Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 34

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze yesterday praised Russia’s consent to withdraw border troops from Georgia, but drew attention to the far larger problem of Russian army troops still based there. Shevardnadze mentioned that Russia owes compensation for the military assets it withdrew unlawfully from Georgia after the republic had become independent. The president put the value of that equipment–including tanks and armored vehicles, artillery and missile units, aircraft and naval ships–at US$7-8 billion. He called on Russia to enter into talks with Georgia about the forms of compensation for that value (Itar-Tass, February 17).

The claim to compensation is not new, but Russia has long refused to consider it, and Georgia has allowed it to lie dormant for some time. Tbilisi’s decision to revive it now is probably a part of preparations to quit the CIS Collective Security Treaty on its expiration in April, or at least to drive a very hard bargain with Russia over extending the treaty at the upcoming CIS summit.

Georgia has said somewhat cryptically that its ultimate decision to extend the treaty would depend in part on Russia’s willingness to “solve problems connected to its military presence in Georgia.” That has been taken to mean, primarily, setting a timetable to remove the troops. Russia’s first deputy defense minister, Nikolai Mikhailov, turned down that request during his recent visit to Georgia (see the Monitor, February 11). Georgia’s multibillion-dollar bill might help focus Moscow’s attention on the issue of troop withdrawal.