georgian President-elect Mikheil Saakashvili said that the Russia’s intentions to keep its military bases in Georgia for 10 years “serve more to bolster imperial self-confidence than Russian security.”

“We can find other things that serve Russian security better than these 2,000 troops. The Russians have interests like safeguarding their southern borders, making them terrorist-proof. We have the same interests,” Saakashvili said.

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