In early November, at a meeting in Moscow, Georgia’s top defense officials received from their Russian counterparts a list of five demands: accept our troops on your territory to patrol the Chechen border, let us use your airfields for strikes against Chechnya, allow our forces to attack Chechnya from your territory, extend our current military presence in your country for twenty-five years, and cede us part of your quota under the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty so we can build up our forces to your north.
President Eduard Shevardnadze publicly rejected these demands. In televised remarks, he said Georgia wants no part of any military conflict and wants all Russian troops out of the country within eighteen months.
In October, Russia revived efforts to gain Azerbaijan’s approval of, and investment in, a Caspian-Black Sea oil pipeline that would pass through Russia. The Baku-Novorossiisk line would supplant a proposed route the United States favors that runs through Georgia and eventually reaches the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. Russia also seeks Georgian and Azerbaijani endorsement of a “Greater Caucasus security space,” a vague collective-security scheme that would restore a Russian military presence in the region and abort nascent ties to NATO.
In the last few days, Russia has stepped up the pressure with an intensified campaign of propaganda and intimidation. Prime Minister Putin by executive order suspended all commercial flights from Baku and Tbilisi to nearby Russian airports. Goods and travelers from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States seeking entry into Russia from Georgia or Azerbaijan are being turned back at the border.
Most serious, Putin imposed tight restrictions on travel and remittances by the hundreds of thousands of Georgian and Azerbaijani citizens who live in Russia. The restrictions carry the threat that these persons may be expelled to their homelands while their assets remain frozen in Russia.
The Russian Ministry of Defense charged in a November 10 communiqué that Georgia has offered to be host to a Chechen government in exile, and that Azerbaijan has offered to take in Chechen troops in exchange for their assistance against Armenia. Russian authorities claim that aircraft and helicopters from Georgia and Azerbaijan are ferrying guerrillas and supplies into Chechnya from the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Kosovo, Ukraine, the Baltic states and Finland. Georgia and Azerbaijan deny these assertions, for which Russian officials offer no evidence.