Regional Players Adjust to the Russian Military Pullout

As the decision to pull out the Russian troops from Georgia comes into effect, both Russia and other countries in the region work to clarify their position, identify the details of withdrawal and adjust their political positions.

Following the agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi over the pullout of Russian military bases from Batumi and Akhalkalaki from 2005-2008, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov made his first comments regarding the routes of transportation for both military hardware and personnel from Georgia.  

According to the Russian Defense Minister, one part of the military bases will be transferred to Russia, where two mountain rifle brigades will be set up near the Russian-Georgian border, and the other part will be transferred to Armenia. However, official Baku has already raised concern regarding this latter decision.

“We will have to pull out 2,500 servicemen, to say nothing about their family members, 2,500 units of military hardware, 80 thousand tons of ammunition, military property and other freights,” RIA Novosti quotes Sergey Lavrov as saying on June 6.

He said, the main part of the hardware and property, as well as personnel will be pulled out by sea.

The Russian Defense Minister also unveiled Moscow’s plans to set up two light mountain rifle brigades on the Russian-Georgian border “to eradicate the infiltration of terrorists from Georgia into Russia.” “This decision has already been accepted at all levels,” Sergey Ivanov added.

The Russian military base in Armenia is also being considered as one more place to redeploy the Russian military personnel currently stationed in Georgia.

“We are not speaking about a transfer of armaments to Armenia. Simply, they will be re-deployed from one Russian base to another,” the Russian Defense Minister stated.

He stressed that Russia would stick to the limits of armaments stipulated by the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which defines the amount of armaments allowed on any one territory. 

Official Baku, which has tense relations with Yerevan due to the Karabakh conflict, expresses protest over the transfer of Russian military hardware and personnel to Armenia. On May 23 the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan sent a protest note to Russia saying that a possible transfer of armaments from Georgia to Armenia does not serve the interests of peace and security in the region and will a trigger further escalation of tensions.

Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted Russian charge d’affaires in Azerbaijan Piotr Burdikin on June 7 as saying that “Moscow was under strong pressure to pull out weaponry from Georgia as soon as possible. Initially, talks were underway on returning the arms to the Russian Federation under normal conditions. But then serious pressure was applied, not only by Georgia but also other states that insist on accelerating the process.”

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov said on June 7 that this transfer of Russian military bases from Georgia to Armenia is not illegal, however added that the South Caucasus region needs demilitarization rather than militarization.

“Bases will be transferred not to Armenia, but to the Russian military base deployed in Armenia and in terms of legality, there is no problem in this. However, we consider the issue this way – our region [South Caucasus] needs demilitarization rather than militarization. Hence, there is no need to keep troops and tanks here,” RIA Novosti quotes  Mamedyarov as saying.

He said that as soon as Moscow and Tbilisi finalize the agreement on the pullout of  Russian military bases from Georgia, “we will analyze this issue and take relevant steps.”

The Russian and Georgian sides are actively working over a draft document, which is based on the joint declaration signed by the Russian and Georgian Foreign Ministers in Moscow on May 30.

However, the two sides have already launched implementation of the measures envisaged by the joint declaration. The Georgian and Russian Defense Ministries are conducting inventory of assets of the Russian 142nd Armor Tank Repair Factory in Tbilisi, in an attempt to prepare the factory for a hand-over to the Georgian side. This hand-over process should be completed before June 15.

Meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush congratulated his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili on reaching an agreement with Moscow over the military bases.

“The [U.S.] President called to congratulate President Saakashvili on reaching an agreement with Moscow on Russia withdrawing its forces from military bases in Georgia. The two leaders agreed on the importance of Georgia and Russia working together in a constructive way to move forward on the agreement and to advance cooperation on the peaceful resolution of Georgia’s separatist conflicts,” White House Spokesman Scott McClellan said at a news briefing in Washington on June 3.



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