Tbilisi Softens Stance on Bases for Now

Georgia gave up plans to impose restrictions on Russian military bases stationed in Batumi and Akhalkalaki from May 15 and instead preferred to wait for outcome of talks between the Georgian and Russian Foreign Ministers in Warsaw on the sideline of Council of Europe summit on May 16-17.

This softening of stance of the Georgian side comes after, as the officials in Tbilisi say, the Russian side submitted new proposals over the withdrawal of Russian military bases. Details of these new proposals are not known yet; however Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili described new offer as “interesting.”

Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili also said on May 13 that it is better to continue talks, but warned “if we see that this process is being dragged out over time, we will not stay inactive.” 

“If we see that the talks are unpromising, naturally we will enforce the existing levers,” the Georgian Defense Minister added, meaning that Georgian Parliament’s resolution, which envisages imposing restriction on bases, will be enforced if there is no progress in talks.

This softening of position by the officials in Tbilisi also follows after the Russia’s lower house of Parliament passed a strong-worded statement on May 13, in which the Russian lawmakers recommend Russian government to take counter measures if the Georgian side imposes restrictions on the Russian bases in Georgia.

These counter measures, reflected in the Russian Parliament’s statement, include: the halting of issuing Russian entry visas to Georgian citizens and the tightening of measures aimed at deporting those Georgians currently living in Russia without visas.

According to this statement by the Russian Parliament, Russia has the right to resort to even “tougher measures” in order to ensure the safety of Russian citizens, provide security for the Russian military bases, maintain Russian military hardware, ammunition and in order “to ensure stability and security in this region.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin said on May 14, while commenting on bases row between Tbilisi and Moscow, that “ultimatum is not the proper language to talk to Russia with.” He also recalled the fact that ethnic Georgians who currently live in Russia send millions of dollars to their families in Georgia, which is “a significant support to Georgia’s economy.”

Georgia wants Russia to close down bases by the beginning of 2008, while the Russian side insists on four-year timeframe. These were the positions of the sides which were voiced during the recent talks between Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili and her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on May 6.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate called for the end of the Russian military presence in Georgia with a resolution adopted on May 12.

The resolution, which was introduced by the Senate’s Republican and Democratic leaders, reads that the U.S. “should continue to support Georgia in its efforts to negotiate an agreement for ending Russia’s military presence in Georgia.”

“It is time for these forces to leave,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said.

“More than a decade after obtaining its independence, Georgia has not been able to rid itself of the Russian military presence. Several years ago Russia pledged to withdraw its military personnel and close its military bases in Georgia. However, Russia has failed to fulfill its commitments. More than 3,000 Russian troops are still present in Georgia,” he added.

The U.S. Senate’s resolution also expresses support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and said that Russia “should respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Georgia.”


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