The UN military observers’ mission in Abkhazia yesterday lodged an official protest against the military exercises recently completed by Georgian forces near Abkhazia. (See Monitor, October 13) The UN mission had also objected during the conduct of the exercise, seconding the Russian "peacekeeping" command’s own protests. Tbilisi replied in each case that the exercise did not touch on the Russian troops’ zone of responsibility and in no way contradicted the cease-fire and related agreements. (Russian agencies, October 15) The UN mission in Abkhazia often seems content to take a back seat to Russia or simply to second the Russian command’s positions. The UN political mediator, Liviu Bota, a Romanian national, seems similarly passive.
The commander of Russian troops, Maj. Gen. Dolya Babenkov, left Abkhazia yesterday for Moscow, ostensibly for medical treatment following a traffic accident. In fact, Babenkov was quietly recalled two weeks ago from his post. No replacement has been announced yet. (Russian agencies, October 15) Throughout his term of service, Moscow had ignored Georgia’s protests over Babenkov’s de facto support for Abkhazia. Already indignant at the pro-Abkhaz stance of Babenkov’s predecessor, Lt. Gen. Vasily Yakushev, Tbilisi had hoped last year that Babenkov would prove an improvement. Georgian officials do not evidence such hopes this time around.
Meanwhile, a negotiating session — scheduled to have taken place this week in Geneva with the participation of the Friends of Georgia group of Western countries — was postponed for a month at Abkhazia’s request, backed by Moscow and the UN mediator. Russia, which has resisted internationalization of the peacekeeping mission and of the negotiations, aborted the first session of the Geneva forum in August.
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