Georgia’s Hard Line Stance on Bases Angers Russia

Russian soldiers at Gonio training ground
in the Adjara Autonomous Republic. June, 2004.
Russian troops will no longer be able to train
there if Parliament’s resolution is enforced.
Tbilisi and Moscow have been engaged in a new wave of a war of words as the deadline of May 15 – set by the Georgian Parliament – regarding the outlawing Russian military bases in Georgia approaches.

Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze reiterated on May 12 that Georgian lawmakers possess a strong determination to push the Georgian government to implement the Parliamentary resolution passed in March, envisaging the imposing of restrictions on Russian military bases stationed in Batumi and Akhalkalaki if no progress is made in talks over withdrawal of these bases before May 15.

In an interview with Rustavi 2 television on May 12, Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili also reiterated that the Georgian side “will no longer turn a blind eye” on the Russian soldiers who currently serve on these bases and have no Georgian visas.

“Certain restrictions will also be imposed on the movement of these Russian servicemen and their military hardware,” he added.

This hardline stance being taken by the Georgian officials triggered the Russian Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry and individual parliamentarians to make separate statements on May 12, accusing Tbilisi of “blackmailing” the Russian side and “fueling anti-Russian hysteria.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov even said that he hopes Moscow will not have to walk out from the talks over the withdrawal of the military bases, because of the “emotional screams” coming from the Georgian officials.

Speaking at a Q&A session at the lower house of the Russian Parliament on May 12, Lavrov also said that Moscow will not yield to Tbilisi’s “blackmail” and “Georgia’s internal political conjuncture.”

While Lavrov did not elaborate, it is most likely that the Foreign Minister was making a reference to the Georgian side’s position, which says that Tbilisi wants Russian bases in the country to be closed down before parliamentary and presidential elections are held in Georgia in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

Lavrov also assured the Russian lawmakers that the Russian side will undertake appropriate measures in the event of a threat to the Russian bases. “If any steps are taken that threaten our bases [in Georgia] or the lives of Russian citizens… to say nothing of a possible transfer of weapons to foreign hands, I assure you, we will not stay inactive,” Lavrov said.

In a separate statement, also made on May 12, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksander Yakovenko said that Georgia can take unilateral actions against the Russian bases, but warned: “unilateral steps are, as a rule, double-edged.” He also said that certain forces in Georgia are “fueling anti-Russian hysteria.”

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Viacheslav Sedov also issued a statement on May 12 saying that “the language of ultimatums and blackmail is inadmissible.”

The issue of these military bases was discussed during the talks between Russian and U.S. Presidents in Moscow on May 9.

“He [Vladimir Putin] reminded me that there is an agreement in place – 1999 [OSCE] agreement. He said that Russia wants to work with the government [of Georgia] to fulfill the obligations in terms of that agreement and I think that is a commitment, an important commitment for the people of Georgia to hear – it shows there’s grounds for work to get this issue resolved,” Bush said.

The Russian daily Kommersant speculated on May 11 that Putin urged Bush to ask Tbilisi to soften their stance on these military bases. According to Kommersant, statements made by George Bush “made it clear that he does not endorse Tbilisi’s hard line stance over the Russian military bases.”

On May 7, when President Saakashvili officially announced that he will not visit Russia on May 8-9 because of a failure to reach an agreement on military bases, he did not answer the question of whether Georgia will impose certain restrictions on the Russian bases in the event that an agreement is not reached before May 15.

But Georgian MP Giga Bokeria, who is a close associate of President Saakashvili, reiterated on May 12 that the Georgian Parliament “will not revise its resolution” over the outlawing of these Russian bases if there is no progress in future talks.


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