No Let-up for Georgia: The Kremlin Is Escalating its ‘Terrorism’ Rhetoric Against Tbilisi
By Giorgi Kvelashvili
On January 14, 2010, Russian media reported this country’s Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Colonel General Arkady Edelev as saying that “foreign instructors are preparing terrorist groups on Georgian military bases to carry out terrorist acts in the territory of the Russian Federation” (https://lenta.ru/news/2010/01/14/reveal/). Yet another accusation against Tbilisi, this one was voiced by the high-ranking Russian official during his meeting in Vladikavkaz, the North Caucasus, with representatives of the local law-enforcement agencies. Warning of “the Georgian threat,” Edelev reportedly told his audience that the alleged “terrorist groups were capable of destabilizing [the Russian republics of] North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachay-Cherkessia” in southern Russia.
Covering the same story, the influential Russian news agency RIA Novosti said on January 15 that this was not the first time that the Russian official tried to link Georgia to international terrorist organizations. In October 2009, Russia’s powerful Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov had accused the Georgian intelligence of “helping Al Qaeda emissaries to transfer terrorists to Chechnya and weapons to Dagestan” (https://www.rian.ru/incidents/20100115/204659331.html). In early January the Dagestan section of the FSB named Georgia among foreign states “funding guerrilla groups in Dagestan” (https://www.civil.ge/geo/article.php?id=22194&search).
A little earlier, in September 2009, during his illegal visit to the occupied Georgian city of Tskhinvali, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had lashed out against Tbilisi, accusing it of “preparing terrorist acts and provocations against South Ossetia and Abkhazia” (https://www.rian.ru/defense_safety/20080915/151279743.html). In August 2008, the FSB’s Center for Public Relations had announced that “the Georgian intelligence services were recruiting and sending guerrillas to Russia to engage in subversive activity” (https://www.grani.ru/Politics/Russia/m.173274.html).
As it has already become a “tradition,” every time Moscow accuses Georgia of some kind of conspiracy, Tbilisi finds it necessary to come up with yet another statement in an attempt to expose the fallacy and absurdity behind the Russian accusation. Commenting on the most recent Russian charge, the Georgian foreign ministry stated on January 15 that “the Kremlin was trying to fabricate a reason to strain to a maximum the situation on the Georgian borders and create conditions for provocations against the sovereign nation” (https://www.mfa.gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=GEO&sec_id=59&info_id=11446).
Arguably, the Kremlin has significantly intensified its efforts to discredit Georgia after the pro-Western Saakashvili government pledged to help militarily the United States and NATO in Afghanistan and committed itself to have just about 1,000 combat troops by February 2010 to strengthen the coalition forces in the war-torn country (https://jamestownfoundation.blogspot.com/2009/11/georgia-sends-combat-troops-to.html). Georgia’s international activism and anti-terrorism efforts, apparently, go against Russia’s long-time desire to isolate Tbilisi internationally and make it an easy prey for manipulation and ultimate domination.
Moscow is also trying to explain “convincingly” to its own domestic audience the reasons behind its persistent failure to bring order and stability to the North Caucasus. By accusing Georgia of “assisting the guerrillas,” the Kremlin arguably wants both to vilify the Georgian government in the eyes of the Russian people and to put blame on others for its own shortcomings and incompetence.
While it’s true that Tbilisi has limited tools to counter the escalating trajectory of Russian accusations, apart from verbal denunciations and counterclaims, the Georgian government could also make use of several other mechanisms. For instance, it could intensify its efforts to put more international observers on Georgian soil alongside those already present from the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM), urgently requesting its extension to the Russian-occupied Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, as the EUMM’s mandate requires.
Also, the Georgian government could demand from the Russian Federation to present verifiable evidence and a detailed account of Georgia’s “terrorism activity” so that the international community could see where the truth lies. The Geneva negotiation format, which is currently the only meeting format between the Georgians and the Russians, could be used for this purpose. In addition, the Georgian government should double its efforts to raise international awareness about ethnic cleansing, brutal persecutions, kidnappings and other acts being committed by the Russian forces and their local proxies in the occupied Georgian territories. Overall, the international community’s closer engagement and more alert attitude toward the deteriorating situation in the Caucasus could positively influence Russia’s behavior now and turn it into a more responsible actor in the coming future.