At the Georgian parliament’s session last week, the chamber’s chairman Zurab Zhvania and representatives of the parliamentary factions said that the September 1995 treaty granting Russia military basing rights in Georgia can be ratified only after Georgian sovereignty in Abkhazia is reestablished. They warned that if this does not happen, the parliament would raise the issue of the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia. The parliament also requested President Eduard Shevardnadze to raise at the upcoming CIS summit the question of the withdrawal of Russian "peacekeeping" troops from Abkhazia, unless they are given the additional mission of securing the Georgian refugees’ return to Abkhazia. (19) As if to underscore the warning, the new foreign minister Irakli Menagarishvili said yesterday that Georgia’s top priority is to regain its territorial integrity and that, "considering its important geopolitical position," Georgia will pursue a balanced policy between Russia and the West. (20)
Zhvania is considered Shevardnadze’s protege and mouthpiece, and the parliament is heavily dominated by Shevardnadze’s supporters. By threatening to condition Russian military basing rights on a favorable resolution of the Abkhazia conflict, Georgia is significantly upping the ante in its bargaining with Moscow. Until now, Georgia had only warned that it would refuse to renew the mandate of Russian peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia if they continue in practice to shield Abkhaz secession, but had not explicitly placed the more developed Russian military bases in Georgia proper on the bargaining table, as it now has. Yet Tbilisi had reserved that option for itself by delaying ratification of the treaty on military basing rights, signed last September by Shevardnadze and Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin following negotiations conducted by defense minister Pavel Grachev. The statements in parliament are orchestrated to strengthen Shevardnadze’s hand at the upcoming CIS summit which will discuss the Abkhazia conflict.
Kyrgyz President Tightening Grip.