The desire of Georgia’s new president Mikheil Saakashvili to improve relations with Russia, especially to relax Moscow’s travel restrictions on visitors from Georgia, increasingly seems to spell bad news for Chechen separatists who have taken refuge on the Georgian side of the border. Radio Liberty reported on May 24 that a Georgian court sentenced five ethnic Chechens, including one who is a Georgian citizen, to four-year prison terms for fighting with Tbilisi prison guards in 2002.
The five were originally detained two years ago after entering Georgia from Chechnya. Initally they were charged with crossing the border illegally. But that accusation was dropped after Georgia’s Supreme Court ruled that, as Radio Liberty put it, “they had identified themselves to Georgian border guards and had entered the country with peaceful intent.”
Georgian human-rights activist Nana Kakabadze called the sentence “obviously unfair…only a pretext to keep them in custody.” Other Chechens arrested under similar circumstances have been extradited to Russia—or have reportedly been kidnapped after their release and taken illegally to Russia.
“During a visit to Moscow in February,” Radio Liberty reported, “Saakashvili offered to join forces in enhancing security along the Russian-Georgian border in order to make it impenetrable to Chechen fighters. The heads of the Russian and Georgian border-guard administrations signed a formal cooperation agreement to that effect on 22 April.”